Folio Nigeria

Out of a Lagos Street Boxing Academy, Big Dreams & a Child Star

Sultan Adekoya. Credit: Tipo Boxing Academy.

Sultan Adekoya. Credit: Tipo Boxing Academy.

Out of a Lagos Street Boxing Academy, Big Dreams & a Child Star

As the new home of Folio Nigeria, a subsidiary of Folio Media, Open Country Mag is republishing culture stories that first appeared on the site under its CNN affiliation. This story was first published in 2020.

One evening in June 2013, Coach Tipo, a former boxer-turned-trainer in Egbeda, Lagos, sat outside his apartment, eating cashew with his brother, his boxing kit on the ground in front of them, when a child, passing with his mother, left her and ran to the kit. “He started picking my gloves without taking permission,” Tipo recalls to me. “He put on the gloves and started hitting small-small kids around. I stopped him. He said he wanted to box, he wanted to fight.”

The child, Sultan Adekoya, was only five years old. When his mother came to pull him away, he began crying, refusing to give back the gloves. “We never see him do this before,” his mother, Mrs. Bilikis Adekoya, remembers. “What we see is he is always watching boxing; anytime they are showing it on TV, he doesn’t want to go away from there. When we off the TV, he will on it back.”

That evening, Mrs. Adekoya asked Tipo for the training requirements, and the following morning, her husband, Mr. Tosin Adekoya, returned with Sultan, with a full kit, ready to enroll him.

Although he had doubts about taking in a five-year-old, Tipo was impressed by Sultan’s passion and began training him, shaping him, over seven years, into the sharp mover who, now 12 years old, went viral last month after a training clip of them both surfaced online.

At 40, Tipo, whose real name is Taiwo Adegbite, has been training boxers for half his life. His father was a boxer, and he himself, after apprenticing as a barber, vulcanizer, and artist, chose the path. He found some success as a teenager in the late ‘90s, traveling for fights in Benin, Togo, and Ghana, until he suffered a shoulder dislocation.

It was a terrifying moment in his life. “I said, how can I do now? I have the sense, I have the memory, I have the talent. I say, let me put what I have in my head into these children. What I have for them is the dream.”

Coach Tipo. Credit: Tipo Boxing Academy.
Coach Tipo. Credit: Tipo Boxing Academy.

At Tipo Boxing Academy, he currently trains 48 young people, aged five to 27, all influenced by boxers on TV. Some cite Floyd Mayweather, the American, or Canelo Alvarez, the Mexican, but mostly Anthony Joshua, the Nigerian-British boxer who at 31 is one of the most recognizable faces in global sports: a two-time unified heavyweight champion, holding the World Boxing Association (WBA), International Boxing Federation (IBF), World Boxing Organisation (WBO), and International Boxing Organisation (IBO) titles.

But before Joshua, in the last half century, Nigerians already carved out a place for themselves in professional boxing history. In 1962, 33-year-old, Aba-born Dick Tiger (real name: Richard Ihetu) won the World Middleweight Championship and, in 1966, the World Light Heavyweight Championship. Named Fighter of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) in ’62 and ‘66 and by The Ring magazine in ’62 and ’65, he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991 and voted, in 2002 by The Ring, the 31st best fighter of the last 80 years.

After Dick Tiger came Bash Ali, who at 29 became Africa’s first World Boxing Federation (WBF) Cruiserweight Champion, and until this year sought a Guinness World Record for oldest boxer to win a world title. At the 1996 Summer Olympics, 23-year-old Duncan Dokiwari was a bronze medalist for the Men’s Super Heavyweight category. In 1997, 24-year-old Ike Ibeabuchi began an undefeated five-year run, going 20-0 with 15 knockouts. In 2008, 28-year-old Samuel Peter took the World Boxing Council (WBC) Heavyweight title. Superstars continue to emerge, like 26-year-old Efe Ajagba, record holder for fastest victory in boxing history after his opponent was disqualified after one second.

In a country that only started a Nigeria Boxing League in 2019, this history signifies hope for the trainees at Tipo’s academy, which has also produced professionals.

“[West African Boxing Union, WABU] welterweight champion Babatunde ‘Babyface’ [Rilwan], I trained him from childhood,” Tipo says. “My captain, Makinde Israel, is a gold medalist in youth game; he represented Kwara State.” There are promising talents among the trainees, too: “Kehinde Owueye, Sultan’s set, very fast, 10 years old. A female, Joy, very good. All my boxers are really good. I train them with the same pattern. I believe in all of them.” In July 2019, Tipo travelled to Oman to train a then 29-year-old boxer named Saeed Jafarian, who now works in the US.

Sultan, though, was the one who stunned Tipo from the start, winning his first fight in Round 2 and his second in Round 1. The boy, Tipo saw, was a special talent. “I say, let me focus on him, you never can say. Maybe he’s the one that God sent to his family. So I take him outside, doing base work. Before I know, small thing I teach Sultan, Sultan will grab fast. Even those that have been a very long time in training, they have not been hitting my coach pad; the first time I taught Sultan, he hit it well.”

After 64 fights in his 35kg “catch-weight” category, including in Ghana and Togo, Sultan remains undefeated, winning 60 and drawing four, and becoming champion of a 2018 contest organized by Brilla FM.

The young boxers of Tipo Boxing Academy.
The young boxers of Tipo Boxing Academy.

“Lomachenko, Mayweather, Anthony Joshua,” Sultan lists his favourite boxers. He attends Merry City Secondary School in Egbeda, and when home, he spends hours watching those three on TV, mimicking their moves. He watches football and tennis, too, and can play both, which is why he hopes, when time for university comes, to “study something like sports.” At training, they call him Small Cola, due to his tough manner. “I want to be a worldwide champion,” he says. “Coach Tipo knows how to train people.”

It costs N3,000 ($7.75) to register at Tipo Boxing Academy, a small amount for two-hour evening sessions six days a week. Registration forms are signed by parents, Tipo explains, because “boxing is a risky game, you never can say.” Tipo leads the training sessions, alongside a trainee coach. “I trained someone to be a coach before,” Tipo says with pride: “Riliwon.” That pride, faith, and love are what primarily supports the academy.

But those are not money.

“I have been trying for 20 years but I’ve never seen anyone who wants to support,” Tipo says, “except BBM, when he has.” (BBM, Babanla Boxing Management, manages the academy.) “Assuming we have two or three people helping like that, I know it will be easy to encourage children. Some, because of canvas, they can’t come to training. And we need a bigger gym.”

After the video of them went viral, the Minister for Youth and Sports Development, Hon. Sunday Dare, tweeted that they “found him in our talent hunt. There is gold in this kid!”

But so far, nothing has happened.

“Everybody thinks we have gained things from the Minister,” Tipo says quietly. “People now come to us to give them something, not knowing we didn’t get anything. I don’t know what will be tomorrow, but for now, nothing.”

There is pain in Tipo’s voice. “I’m so sorry for that,” he murmurs, ached, as if my question were another responsibility he had already emptied himself trying to fulfil. I realize then how much disappointment he shields his trainees, “my children,” from.

Tipo credits Sultan’s attitude for the boy’s successful run. “Sultan is a very strong person. He teaches people his own pattern. He doesn’t give me stress. He’s a very talented, a very fast learner. I pray that his wish, God should help him.”

And Tipo has his own great wish, too. “I promised myself,” he repeats, “I’m going to give us a world champion that is going to take our nation up.” ♦

If you love what you just read, please consider making a PayPal donation to enable us to publish more like it.

More Stories from Folio Nigeria x OCM

— Aisha Ahmad, Princess of Polo

— How Taaooma Became a Social Media Phenomenon

— Nigeria’s New Wave of Experimental Metal Sculptors

— The Women Weavers of Akwete

— Against Sexism, Female Photographers Push Back with Skill

— A 17-Year-Old’s Hyper-realistic Portraits in Charcoal

— Intissar Bashir-Kurfi Is Collecting Nylon to Save the Environment


Sultan Adekoya stunned Coach Tipo from the start, winning his first fight in Round 2 and his second in Round 1. The boy, Tipo saw, was a special talent.


In a country that only started a Nigeria Boxing League in 2019, this history signifies hope for the trainees at Tipo’s academy, which has also produced professionals.

Otosirieze for Open Country Mag

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

“An ambitious new magazine that is committed to African literature"

- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Get the essential stories in African literature + Nigerian film and TV: in-depth, thought-provoking Profiles, features, reviews, and conversations, as well as news on events and opportunities.

We respect your privacy and will never send you Spam or sell your email.