Aged 41, with three and half years of inactivity laying like a barren field at the end of his otherwise prodigious boxing career, Sakio Bika is a frustrated fighter. Impeccably professional, the Australia based Cameroonian persists. Working to remain in the taut condition of his youth. Boxing is a young man’s game, if it is a game at all, and forty somethings like Sakio, and contemporaries Sergio Martinez and Sam Soliman, should be discouraged.
But in life, as he always proved in the ring, Sakio Bika is a man who is not easily discouraged.
In boxing tradition young contenders usually queue to add the remaining lustre of an old champion’s name to their own. Matchmakers charged with the curation of emerging talent carefully select the worn and the weary to extend, but not derail, the asset. The problem for Sakio, desperate for one more shot at the big time, is that those promoters and matchmakers have long memories. Memories of the discomfort he caused the legends of his generation remain in tact and widely held.
On Friday 26th, Sakio finally has an opponent willing to step between the ropes to face him; local tough guy, Adam Stowe. A thirty-something middleweight with a modest record. Speaking with Sakio this week, it is clear the fight is merely the first step in what he hopes will be one last run at a title: “I try not to name too many names because when I do they tend to go quiet or run away. I’m available for anyone, either 168 or 175, I don’t mind which. Fighters should want to challenge me, but they don’t.”
As with most of those who step into the hell of a boxing ring, Sakio proved to be an amiable interviewee. A devoted family man, his three children and wife are supportive of his career, never posing the retirement question despite his inactivity. “At home I am, and act like a Dad, I am not a fighter at home. I go to train, I go to work. They never ask me to retire, they look at me and they see me train, I look the same to them. I have trained all my life, to look after my body. People say to me, ‘you’re lucky, you have good genes’. I don’t have good genes, I look after myself. I don’t eat junk, I don’t drink, I train every day. I know my body. I run with 25 year olds and they cannot keep up. I spar, and I spar hard. I know what I can do.”
The Australian boxing scene tends to ebb and flow around a handful of names at any one point in time. Where once it was Fenech, it became Kostya Tsyzu, then Danny Green, Anthony Mundine and Sam Solimon in more recent years. Attention has now turned to Tim Tszyu, son of Kostya. Beyond those well known names exists a buoyant domestic scene with regular events with little international recognition. Honest pugs, still dreaming, still pinching for pay. Exactly the type of event Sakio will appear on this Friday. A humble setting for a man who boxed around the world and shared a ring with the likes of Joe Calzaghe and Andre Ward, two of the best fighters of the past thirty years, as well as a spell as the WBC Super-Middleweight title. Sakio is keen to move beyond Australian shores as soon as possible. “This will be my last fight in Australia. Last one. I want to win on Friday and then I want to land a big name, a big challenge in England, or Dubai or America. I have many friends around the world. I speak to Eddie Hearn, a good promoter, I like him, and I ask him ‘give me one of your fighters, I’ll fight any of them’. But he will say to me, ‘Sakio, I can’t, because you’re still a very dangerous fighter.’ So, even now, people are still scared of me. It is difficult, I’m 41, they’re still scared, I don’t know why.”
For those of us of sufficient vintage to remember his battle with Joe Calzaghe, or his war with Jaidon Coddrington, a forgotten classic, and his fights with Ward, Beyer, Solimon and Dirrell over the past 15 years, there is no need to explain why he represents an avoidable challenge. Even in victory those fighters will all remember the night they fought Sakio Bika. Super fit, aggressive, all action and rugged. If the star, the big name, the left hand side of the bill, isn’t prepared for war, to search within for everything he has, then Sakio will discover the lie beneath their talent. That is the scrutiny too few are willing to subject themselves too. And while inactive, despite attempts to be busy, those higher profile opponents have had a reason not to engage with a man who brings so much risk and too little reward.
There seems zero prospect of Callum Smith, John Ryder or Zach Parker risking what they have for a dalliance with the formidable veteran. Even a talented crop of Light Heavyweights in the UK; Buatsi, Yarde and Arthur, are unlikely to contemplate a fight with him in the absence of a title or at least a ranking they can seize. Sakio accepts that it will be difficult, but all he can do for now, is win on Friday night. “Once I win this fight, I am active again. After that I will fight anyone, at 168 or 175 pounds, it doesn’t matter to me. I would like Badou Jack, we were meant to fight a few years ago but it didn’t happen. All anyone needs to do is speak to Al Haymon and negotiate. I’ll be there. I’d like to fight again in June or July but if I don’t, if nothing happens this year then I may have to consider retiring. Doing something else. But I don’t want to be negative, I want to fight, one more big chance.” His soft accent, a blend of the two countries that shaped him, reveals his gentle spirit, patiently repeating answers stolen by the fluctuating signal.
The ‘one more fight’ motif is one that troubles scores of fighters. Many in their late thirties and early forties ignore the reality of lost reflex, fading speed to persevere, to box on when all good sense implores them to stop. Whilst Sakio is different to many who continue for too long, such is his dedication to the craft and his physical regime, were a low key contest with the unheralded Adam Stowe prove to be his swan song he will not be burdened by regret. Sakio explains; “I will have no regrets. Boxing has done everything for me. It has given me a life, a family, children. I dreamt as a child, a teenager of winning a World title and I did that. To be the first person from Cameroon to be a World Champion is special to me too. I never wanted to be famous, but if I can inspire someone to try, that I have their respect, that means more than just being famous. When people meet me I’m always smiling. I am happy.”
Congratulated on this sense of contentment, such an elusive companion for ageing fighters, Sakio confirms he is at peace with his career: “After this fight, if nobody steps forward, if nobody wants to fight me then there is a plan for after boxing. I will try to open a gym here (in Australia) and one in Cameroon. I want to give something back. To help young people through boxing, to help them become champions. To pass on the message of hard work. I owe that to boxing to give something back. All the people who helped me, all the way back to Cameroon. They didn’t help me for money, they did it for the love of it. To help me. I would like to be able to do that for somebody else. To give back, to help Africans.”
It is a future that Sakio hopes will include a TV release date for a 2019 independent biopic about his life called Le Champion. Executive Producer Mike Tyson and contributors Oscar, Joe Calzaghe and Sugar Ray all marvel at the all-action style Sakio brings to the ring. It reveals the high esteem he is held in back in Cameroon and across the boxing world.
Before the long term plan can unfurl, he must focus on the short term and his opponent this Friday. His first in over 40 months. A fact that puts relative novice Adam Stowe in a very invidious position. In harm’s way. Sakio was unconcerned about the ability of his opponent. “All I know is he’s a tough guy. I look forward to boxing him, winning and then we will see what comes forward. I will fight anyone. I haven’t looked him up, I’m not concerned about what he will do. I know what I can do.”
The problem for Sakio, in his pursuit of one last challenge, is the boxing world knows what he can do too.
He can ruin plans.