If There Was No Boxing, There Would Be No Me Here Now
When you attend a fight card with Wale Omotoso on the bill, you can expect to see Lucky Boy listed as the fighter’s name in your program. No, not his given name of Oyewale, or even the abbreviated Wale (pronounced Wall-ee). Instead, entering the ring that night will simply be a man named Lucky Boy Omotoso, and when the fighter disrobes before the opening bell, you’ll see it tattooed proudly across his chest in robustly round script.
“I call myself Lucky Boy,” Omotoso told TSS, “because of what I’ve passed through, growing up in Africa, what I’ve seen, what I’ve faced in life…”
Omotoso has lived through more than most of us could ever imagine. He’s seen men and women butchered in the street. He’s tasted the cold bitterness of poverty in a developing country, and he’s carried the burden of hopelessness and the badge of pragmatic necessity that comes with it. For this, he calls himself lucky.
Omotoso has picked up six wins on American soil. At 23-0, the undefeated welterweight stands on the precipice of achieving things he dared not dream about oh-so-long-ago in Lagos. Not only will he be appearing on the co-feature of Saturday’s Timothy Bradley-Ruslan Provodnikov fight card, but the bout, Omotoso’s biggest test yet against fellow undefeated Top Rank prospect Jessie Vargas (pictured above, on the left, with Omotoso, in photo by Chris Farina-Top Rank), will be televised live on HBO’s World Championship boxing.
Lucky Boy can tell you tales of his life as a “street boy” in Lagos, the most populous city in Nigeria. Almost eight million souls call this African port metropolis home. Truth be told, compared to other parts of Nigeria the standard of living in Lagos is quite high, so long as your family has the means to enjoy it. Omotoso’s family did not.
“I grew up in the street,” says the lucky one. “If there was no boxing, there would be no me here now.”
One of five children, Omotoso lost his mother at an early age. His father worked hard at providing what he could, but wasn’t able to keep his children away from the street life. Like his siblings, Omotoso said he did what he had to do. He joined a street gang. He learned to take what he could get from who he could get it. He was a gangster in the truest sense of the word.
Still, Omotoso said he never fully lost his grip on morality. He knew what was right and what was wrong. It’s just that it wasn’t always about right or wrong. It was about survival. He did what he had to do, he said, but he was sorry for it.
“I went every Sunday when I was in street,” he said. “Commit crime and get in trouble Monday through Saturday, then go to Church on Sunday to ask for forgiveness in case anything happened to me or if I died. I’d always go to ask for forgiveness for all the things I did on Monday through Saturday.”
Omotoso told TSS he never really wanted to be a boxer. It just happened. He learned to fight out of necessity. On the streets of Lagos, he said, fighting was just part of staying alive long enough to ask for forgiveness again at church.
“I started boxing on the street. That’s what I did. I was a street fighter. I never planned on being a boxer. I just planned to learn boxing so I could learn how to punch people, so I could fight three people at a time without a weapon. And life just changed from there.”
Once, after a particularly brutal street fight, Omotoso said he headed to the boxing gym while he and other gang members were laying low for awhile from local authorities. Once inside the structured life of the boxing gym, Omotoso quickly established himself. His powerful fists and quick hands made him a natural boxer. His life-or-death battles on the street gave him ruggedness not easily had. But more was needed to make it off the streets of Lagos.
Good fortune smiled on Omotoso by way of an Australian named Murray Thompson. The fighter was invited by the boxing trainer to leave his homeland and train down under. He gave Omotoso a shot at a different kind of lifestyle, a prizefighter’s. Omotoso jumped at the opportunity. In Australia, Omotoso found hope and purpose. He still attended church every Sunday, he said, but he no longer had street crimes to confess.
“I loved the country! I thought I was dead. I thought I was in heaven!”
Omotoso stayed with Thompson from the beginning of his professional career in 2006 until 2010. Running his record to 17-0, Omotoso started to sense he would need more to make a life for himself in the brutal sport of boxing than his newfound heaven could give him.
“I fought in Australia and fought people from Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, and the Philippines – all the Asian counties. But I watched United States fighters and would see how Australian fighters would travel to the United States and they would lose. I knew this was the next step. I needed to go to the U.S. to learn more, to grow more in my career, to make a life for myself.”
After waiting months for trainer Murray to bring him over to the States as promised, Omotoso finally decided to go it on his own. He set out for America alone, this pilgrim pugilist from Nigeria, aimed straight for Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym in Hollywood.
“United States boxing is like going to University,” he said. “I made it to Freddie Roach’s gym. I sparred there two times. Top Rank saw me and they picked me up from there. Look where I am today! Why not call myself Lucky Boy, brother?”
Top Rank’s chief matchmaker, Bruce Trampler, remembers first discovering Omotoso when he saw him sparring with Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr.
“Lucky Boy is skilled and he hits real hard. He got my attention quick,” Trampler said.
Omotoso said once signed, he was told things wouldn’t be easy for him. Despite his skill level and power, it wouldn’t take just a few months or a year to reach the top. It would take considerable time and effort on his part. No longer a “street boy” from Lagos plying the boxer’s trade to make ends meet, Omotoso transformed himself into a hardworking, dedicated, professional boxer. He focused on the little things, the subtle nuances of the science that separate the sport’s top performers from the everyday palookas fighting for table scraps.
“When I came here, it’s not that they changed me, it’s that they told me what I didn’t know: how to sit down on my punches, how to work the angles. America is the school of boxing. In Australia I sparred, but not like here. Here, in America, you will find sparring. You can spar as much as you want. Fighting different people, getting different experience. I love my training here.”
Of his Saturday clash, he said, “I can’t wait! This fight will let everyone know I’m ready…that I’m born to do this,” said Omotoso as we finished up the call.
And with a name like Lucky Boy, maybe he really is.