Known as "Smoking Joe" by his admirers during his boxing career, Joe Lasisi is one name that will always register in the minds of boxing fans in Nigeria. After hanging his gloves many years ago, Lasisi has decided to remain in the boxing arena in a bid to contribute to the sport that made him famous. In this interview with Completesportsnigeria.com's JAMES AGBEREBI, Lasisi bares his mind on issues concerning the current state of professional boxing in Nigeria, his Los Angeles 1984 Olympic regrets, his clash with Jerry Okorodudu and also some of his big fights…
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE STATE OF PROFESSIONAL BOXING IN NIGERIA?
Looking at professional boxing at present, I cannot compare it with our own time, also like I cannot compare our time with the days of Dick Tiger, Hogan Bassey, who happens to be my fathers in boxing. So I will urge the present boxers to go the extra mile and perform so that in years to come, people will say in your time you did great things. I want them to be better than me. During the good days of boxing in Nigeria, we used to see Nigerian boxers going for world title fights, challenging some of the best in the world. I believe we still have boxers who have what it takes to bring glory and honour to this country. Not too long ago, Samuel Peter became the WBC World Heavyweight champion, who says we can't produce another heavyweight champion. So I think the state of boxing in Nigeria can get better.
HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE THE KIND OF SUPPORT YOU HAD DURING YOUR TIME TO WHAT OBTAINS NOW?
Unfortunately, boxing has not been getting the necessary support it should get, instead, attention is only focused on football alone and it is not supposed to be so. Boxing has contributed to Nigerian success at international tournaments, so it pains me when I see the way boxing is being treated. This is the sport that brought me to limelight. Without boxing, I don't think I would have been this popular in Nigeria and also in the world. So I think a lot still needs to be done to raise the standard of boxing in Nigeria.
WE SEE FORMER BOXERS COMING BACK TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE GROWTH OF BOXING IN NIGERIA, WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN INVOLVED IN?
Presently I am with the Nigeria Boxing Board of Control. I am there to contribute my own quota for the development of boxing in Nigeria. I don't want to be paid any salary, it's not like I have money, but what I have been given in the past in boxing, I want to give back especially to the up and coming boxers. If I am asked to go to the national camp to pass onto the boxers my experience, I am ready to do that. I remember when the likes of Charles Nwokolo were going for a tournament, I sparred with them, shared my experience with them and at the end of the day, they excelled. All I want is the best to represent Nigeria, if my child is in camp and doesn't perform, I will not pick him. When I was in the United States of America, the Americans always said I trained like a horse, they were always baffled, but I had to make use of the opportunity there because we don't have the equipment here.
WHAT'S YOUR TAKE ON THE PERFORMANCE OF NIGERIAN BOXERS AT THE ALL AFRICA GAMES IN CONGO?
The performance of Nigerian boxers at the All Africa Games was not good enough. Until we get sound boxers who will represent us at international competitions and come back with as many gold medals as possible, then we've not started. We should stop playing politics in our sports. Look at the coach that took them to the All Africa Games, what is his pedigree?
Or is it because he is brother to someone in a top position? We need people who are serious about the growth of boxing in Nigeria.
YOU WERE MOSTLY KNOWN IN THE PROFESSIONAL RANKS, DID YOU EVER REPRESENT NIGERIA IN ANY AMATEUR CHAMPIONSHIP?
I was supposed to go to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic but the coach then Isaac Ikhuoria instead picked Jerry Okorodudu ahead of me. And that's why when I had the chance to fight him, it was fierce and I ended up beating him. I beat him on two occasions, one here in Nigeria and in the USA. And that is why he always claims I used juju. I made up my mind that when he came back from the Olympic Games I would teach him a lesson and I lived up to my word by beating him both at home and abroad. It was very painful because him and the coach denied me the opportunity to fight at the Olympics.
CAN YOU RECOLLECT SOME OF YOUR BIGGEST AND TOUGHEST FIGHTS DURING YOUR PROFESSIONAL CAREER?
I fought some big fights in my career. I remember my fight against a Jamaican who I knocked down in 1988. And while in the United States, I fought against Virgil Hill who alongside Okorodudu, were at the 1984 Olympics and who happens to be my very close friend. That was another fight I will always remember. Though I lost the fight to Hill, it will always remain in my memory. Also, I remember my fight with Zambia's Lottie Mwale. So these fights are some of the biggest fights I had.
DO YOU HAVE ANY REGRETS AS A BOXER?
One regret I have is that I didn't change my nationality because if I had done so, I would be enjoying now. Apart from the house I built, nothing else. I am a citizen of America, I have my papers. But I decided to come back home because there is no place like home. If I was not a patriotic Nigerian, I would have changed my nationality despite all the disappointments I experienced.
AND IN TERMS OF THE MONETARY ASPECT, WOULD YOU SAY YOU WERE FULFILLED AS A BOXER?
I thank God for what He has done in my life. I am not hungry and at the same time I don't have much, but I am okay. I believe I rank among boxing greats in Nigeria. When legends of Nigerian boxing are being mentioned, I believe my name will surely be among. It's not as if I am boastful but it is the truth, and I am happy about that.