Hondo remembers humble champion

LEGENDARY boxer Langton “Schoolboy’’ Tinago today lies buried in Gweru but his legacy continues to hold the country spellbound.

Our boxing correspondent Gilbert Munetsi looks at the boxer’s 10 best fights as he goes down memory lane with Zimbabwe National Boxing Control Board chairman Richard Hondo.

GM: Having worked with the late “Schoolboy”, in what class of boxers do you put him?

RH: A great deal of professional boxing is about luck, opportunity and careful matching. There are times, however, albeit not many, when these variables play no significant role in the rise and fall of a boxer — sheer skill, dedication and determination being the only criteria. This is how it was with Langton “Schoolboy” Tinago.

While most true lovers of boxing appreciate the niceties and finer points of this most absorbing of sport, we have to accept that there is truth in the fact that it is the big puncher who draws the crowds at tournaments.

However, sometimes exceptional skill can propel a boxer into the annals of boxing history and if you look at Tinago, you will find him in that category.

GM: Why has it taken the country this long to tell Tinago’s story?

RH: The story of Langton Tinago is one we could have told over and over many years ago but, personally, something at the back of my mind kept telling me that despite his advancing age, the best was yet to come. That is precisely how it turned out to be. Tinago simply refused to let age get in the way of his chosen goal. Thus, every year, instead of heralding his retirement, added another ring of glory to Zimbabwe’s boxing idol, making him the country’s greatest and longest-serving unbeaten dual national lightweight and welterweight champion and a history-making three-time Commonwealth champion at two different weights.

GM: How would you describe his boyhood years in rural Shurugwi?

RH: Like many others of his age, he helped mind the family’s head of cattle at the common pastures. Though there were no prizes to be won back in those years, there were privileges associated with being a champion fighter at the pastures — the undisputed champ had all his duties done for him. Everybody at the pastures looked to the champion for leadership and inspiration and this is the position that Langton found himself in those days. There were bigger boys out there, but they had to pay him due respect. Such was the beginning of his career that when he officially took up boxing in Gweru in July of 1967, it was no accident.

GM: And whom would you say inspired him?

RH: In his case, inspiration came from two sources. The first was his brother Cephas who engineered his turning pro after a brief but highly successful amateur career between 1966 and 1967. The brother’s influence was catalytic in effect to Langton’s natural love for boxing.

His second source of inspiration was that man, the greatest of them all, Muhammad Ali. Indeed, there were a lot of similarities in certain respects between Tinago and the great man. Both were known for skill, not devastating punching power. Both were brilliant ring users and both were thrilling entertainers.

What Langton did not have was Ali’s charisma, that magic touch on people but you could attribute this to the fact that Muhammad lived in a free world then, whereas Schoolboy arrived on the scene when his country was closed to the world due to the political imbalances prevailing at the time.

GM: Do you really think he could have become a world champion?

RH: Langton’s ability to earn a shot at the world lightweight title could not be doubted. At his peak he beat the World Boxing Association number six ranked contender, South Africa’s Harold Volbredcht in 1978. He drew with the WBA’s number 1 ranked contender at junior lightweight, Knosana “Happyboy” Mgxaji and subsequently posted a win over Ken Buchanan, a former world lightweight champion.

So there could be no doubt that Langton had the class to mix with the best that.

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