READING. — Reading welterweight boxer Tamuka Muchapondwa is desperate to pay back the town which has allowed him to live his dream.
The undefeated Zimbabwe-born fighter followed his mum, a nurse, from Mufakose in Harare to Reading in the UK at the aged of 11.
And after overcoming a struggle to shed weight and fit in, he has now developed into a popular athlete on the verge of a British title shot.
Now he wants to be one of the finest boxers to ever come from these parts.
“My big ambition is to become a world champion, but the short-term goal is to become British champion and one of Reading’s best,” Muchapondwa, trained by decent 1970s pro Trevor Francis, declared.
“I’ve called out the British champion Bradley Skeete and I hope he responds. I’m back out on April 15 in a keep-busy fight against Rob Hunt, who is quite tall, so he’s good preparation for (the lofty, rangy) Skeete.
“I can learn some things about myself and I can adjust before I fight Skeete.”
Muchapondwa weighed a whopping 105kg at the age of 15 — a love of food compounded by the isolation of being a stranger in a strange land — but boxing proved his saviour and helped him shed almost 40kg en route to his first amateur title.
“I used to go to the gym when I was in high school (now the John Madjeski Academy),” the 24-year-old reflects.
“I got my fitness up then I went to Reading ABC. Everyone was looking at this 105kg 14 or 15-year-old kid and they were like: ‘Oh my goodness, there’s no hope for this kid.’ But I was just determined to be the best I could become.
“It wasn’t just boxing training, the vice-principal at my high school used to take us to the gym once every Friday. I learned to run on a treadmill, then I joined the gym next to my house.”
He continued: “I’d 20 minutes in the morning, 20 in the evening, then I started increasing my mileage. Once I started boxing I had found something I loved, something I was passionate about and going to the gym became so much easier. Plus I was only about 5ft 5ins then, so not big enough for a heavyweight; I had to lose weight!
“After going to the boxing gym, I was gaining confidence, started making friends and actually enjoying life in the UK.”
Tamuka, from the Shona dialect of Zimbabwe, translates as “We are awake, aware, arisen”.
It could be argued that Muchapondwa was truly none of those things before finding his vocation.
The progress of Tamuka and his family, underlined by mum Olgah buying a house in Swindon three years ago, offers a welcome rebuttal to the widespread but often ill-informed concerns about UK immigration that have found partial expression in the rise of UKIP and the Brexit decision.
Genuine fear for the future of stretched public services has been manipulated in many cases by bigots with the same thinly veiled agenda — one that rapidly disintegrates at the feet of Muchapondwa and his kin.
“They come over here, they make their own money, they inspire those around them and purchase their own property,” doesn’t resonate with the ignorant demographic quite as effectively as the usual propaganda, but it is arguably more representative.
Now 16-0 (4) and heading towards a British title shot — towards which the next way-marker is in Swindon on April 15 — Muchapondwa retains that desire to forge ahead.
He is trained by the estimable Francis and managed by the highly respected Sanigar team, but his determination is inspired by a key figure outside the gym.
“From watching my mother (Olgah),” he declares with considerable pride.
“There were times when things were difficult, she had to work hard, leave Zimbabwe, leave us behind; it was quite tough for her.
“Every time she would visit she would cry when she left and she had to do that multiple times in a year. That touched and influenced me greatly in my life, so I want to work that hard to build a better life for her, and work even harder to build a better life for my children one day, and my family back in Zimbabwe. She is one of the biggest influences in my life.