Moses Matovu

  “We all have big imaginations and illusions of making it big, being world champion and getting those belts.”  The words of a boxer with aspirations of seeing their name up in lights and following in the footsteps of the famed fighters that have come before them.  All fighters start their career with the dreams of being the best, winning titles and creating a legacy in the sport.  But not all fighters will achieve it.
 
Those words come from Moses Matovu.  Matovu is 39 years old and holds a professional record of 5 wins, 63 losses and 4 draws.  Matovu is the archetypal journeyman boxer.  “I guess it is what I do, there is no other name for what I am.  I’m comfortable with it” he says in his accent that veers between Northern Irish, American and a hint of his roots from Uganda. 
Matovu’s is a well travelled journey.  Born in 1976 in Uganda he is now settled in Bangor, Northern Ireland.  His story also takes in a period in the USA, relocating with his family, where his boxing story begins.
 
“I did some of my amateurs in Boston for a couple of years and a year later I was debating making the move to Vegas.  I went out there and it’s a different class of fighter in Vegas.  I tried my best and the opposition was really good; I started coming off with a few losses and that started me on the journey of what I am now.”
 
It was May 2004 when Matovu made his professional debut against fellow debutant Shane Johnston in the Sports Arena of San Diego, California.  The fight ended in a unanimous draw, each judge deeming the fighters equal over the four rounds.  The two would meet again in December of the same year, this time Matovu not only knocked Johnston down in the first round but would go on to win the fight on points.  Between the two fights Matovu has his first taste of defeat, being on the end of three losses before claiming his win against Johnston in the December of 2004.  In his first ten fights Matovu’s record was, although not spectacular, also not the worst in boxing.  He had amassed two wins, five losses and three draws and was taking fights on a regular basis.  In fact he got through all ten fights within the space of just 13 months, all taking place within the USA and even making his Vegas debut.
 
“The first two guys I struggled against.  The first guy I fought I fought a second time after we drew the first one and I beat him second time around” says Moses, referring back to Johnston.  “The opposition really quickly got a whole lot better and I was struggling.  By about my fourth or fifth fight I was fighting the winner of the first reality series ‘The Contender’.  I actually drew with him and lost on the second fight.  When you start your career like that it’s really hard to come back from.  It takes you on another journey and that’s where I am now.”
 
It was another three years until Matovu left America, taking in one fight at the National Stadium in Ireland before taking a more permanent fighting residence in the UK.  The change seemed to suit; in his first four fights on UK soil there were two wins (albeit with two accompanying losses) and the fights were still coming regularly.  The four fights came between January and April 2012 – they came on the back of a four year hiatus from the sport between 2008 and January 2012.  “When I got to the UK I debated started out boxing but with a record like mine and a lack of supporters to sell tickets to it was really only the option of going down the path to being a journeyman.  That’s where I met my Manager right now who has been breathing new life into my career” he tells me.
 
Matovu speaks positively of his experience in boxing, both within and out of the ring.  At his end of the game it isn’t about the politics that fans hear about at the pinnacle of the sport, promoters who won’t match the best with the best.  Instead Matovu has a refreshing attitude and realisation of where his place is within the pecking order and what value he adds to the sport.  After all, he has stood toe-to-toe with a number of names that are now familiar within the realms of boxing when they were starting in the sport; names such as Gary Cornish, Hughie Fury and Wadi Camacho have shared the ring with Matovu.  How does he feel being the fighter that is used to blood the newcomers? 

“I think a lot of people out there have the misconception that we are paid to lose.  I don’t think we automatically lose, it’s just the nature of the way the business is.
 
I think along the way you realise you are the measuring scale brought out for these guys.  You look at someone like Kristian Laight’s career and he’s had 220 or 230 fights now and that’s something else!  I’m 72 fights in and with about 63 losses.  Look at our careers and you can’t put a price on the experience we bring to the table.”
 
As a yard stick to measure fighters by, a defeat of Matovu may not hold huge significance to a fighter as they move past that point in their career but it does start that fighter’s journey.  For instance, there is great pride amongst boxers if they are able to halt him before the end of the designated rounds.  Throughout his 63 losses there have only been seven occasions where he has failed to hear the final bell in a fight.  One of these instances happened in his last fight, which I was lucky enough to see, when Londoner Ossie Jervier was able to halt the fight in the fourth round of four.  Speaking with Jervier after the fight I remember the delight in his face at the fact that he had joined an elite club of those that had managed to force the fight to be stopped. 

“Nobody stops Moses” were Jervier’s words to me as he stood ringside after the fight.  Although not literally correct, I knew exactly what he meant.  “I took my eye off the job for a second and one punch changed the fight” reflects Matovu, two weeks after the stoppage which saw his corner throw in the towel.  “My Manager was looking at the business side of things and didn’t like the way my leg bobbled - that’s the way it goes but hey, you lose some!  There were only six seconds to go when the towel came in – I thought I could beat the count and then there were only two seconds to go in the fight but never mind.  I told my Manager my heart got in the way of my head when I got upset after, it comes with the territory and I love what I do!”

What Matovu is doing is providing a vital service within the sport.  One of the fighters that can take a fight at short notice, can fight between weight divisions (depending on the opposition he can be a heavyweight or a cruiserweight) and can typically give a prospect a good number of rounds to put their sparring into practice.  But he is also more than just the opponent to go and lose, there is something that can set Matovu apart; he is also an entertainer.  It doesn’t always seem that those fighters at the top level are appreciative towards the fans who come to see them fight.  The same accusation could not be levelled at the man from Bangor.  Watch him in the ring and for as long as the fight lasts, you will be entertained.  He has a repertoire of shenanigans; he does a mean Ali shuffle centre ring, there are some slick dance moves that he isn’t afraid to show off when he has distanced himself from the opposition and no fight is complete without seeing him brush down his shoulders once his opponent has had an attacking flurry.  Not meant with the malice or posturing of, say, a prime Chris Eubank – these moves are there for one reason only. 
Jamie Arlain
“I have come to a point where I really, really, really respect people that come out and pay their money and get dressed up and come to see what we do, so I’m all about putting on a show and making what I do exciting.  At the same time it’s very rare that I would take my eyes off the prize; I always keep my eyes on the guy’s hands, where they are and what I’m doing while I entertain people.  I’m just adding something to it and having fun while I’m there!”

Have there been times when the antics have had to be cut down to get through the fight though?  “A guy like Hughie Fury, he’s going places.  He has a killer right hand!  I had to concentrate on the job, there was no dancing in that fight!  I had to focus on the job and make sure I got out of there healthy and be able to say ‘hey, I’ve been in with someone special’.  I fought him again when they couldn’t get an opponent so I took it at 48 hours the second time and it was the same deal, you can’t change your style in a couple of months!  It’s one of a couple of survivals on my record that I’m proud of.”

Outside of boxing Matovu can be found working his other shifts – stacking shelves at night in a supermarket.  It’s a quieter environment than what he is used to on fight night.  Nine of his last twenty outings have come at the compact York Hall down in Bethnal Green, where the crowd are so tight around the ring that fighters have said they can hear every word shouted to them.  In that run of 20 fights he has also taken in a rare Irish bout at the Red Cow Moran Hotel in Dublin, as well as some more salubrious boxing venues such as the M.E.N in Manchester that has housed Ricky Hatton’s heyday and the O2 in London, fast becoming one of boxing’s most fashionable arenas.  Have gloves, will travel.

Matovu has just turned 39 and, with the big 4 0 looming on the horizon he realises that his time as an in ring competitor may be winding up.  His career aspirations now may be different to those that he had all those years back in America when he made the decision to become a professional boxer but they are still equally important and hang with a sense of pride.  “I have a couple of years with my Manager.  We have an agreement that we will listen to my body, I’ve just turned 39 years old and I’m pushing my body but at the same time I’m listening to it.  I’ve been told I could age within one fight and when that happens I’m told I won’t want to go out!  I still feel OK but I’m watching out for everything.  I really want to carry on for the next year, 40 will be the real big test.  I want to see it through to 40!” he says, part laughing but a whole lot of serious.

Once the gloves are hung up for the final time Matovu doesn’t want to walk away from boxing.  “I still have a few more fights in me and with encouragement and the body feeling OK I think I can keep doing it” says Moses.  “My body can still carry me OK to do what I want to do.  I would like to train a few people but it’s hard when you have to fight every other week.  That will come in due time but for now I enjoy taking care of my career, I don’t feel ready to be a trainer yet.”

He admits that the money could always be better; it’s not an easy job when he has lost the last 24 fights in a row dating back to his last win in March 2014.  The fact that he has had 24 fights in a 19 month period is testament to how busy a fighter Matovu is, picking up a loss on average more than once a month in that period.  No 12 weeks training camps or opportunities to get back in the gym and work on new tactics it is all action for a man in high demand.  He has recently started to be seen frequently on Goodwin Promotions shows, used to test their prospects.  “There was a time when I was on BoxNation with Frank Warren.  In my second year I was on Sky Sports and Eddie Hearn, but lately I’ve been working with Steve Goodwin and it’s good business.  He is a good man and the whole family is good” he tells me about the man from Leighton Buzzard who the whole industry seemingly speaks highly of.

It is perhaps only recently that Matovu has started to be appreciated for the work he does in the ring.  He says that it is more frequent now for people to approach him and tell him that they love seeing his fights.  “I didn’t know there were people out there being entertained by what I did!” he confesses.  It is perhaps a shame that for so long his work went unrecognised by the majority viewing the sport, although there are those who are within the industry who have known if his importance for many years.   

Once Matovu does decide that his Ali shuffle days are over, his in ring dancing has stopped and his shoulders no longer need to be brushed down he will leave a huge gap to be filled.  As he says, the level of experience that he is able to present a new fighter is priceless and will be a void that will be difficult to plug.  Even then, if someone steps in to his boots it is unlikely that they can bring the humour to the ring that Matovu achieves, able to lighten up the atmosphere of what can be a heated and gladiatorial environment.  His record only tells part of the story.  At a glance it would be easy to say that in his boxing career he hasn’t achieved but it would be wrong.  So wrong.  Matovu has achieved, even if the achievements are passing on the tools to the next generation, or teaching fans that boxing doesn’t have to be all snarl and crossed words.  Some fighter’s legacy can be defined by their belts and their wins.  For Matovu he will be remembered for entirely different reason – reasons that only now he is starting to be acknowledged for himself.  Matovu will not now win belts but he will win respect and for himself, it is all about reaching that big 4 0 next year.