The Sunday Mail
FOR five years, between 1982 and 1987, a heavily built man who boxed his way out of the slums of Mbare ruled African heavyweight boxing with a combination of swagger and ruthlessness.
A master of knockouts, the late Proud Chinembiri earned the nickname “Kilimanjaro” because of his physical built.
He is the best ever heavyweight boxer to emerge from Zimbabwe by a country mile.
He died 14 years after Independence — on February 26 1994 — but his name still dominates boxing debates as Zimbabwean prepare to celebrate 40 years of Uhuru on April 18.
“Kilimanjaro” held the African Boxing Union (ABU) heavyweight title between September 4 1982 and August 29 1987, and was at one time among the top 10 World Boxing Council heavyweight pugilists.
Veteran soccer commentator Charles “CNN” Mabika, who was once a ring announcer, vividly recalls the day Chinembiri captured the coveted ABU heavyweight title.
It was on September 4 1982 in front of a packed Rufaro Stadium and the opponent was Adama Mensah of Ghana.
Chinembiri won by a sixth-round technical knockout.
“He (Chinembiri) is the only Zimbabwean boxer to draw a crowd of about 40 000 when he fought Adama Mensah of Ghana and wrestled the ABU title.
“What a day that was!” recalls Mabika.
Chinembiri still dominated Africa by the time Mike “Iron Mike” Tyson announced himself to the world by outboxing then champion Trevor Berbick for the WBC heavyweight title on November 22 1986.
Kilimanjaro even had a chance to fight the great Lennox Lewis, but the fight did not materialise as the Zimbabwean boxing star had medical issues on the eve of the bout.
Philip “Captain Fiasco” Chiyangwa — Chinembiri’s manager during the boxer’s peak — explained how close the Mbare pugilist came to fighting “Iron Mike.”
“The ABU title made Kilimanjaro a world attraction to an extent that Lennox Lewis came after him because he was so desperate for a fight that would get him back into the top 10 and a chance to go for the world title,” revealed Chiyangwa.
“The fight was sealed; we went to the United Kingdom. We all know why the fight didn’t take place and how it ended up being awarded to Lewis.
““If “Kili” had fought and won against Lewis, we would have made noise in the UK for him to be afforded a crack at the world title against Mike Tyson,” revealed Chiyangwa.
So how did Chiyangwa end up managing this popular heavyweight hitter, who was known as “Man Mountain” in some boxing circles?
“I was staying in Avondale, just next to Avondale Police Station, when Kili came to see me, asking me to be his manager.
“He didn’t appear that convincing, as someone who had already lost his ABU title, although he had made money in boxing.
“At that time I was also managing Joe ‘Breaker’ Makaza, Gilbert ‘Giro’ Josamu and Ambrose Mlilo, but I did not have a heavyweight boxer in my stable.
“I became Kili’s manager and we started working him back to the top again.
“He regained his ABU title and went straight back into the top 10 of the WBC, which made him eligible to challenge for the world title, which at that time was in the hands of Mike Tyson.”
Unfortunately, Kilimanjaro’s much-touted fight against Lewis, which was set for the United Kingdom and would have gotten him closer to a fight with then WBC world champion Tyson, did not materialise.
Chinembiri failed a medical test, the match was cancelled and awarded to Lewis.
“Some tests were done on Proud here in Harare and they did not come out nicely. Unfortunately, he tested positive for some disease,’’ Punish said.
“But I must say boxing took good care of my young brother. He refurbished our family house in Mbare, he bought his own house in Bulawayo and had three BMW vehicles.”
Born on New Year’s Day in 1958, Chinembiri experienced a tough upbringing in the crime-prone high-density suburb of Mbare.
He was a violent person and very popular for fighting in bars.
Chinembiri’s brother, Punish, who later became Kilimanjaro’s trainer, told The Sunday Mail Sport about the boxer’s upbringing in Mbare.
“Proud was a rough guy, a heavy drinker who fought in bars,” the 68-year-old Punish said.
“One day he beat up three bouncers at Job’s Night Club in Harare, but he was also injured in that brawl. I was an amateur boxer at that time and I sat him down and pleaded with him to try boxing.
“He stopped drinking and started training with Dave Wellings as an amateur. They went for a fight at Tomlinson Depot and the opponent baulked at Proud’s huge size and the match was called off,” said Punish.
“Kilimanjaro” switched to professional boxing and knocked out Black Tiger on his debut on October 3 1981.
“Four months later, he was the Zimbabwean heavyweight champion after knocking out Walter Ringo Star on February 24 1982 at Mucheke Stadium in Masvingo.
“He won that fight in less than 30 seconds. Some fans were still paying at the gate when Kilimanjaro stopped Ringo Star. Immediately, Zimbabwe took notice of the arrival of a new heavyweight boxer,” said Punish.
In September of that year, Kilimanjaro was crowned the African heavyweight champion after winning by a TKO against Mensah.
“I was in the corner as his trainer, the guy was in ruthless mood. Adama Mensah was pummelled left, right and centre until the referee stopped the match in the sixth round,” recalls Punish.
“Kilimanjaro” defended the ABU title six times until August 29 1987 when he lost to Michael Simuwelu of Zambia in Bulawayo.
“At that time Proud had bought a house in Bulawayo, so this had become his new home ground. I was staying in Harare, so our training sessions had become fewer.
“In fact, I can say he had become complacent because he had beaten all his challengers for five years,” revealed Punish.
Chinembiri regained his title a year later, after beating Simuwelu in a rematch in Lusaka.
For veteran journalist Ma bika, who was also a spokesperson for the Kilimanjaro Fan Club,
“Chinembiri remains the greatest heavyweight boxer ever produced in the world.
“He was a pound-for-pound pugilist who had the knack of producing that knockout punch. He could take in severe punishment as a ploy to tire his opponent and it always worked out,” said Mabika.
“It is a pity his fight with former world champion Lewis did not come to fruition because of medical problems. Who knows, he could have beaten Lewis.”
Kilimanjaro died at the age of 36, with a record of 32 wins (28 by way of knockout) and six defeats.
His remains are interred at his rural home in Buhera, Manicaland.