step into the arena

November 29, 2018
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Text and photos by August Udoh for AFROPUNK.

Nigerian Dambe boxers fight with one bounded hand for three rounds. The fight club is underground, only spread by word of mouth by those in the know.

It starts with singing and chanting, which is really loud, calling all the fighters or warriors to come to the arena. There is an enforcer that goes around telling them to get into their gear. The fighters observe their rituals by chanting and jumping around a circle. Sometimes they cut themselves and rub charms on it. I’ve never seen them train so when I asked about it, they laughed. They believe in the charms — the more powerful your charms, the more chances you have at striking down your opponent.

I’ve seen people collapse, I’ve seen people break their arms. Sometimes I just go to see the fights without a camera to watch.

When a fighter thrills the crowd, someone in the audience comes out and gives him cash. Sometimes they are given properties, livestock or cars. They make more money by representing different states in the all African games and they can make as much as a $1,000. The fighters always complain about being cheated by their coaches because most of these boys are not educated.

They are like rock stars with groupies everywhere, they travel around the country to find action or where the next big fight is.