Mustapha (Mustafa) Wasajja (Wassaja / Wassajja / Wasaja) was born on July 16, 1953 in Kampala, Uganda). As an amateur, Wasajja fought at welterweight, light middleweight, and middleweight. Wasajja, weakened by weakness and tremors for years, finally succumbed to parkinsonism on April 26, 2009, near Kampala in Uganda.
In the early 1970s, Wasajja came under the tutelage of Uganda’s legendary and most famous coach Peter Grace Sseruwagi (Seruwagi) and national coach Kesi Odongo (who at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth, Australia won a silver medal in the lightweight division). As a light welterweight, Sseruwagi represented Uganda at the 1960 Summer Olympics held in Rome, but was knocked out of medal contention. Francis (Frank) Nyangweso, a longtime Ugandan sports officer and former commander of the Ugandan Army, a light middleweight contender at the time, was also knocked out in previous bouts at the same Games.
Wasajja’s first distinguished international achievement came at the African Amateur Championships held in his native Uganda, in Kampala, in November 1974. Wasajja won gold in the middleweight division. Gold medals won by his compatriots James Odwori (Oduori), Ayub Kalule, Vitalis Bbege, Mohamed Muruli; along with silver medals won by Ali Rojo and Jacob Odongo, further established the two-time (1970 and 1974) Ugandan Commonwealth Boxing Overall Champion as an international ring master. Earlier, in January 1974, at the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand, Wasajja, as a Ugandan middleweight, was knocked out in the quarterfinals in the first round by New Zealand’s Les Rackley.
And at the World Boxing Championships held in August 1974, Wasajja was outpointed in the quarterfinals by Dragomir Vujkovic of Yugoslavia. A next major outing for the glorious Ugandans would have been at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Canada. Many African countries, including Uganda, boycotted these Games. Notable Ugandan boxers like Wasajja, Ayub Kalule and Cornelius Bbosa (Boza-Edwards), would henceforth move into the growing field of professional boxing. These were the seeds of Ugandan boxing’s golden era in the 1980s, during which Ugandans, notably Ayub Kalule, Cornelius Boza-Edwards and John “the Beast” Mugabi, became professional world champions.
It is noteworthy that a build-up for the 1976 Olympics included the International Pre-Olympic Boxing Tournament held in Montreal from November 27 to December 1, 1975. Uganda was represented by Wasajja (middleweight), hard-hitting and feared knockout specialist and African champion Vitalis Bbege (welterweight) and Jacob Odonga (light-heavyweight). Only Wasajja came out the winner, while his counterparts were defeated in the final. In the quarterfinals, Wasajja outpointed Pietro Contarini of Canada. This was followed by Wasajja beating Jacobus Schmidt of the Netherlands on points. The final involved Wasajja beating Bryan Gibson of Canada 4:1. Vitalis (Vitalish) Bbege was also scheduled to fight for Uganda at the upcoming but abortive Olympic Games. Bbege soon moved to West Germany (FDR), where he boxed as an amateur club and even represented Germany in a friendly match with the United States. He is well established in Germany with his family and is a fitness and boxing trainer in Flensburg.
Wasajja fought in 28 official fights as a professional boxer. These Wasajja fights took place from March 1977 to March 1983, and Wasajja became a top ten global contender as a light heavyweight and cruiserweight from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s. Aside from his last three fights, his fights essentially took place in Denmark and Norway. Of his only professional victories and one draw (25 bouts), 76% of them went the distance, Wasajja recorded 24% as knockouts of his opponents. Wasajja stood out as a southpaw, a mostly agile, quick and stamina puncher who would endure every round as well as deliver as a power knockout fighter.
On September 9, 1978 in Copenhagen, Wasajja technically knocked out legendary former world light heavyweight Bob (Robert Lloyd) Foster with a fifth-round knockout. Considered one of the world’s all-time greats (light heavyweights), the lanky 6’3″ tall Foster had been in many ferocious battles with notable boxers over the years, including epic heavyweights such as Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Ernie Terrel. He is regarded as the best boxer to have been born in the state of New Mexico, USA after (a rematch with Bob Hazelton in which Foster was knocked out), Foster would retire for the last time. Wasajja was only 25 years old at the time. Foster put on the gloves, finishing with a marvelous 56 wins (46 by knockout) and 8 losses.
From his professional debut in March 1977 to February 13, 1982, Wasajja achieved a 100% winning streak. It was then that he fought the legendary Michael Spinks (later to become World Heavyweight Champion) for the light heavyweight crown, in New Jersey Atlantic City in the United States. The fact that Wasajja crossed the Atlantic for a shot at the belt meant his demise. Before the fight with Spinks, Wasajja, regarded as a mystery man (whose names were hard to spell) by American fans and writers, became the number one contender for the WBA light heavyweight crown. Earlier, in 1980, Wasajja had become the third ranked WBA contender.
Wasajja was subsequently knocked out by Spinks in the sixth round and thus failed to capture the World Boxing Association (WBA) title. In July of the same year, Wasajja lost his next fight (which went all the way) to Tony Mundine in France, and then in Lusaka, Zambia, Wasajja was knocked out by Zambian Lottie Mwale in just three rounds, and thus failed to capture the British Commonwealth Light Heavyweight title. At 29, Wasajja had fought his last professional fight. Without a doubt, the last three were Wasajja’s toughest and most significant bouts; they were against the opponents of the game. Unfortunately, it was in all three that Wasajja succumbed. These three significantly injured and exposed Wasajja’s weaknesses. Nevertheless, Wasajja established himself as one of the greatest Ugandan boxers and, significantly, as one of the greatest among Ugandan pioneering professional boxers.
Notably, Lottie Mwale, who was the same age as Wasajja, boxed professionally until 1994; he stands out as one of the greatest African boxers. He participated in 53 professional bouts, won most of them by knockout, and was also an African Boxing Union (ABU) champion. Zambia’s best boxer succumbed in 2005, at the age of 53, to parkinsonism, the same condition suffered by the legendary Muhammad Ali. Zambians, with their love of boxing, apparently have a lasting memory of Mustapha Wasajja. And the Zambians have been traditional boxing rivals of the Ugandans for decades. Charles Chisamba, the Zambian Light Heavyweight Champion, bears the nickname “Wasajja” (“Wasaja”). On 24 January 2009 in Lusaka, Chisamba outpointed Mbaruku Kheri of Tanzania for a vacant African Boxing Union (ABU) light heavyweight title to become African champion. Wasajja has mentored young and promising boxers in the Mulago Yellow Boxing Club, some of whom have excelled as professionals abroad…mainly in Europe, especially in Scandinavian countries.
In an October 8, 2005 article by Moses Mugalu in the Ugandan “Daily Monitor” newspaper, Wasajja is said to speak of having invested in Kenyan businesses (along with his longtime boxing counterpart Ayub Kalule) after he retired from boxing, as late as 1990. But Wasajja claimed to have been eventually duped by his Kenyan business counterparts; a consequence of which he became a poverty stricken slum dweller in Mulago in Kampala. His five children had similar difficulties, some young and not enrolled in school. Wasajja recounted his memorable amateur exhibition fight with his chief executive, Idi Amin, shortly after Wasajja won the African Championship title in the series held in Kampala in 1975. Wasajja was bound to lose in that puppet fight. In “Monitor” interviews, Wasajja is described as weak, frail, shaky, and occasionally stuttering, but both his memory of him and his speech are quite clear and focused, and he maintains his pride and humor.
In the Ugandan newspaper, “Bukedde”, dated July 28, 2008, a bedridden Wasajja mentions to Ibrahim Katongole that his sons Rehemah Namuddu, Nakayiwa and Salif Abdul are taking care of him. According to a former national boxer, Charles Lubulwa, some of Wasajja’s suffering stemmed from being disconnected from boxing bodies and the people who had employed and supported him during his boxing career abroad. To a large extent, they had lost contact with him.
Regarding the memorable fight with Michael Spinks in which he lost in 1982, Wasajja strongly suspects that the food he was given before the fight (in Atlantic City, New Jersey) was contaminated and consequently weakened and incapacitated him: he claimed that foul play was involved in his loss of the fight. This was Wasajja’s most memorable and prestigious fight. And who knew? Wasajja fought both Spinks brothers who became world heavyweight champions! One of the brothers beat Muhammad Ali, and the other got beat by Mike Tyson, among other things! Also, notably, Wasajja fought during an era considered golden for light heavyweights. These included Michael Spinks, Dwight Mohammed Qawi (formerly Dwight Braxton), Eddie Mustafa Muhammad (formerly Eddie Gregory), Marvin Johnson, and Mathew Saad Muhammad (formerly Mathew Franklin, and born Maxwell Antonio Loach).
Wasajja was a notable Ugandan amateur boxing champion and African amateur boxing champion, but his victories were not as many or as surprising as those of his counterparts such as Ayub Kalule and James Odwori. In the professional ranks he achieved remarkable heights, but he did not win that coveted world title. Wasajja’s fame is intertwined with the fact that he is a mysterious Ugandan champion, one who had shots at both the world title and the African professional title but failed to win. Wasajja, the mysterious champion of Uganda, stood out as one of Uganda’s pioneering professional boxers, one who had the audacity to challenge some of the best boxers in the world.