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Mtagwa ready for Gamboa

Story by Rick Scharmberg
Photos by Ed Mullholland

Rogers “The Tiger” Mtagwa (26-13-2, 18 KOs) will challenge Cuban sensation Yuriorkis Gamboa (16-0, 14 KOs) for Gamboa’s WBA featherweight title this Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Mtagwa, who was born in Dodima, Tanzania and moved to Philadelphia in 2000, earned this shot with game performance against WBO super bantamweight champion Juan Manuel Lopez, of Puerto Rico on October 10. He rocked Lopez repeatedly throughout the fight, and nearly had him out in the final round, but dropped a unanimous decision.

"Gamboa has power and his speed is very good,” said Mtagwa. “This is going to be a good fight for me. Training is good, and I am ready to go the distance.”

Mtagwa is a throwback fighter who would have thrived in any era. Wearing trademark white trunks with black stripes, there are no frills to his appearance in the ring, or his style. He seeks out his opponent’s chin from the opening bell to the last, and as a result, his fights are exciting and often dramatic.

In 2003, there was a brutal, dramatic, one-punch knockout of Corey Alarcon at the Tropicana in Atlantic City. Then there was an exciting 2005 bout with Fernando Trejo, where Mtagwa dropped Trejo twice in the final round to eke out a split decision victory.

Two fights before his bout with Lopez, Mtagwa fought Tomas Villa in Tuscon, Arizona. Down in the third round, Mtagwa battled back to floor Villa three times in the tenth and final round and got the stoppage win in what was a fight of the year candidate for 2008. Mtagwa stood with and traded with Villa, which delighted to fans, but didn’t please his manager and cut man, Joe Parella.

“He stood in front of Villa,” stated Parella, “which is something we didn’t want him to do. We want to take this fight with Gamboa into the later rounds. We don’t want him to stand and trade. I hope that he will listen and fight a smart fight. We are ready to go twelve rounds and let the cards fall where they may.

“I don’t make excuses for my fighter. I tell it like it is. He stunk the place out against Billy Dib, and I was worried in the fight with Aldo Valtierra for the NABF title. I wasn’t happy with Roger. I was disappointed. I was happy with getting the decision, but I knew it was close.”

The decision was later changed to a “no contest” after Mtagwa tested positive for ephedrine. He won a decision over Valtierra in the rematch eight months later.

Mtagwa has a solid team behind him. His longtime promoter is hall of fame member Russell Peltz, and his trainer is Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts, the famous Philadelphia middleweight who happens to own a win over the great Marvin Hagler. Mtagwa does not limit his training to a single gym, either.

“I train at Joe Hand’s Gym, Shuler’s Gym, Front Street, and Marion Anderson, wherever I can get work. I don’t like to stay at one gym,” said Mtagwa.

In a fight town like Philadelphia, he has that luxury.

On June 16, 2006, Rogers won the USBA featherweight title with a spectacular fourth round knockout over highly touted Armenian Artyom Simonyan at the New Alhambra in Philadelphia. After a successful defense against Alvin Brown, Mtagwa lost the title to world-ranked Martin Honorio, in a razor-thin split decision at Cicero Stadium in Illinois.

Manager Joe Parella remembers:

“We fought a Golden Boy fighter in his own town. There was no doubt we were the opponent in that fight. We were given a closet for a dressing room, with a few folding chairs and a table with a light bulb hanging from the ceiling. Those were the accommodations we got with Honorio in Chicago. Still, I thought we beat Honorio.”

Parella then repeated what many boxing experts said bout Rogers’ bout with Juan Manuel Lopez. “It could have been a draw. That wasn’t a knockdown (of Mtagwa) in the fifth round; it was more of a push. In that last round, Lopez held on to the ropes for dear life. I give the kid credit for surviving, but I wasn’t happy at all with the refereeing. No way was that last round a ten – nine round either.”

Mtagwa has his own take on that final round when he had Lopez badly hurt. “The referee was supposed to stop the fight when a fighter is hurt that bad. That’s how fighters get killed. That’s not right. He is the champion so they let it go. The guy was very hurt.”

Team Mtagwa petitioned for a rematch with Lopez, and got the title bout with Gamboa instead. Lopez will face Steven Luevano in Saturday’s main event.

“The training is good. This time I am ready. Last time (for Lopez) I only had two or three weeks to train because I hurt my ankle. I didn’t run as much. This time, I run every day. I am ready for this one,” said Mtagwa.

By now, the talk is over and all that’s left is the fight. It is imperative for Rogers to alter his style for the wunderkind Gamboa. He would benefit from throwing his combinations, and then move out of harm’s way. Doing that may be easier said than done.

Perhaps his best chance of winning would be to counter Gamboa on those occasions when he recklessly charges in with his bombs, and consequently leaves his chin exposed for a brief instant. Gamboa has been down several times in his young career.

Mtagwa closed with some words for his fans:

“I want my fans to pray for me that I don’t get hurt. Please cheer for me to give me the energy to bring the title back to Philly. And I want to thank you for your support.”


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