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26.01.2005 Sports News

Ouma Has Escaped Foes Tougher Than Jantuah

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It's a timeworn adage, often used on our shores by some unfortunate whose luck in love has taken a turn for the worse.

"What does not kill me makes me stronger," people say when lady luck has bolted, and they are left behind, saddened but supposedly unbowed Kassim Ouma, 26, said much the same thing during a media conference call building up buzz for his match with Kofi Jantuah on the Gatti/Leija Atlantic City undercard this Saturday: "The feeling was if it didn't kill me, let me get stronger," said Ouma, recalling his mindset after he was shot in the stomach by a former co-worker in 2002.

And when we try to buttress our sagging confidence when our luck runs dry using the old Goethe/Nietzsche nugget, God, it totally pales in comparison to Ouma's usage of the same proverb.

At age five, Ouma was snatched from his schoolhouse in Uganda and kidnapped with other children. They were forced to join the National Resistance Army, and wage war with the guerilla band. Ouma fashioned bombs at six and at seven, he was toting a submachine gun bigger than his own body.

The experience didn't kill him, and presumably made him stronger, so that he was able to stow the baggage of the ordeal, and take up boxing. Ouma made the Ugandan Olympic team, but didn't make the trip to Atlanta in 1996 because funding was meager. He defected in Washington DC during a team tour in Feb. 1998 and debuted as a pro in July of the same year.

His time as a guerilla fighter came up during the press conference. How many times, Ouma was asked, did he face death as a child warrior? "So many times," he said. "I was on the front line. Everything I do now is driven by God. Whatever happens to me is supposed to be."

Ouma, 20-1-1 with 13 knockouts, has been through more in the first six years of his life than 99% of us have to muddle through in our entire life span. The Ugandan, who carries a 13-fight win streak into his IBF junior middleweight title scrap with the harder-punching Kofi Jantuah (28-1, 18 knockouts), suggested that his streak would be the one to stay intact. "I've been in camp for about six weeks," he said. "If I do what I am supposed to do and I do it good, I just feel right."

And though Jantuah's knockout efficiency has been rising lately (12 of his last 14 bouts have resulted in KO wins), Ouma showed him no reverence. "Kofi? This guy is from Ghana and I spoke to him on the phone for five minutes," Ouma said. "We don't have a relationship - we just spoke and that is it."

The African connection between the two, while not warranting any bond beyond grudging respect, does fill Ouma with national pride.

"This fight means a lot to me. When was the last time two African fighters met for the world title?" Ouma asked. "In the 50s was the last time two African fighters met each other. So it does mean something."

Ouma hasn't left behind tumult and violence during his time in the States. He beat Jason Papillion in May 2002 for the vacant USBA title but was stripped for testing positive for marijuana. In December of 2002, Ouma was shot by a former co-worker in West Palm beach, Florida. He took two bullets, but recovered, and fought again five months later.

Ouma's frequent brushes with mortality could have changed his personality, shoved him into an existence of gentle contemplation. Not so. He's dodged death countless times and gives off an aura of determined, brash confidence when delivering a pro-wrestling style promo. "Are you ready to see me in AC? I'm coming and do you know what I'm doing? I'm going to steal your whole city and your whole show," he said. "By the time I leave Atlantic City, the whole city will be mine. They may have to give me the key after the fight. So I'm going to continue my boxing career then go to Hollywood. Then you will see me on the movie screen. I'm going to be a movie star."

Ouma certainly has at least a dozen fights left in him, and when he's ready to exit the fight game, perhaps Hollywood will be an option. Because the script for his life story, the first 26 years of it, already has more grit and spice than anything Van Damme has ever done.

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