A week ago today Nicolas Walters woke up in a nice cozy room at the Wyndham Hotel in Kingston, a little sore but well aware that he had – just a few hours before – created history in the land of his birth. He had managed to do something that no Jamaican boxer had ever done before and that’s win a title on home soil.
The last man to make a run at that piece of Jamaican boxing history was Richard ‘Shrimpy’ Clarke who challenged Thailand’s Sot Chitalada for the World Boxing Council’s (WBC) flyweight title at the National Arena on September 7, 1990. However, Shrimpy proved no match for the veteran champion and despite a strong effort, he was stopped in the 11th round. Twenty-two years later Walters, known to his fans as the Axeman, this time fighting for a vacant title, stopped a quality fighter in Daulis Prescott from Colombia in the seventh round to claim the WBA featherweight title.
From even before the days of Bunny Grant, Percy Hayles, Trevor Berbick, Shrimpy Clarke, and Mike McCallum, Jamaicans have been big fans of boxing. The crowds that attended the match up between two of boxing’s greats Joe Frazier and George Foreman at the National Stadium back in 1973 is testimony to Jamaica’s love for the sweet science. The 1980s was perhaps boxing’s heyday in as the island boasted several successful sons, natural and adopted, who made us proud. Simon Brown, McCallum, Lloyd Honeyghan and Berbick flew the Jamaican flag high. Between the 1990s and the early part of the 21st century it was Lennox Lewis who carried the flag. Even though he wasn’t born in Jamaica, Lewis was adopted by this country as a ‘Jamaican’ boxer and we celebrated his successes almost as feverishly as we did McCallum’s, Berbick’s and Brown’s.
Walters represents Jamaica’s best hope of being a current superstar boxer. Hailing from Lawson District in Anchovy St. James, the Axeman was for many years on the periphery of Jamaica’s sporting consciousness, but he didn’t manage to break through into the mainstream. He almost went unnoticed when he was nominated for Sportsman of the Year for four years in a row as an undefeated featherweight but with heavyweights like Usain Bolt and Christopher Gayle around, Walters was relegated to little more than a footnote.
After he stopped Prescott last weekend however, and the resulting exposure in the local media, Walters now has the opportunity to bring boxing back in a big way.
The 26-year-old champion is very likable and represents grassroots Jamaica. He is a prime example of what can be achieved through hard work, discipline and a commitment to success, characteristics that are sadly lacking among many of today’s young Jamaican men. In short he needs to become the face of the Jamaica Boxing Board because he represents what is right about Jamaica and what can be possible for many youngsters who are without hope. Ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. said it best after last weekend’s fight. Walters, he said, can be an inspiration for many of Jamaica’s youth, an example of how they can hone their G0d-given athletic talents to earn a living for themselves and their families in the ring.
But he can also be so much more. With his first title defense set for April next year, there is another opportunity for Jamaica to host yet another world title fight in just four months’ time. It is an opportunity to showcase the country as a possible destination for world class boxing, a hub where high-quality entertainment packages can be staged attracting hundreds, perhaps thousands of boxing fans from across the world. If that fight is held here in Jamaica it is another opportunity for the Axeman, if he wins, to show off his exceptional skills before his home crowd and further excite Jamaicans. When these two things are considered, it demonstrates the incredible opportunity Jamaica has to make itself into a world class sporting destination.
The JBBC now needs to see how best they can use Walters’ success as leverage to do marvelous things for the board, the country and inspire perhaps the next generation of great boxers we all know are out there somewhere.