The last time Kenya witnessed a breathtaking boxing show at home was in the years before 2006 during the times of boxer Conjestina Achieng. She brought a different feel for women boxing in Kenya.
Those moments have arguably been replicated by now Kenya’s finest female Boxer Fatuma ‘Iron Fist’ Zarika. She recently retained her World Boxing Council (WBC) Super bantamweight title by out classing Catherine Phiri from Zambia.
Her great resilience and skills of a full boxer has flown the Kenyan flag high. She spoke to Sportika’s Wilma M on how she rose to being the ‘Iron Fist’. And Wilma began by asking her why she chose boxing.
“My boxing journey has had a lot of challenges. It started when I watched Laila Ali (the youngest daughter of the great Mohammed Ali) in the ring. She captivated me and I admired her skills, strength and power and I felt I can do this,” explained a proud Zarika .
She was born on the 13th March, 1985 in Central Kenya; born as Zarika Njeri Kang’ethe in a family of two. After the demise of her mother she moved to Mathare slums in Nairobi where she started training as a boxer.
“I started training after shifting to Mathare North in 2000, I started playing as an amateur and turned professional in 2002 at Mathare Club but I had I played my first fight here in Kenya as an amateur at the Nyayo Stadium against a Prison player.” Then she met the legendary Conjestina Achieng.
“In 2001 I played a friendly match against Conjestina Achieng’ and she indeed motivated me.”
Zarika’s star would then shine even brighter through the years as narrated in her chronology. In October 2003, she won a four round decision over Rukken Koronso of South Africa and a week later she won another four round decision over Ester Herkole.
Three years later, Zarika had her first fight abroad when she traveled to Germany on 23rd May where she lost. A month later she also got an invite to Germany where she lost again but kept hopes alive.
“I went to Germany in 2006 where I played my first fight abroad and lost. I came back home and continued with my training. A month later I went back to Germany and I again lost. I didn’t tire,” she says.
On home turf, Zarika continued to dominate the sport punching out Agnes Adonga and winning a second round TKO over Monalisa Sibanda of Zimbabwe. The latter of which she was an underdog as Monalisa had fought against Conjestina in the middleweight class.
WBC World Super Bantamweight title
Zarika is the first Kenyan female boxer to win the WBC World Super Bantamweight title. She achieved this fete after beating veteran Jamaican boxer, then defending champion Alicia Ashley in October, 2016 .
Zarika went into the fight all guns blazing, out-boxed and out-foxed the vintage Jamaican boxer to claim the title away in Michigan, USA.
How did it feel?
“Winning against Ashley wasn’t easy because she had defended the title for like 10 years. I was fighting away , I knew no one among the judges but all I did was to believe in myself . what helped me boost my performance was the training I head in USA . I admit it’s different from the training here in Kenya and I learnt a lot of new skills and tactics,” she narrates.
According to WBC, with that remarkable victory on points, Zarika improved her record to 28 wins, two draws and 12 losses. Ashley, 49, the oldest all-time world champion has 23 wins, a draw and 11 losses.
Zarika defended the title in December, 2017 by out-boxing Catherine Phiri from Zambia when the WBC championship was held in Kenya, Carnivore Grounds. This was special for Kenya and for Zarika.
“When I was told am going to fight against Phiri and she had once won the title , I knew it was going to be a tough match as we both wanted to lift the belt. I aimed at retaining the title and I thank God I made it.”
Her main aim is to defend the title this year.
What challenges has she gone through?
Having fake managers has been her biggest challenge in her career.
“Having conmen managers has been my biggest problem, some give me matches but they don’t pay back. some do business with me without paying yet I need to eat , sometimes I get serious injuries that need treatment but I can’t even afford the cash. Sometimes I lack cash to even pay my gym sessions. Lack of Sponsors has been another issue but I thank God I never give up.”
She is however happy with SportPesa coming on board to support her during the WBC World Super Bantamweight fight in December.
Zarika is the elder sister to former Gor Mahia’s captain Musa Mohammed. She is also a single mother of two daughters; the elder one aged 20 years and the second one 18.
“I have Musa, my young brother and I thank God we are all sporty. I have my own family. I am a mother of two daughters and I divorced my husband long a time ago due to unresolved issues. My first born is 20 , she is in university and the second born is 18 and she is in form four.”
But, Zarika will not allow her daughters be boxers.
“My kids don’t like boxing and I won’t advice them to indulge in the game. The problems I have gone through in boxing I won’t love my kids to go through the same.”
She has a word for upcoming boxers.
“ Most upcoming boxers give up easily because of what they see us go through. That’s not right because I believe everyone has his or her own fate. We have gone through a lot but here we are and we know challenges will still come our way. What I can say is remain determined , focused , disciplined , enough training and most importantly pray for God’s guidance.”