Efe Ajagba reflects on Curtis Harper, representing Nigeria and not wanting another opponent to walk out of the ring


Boxing can be a strange sport. Some fighters go undefeated for years and remain relatively unknown outside of boxing circles. Few gain the notoriety that Efe Ajagba picked up in his sixth professional fight on Aug. 24, 2018, when he was set to face Curtis Harper at the Minneapolis Armory.

Entering the fight, Ajagba was a highly touted, yet unproven, heavyweight prospect who had rolled to a 5-0 record with no opponent making it far enough to hear the judges’ scorecards. Few expected Harper to be the man who would push the Nigerian-born titan to the limit, but even fewer expected what would happen next.

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“Do not blink,” commentator Ray Flores said before the bell rang. “Of Ajagba’s five professional bouts, four have been done in the first round, so he likes to bring an end to opponents in quick fashion.”

None would end as quickly as Ajagba’s fight did against Harper.

The bell sounded and, in just one second, it was over.

“And Curtis Harper has walked out of the ring,” Flores said in utter disbelief.

Harper immediately exited upon the fight commencing, which led to the quickest victory in the history of the sport. It would officially be recorded as a one-second disqualification victory for Ajagba. But the aftermath is what sent this story out of control. Major news outlets picked up this bizarre narrative of a fighter refusing to engage and departing. The video has since amassed nearly a million views and left people wondering just who was so frightening that a boxer would decide to leave the ring rather than fight.

Efe Ajagba, that’s who. But, really, it was a pay dispute that led to Harper leaving the ring in protest. Nevertheless, the optics remain intact and, for many, it looks like Harper simply didn’t want to fight the hulking Nigerian with dynamite in his hands.

According to Ajagba, the events that transpired last year are still baffling.

“I saw him before the weigh-in and his wife was telling me to watch his videos on YouTube and how he has skills and power,” Ajagba recalls to Sporting News just days before he battles Michael Wallisch in the opening bout of Showtime’s Saturday card headlined by Robert Easter vs. Rances Barthelemy at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. “I couldn’t figure out why she was telling me this but I sure didn’t know that it was because he was going to walk out of the ring.”

Ajagba had no clue that Harper had other things on his mind when he entered the ring that fateful night in Minneapolis.

“When we touched gloves, he just left,” Ajagba says, still in disbelief when recounting the sequence of events and what went through his mind when Harper exited between the ropes.

“I was worried that I wasn’t going to get paid,” he says with a laugh. That’s the first thing I thought about. Also, I’ve been training all this time so I needed to fight and he just left. I needed the experience. I was seriously mad. It wasn’t just the money, which I did get paid. I needed to get the rounds in. I had been working hard so it was like a wasted training camp.”

Since that bizarre night in pugilistic history, Ajagba has won three consecutive fights by knockout as his devastating power that projects from his massive 6-5 frame continues to strike fear into his opponents. Yet, here we are, still talking about the one opponent who broke his knockout streak and produced the most infamous moment in his two-year professional career. And it only lasted one whole second, without a single punch being thrown.

“Nobody knew me before that,” Ajagba says. “The day he walked out of the ring, everybody knew who I was. I can go beat up these fighters and they didn’t know me but now I’m the guy they remember from his opponent just walking out of the ring.”

It’s certainly not what Ajagba expected coming from Nigeria to apply his trade. The 25-year-old won the gold medal in the 2015 African Games as a super heavyweight and was scooped up by boxing manager Shelly Finkel, who sent Ajagba to Texas to train with elite boxing coach Ronnie Shields. Ajagba turned pro in 2017 and the duo has been laying waste to all opponents. Well, except for Harper.

“It hasn’t surprised me because I saw what kind of athlete he was from the beginning,” Shields says glowingly of his rising talent. “He catches on quickly to everything. When you put guys in front of him, you see what he’s doing. We have to keep pushing him.”

After coming over from Nigeria, Ajagba sees a golden opportunity and refuses to be distracted from the task at hand. It has also been motivating to see African fighters begin making an impact in combat sports as fellow Nigerian fighters Kamaru Usman and Israel Adesanya have recently acquired UFC gold.

“There is a lot of potential in Nigeria but most people there don’t have the opportunities,” Ajagba explains while praising Usman and Adesanya for representing Africa in the UFC. “People don’t understand where we came from and what we had to deal with as Nigerians. I fight to make money but I also do it to motivate people.”

The added attention that Nigeria has garnered over the past year has had promoters looking into the West African country to find the next stars in combat sports. While Adesanya, Usman and heavyweight contender Francis Ngannou are making waves for mixed martial arts, Ajagba is proudly carrying the sport of boxing on his back as a Nigerian pugilist. If everything goes right, he’ll light the way for the future of boxing to come from his home country.

“I’m doing what I’m doing to get into the best position to help others,” he continues. “I have to use what I have to help others. We have to help motivate the youth and rise them up.”

First, though, Ajagba needs to continue his winning ways to, if nothing else, maintain the illusion that he’s the most frightening heavyweight out there. It will be in his best interest to ride this wave of notoriety from the Harper situation for as long as he can.

Legends are often made by the stories that are told outside of fighting. The story of Harper refusing to fight him has only grown in stature over the passing months. As long as he keeps obliterating the competition, he could find himself being the next big thing in boxing.

As long as his opponents stay in the ring.

“It’s not my fault,” he jokes half-heartedly. “With my next opponent, I’m trying to keep myself calm because I don’t want somebody else to walk out of the ring.”

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Publish date : 2019-04-26 21:48:00

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