It can easily be described as Zambia and Africa’s finest boxing moment. Catherine Phiri, pictured, returned this week from Mexico to a rapturous welcome, enjoying the full red carpet treatment when she landed at Lusaka International airport on Tuesday.
Thousands of Zambians lined the streets from the airport into the city to welcome Phiri who, against all odds, dethroned Mexican bantamweight champion Yamin “Rusita” Rivas to clinch the WBC crown in a result that shocked the boxing community.
Phiri, who ducking under the ropes with a mere 12 professional bouts – five of which were via the short route and one a loss – was regarded as cannon fodder for the experienced Mexican champion with an impressive record of 34-9-10KOs.
But schoolgirl Phiri, who had taken a seven month sabbatical from Matric to prepare for the fight, simply stood toe-to-toe with the aggressive Mexican and never retreated as they traded punches.
An accidental clash of heads near the end of the sixth round opened up a gash over Rivas’ right eye. Inexplicably, referee Raul Caiz sr took a point off Phiri while the fight was waived off by the ringside doctor Ernesto Franco.
The decision then went to the scorecards with Carla Caiz seeing it an even 57-57, while her brothers, Sergio and Raul jr, overruled their sister with scores of 58-56 and 59-55, respectively.
It must have been the first time ever in the history of boxing that a fight was scored by three siblings while the fourth sibling handled the fight from inside the ring as a referee.
“We had prepared long and hard for this fight,” said her excited manager Christopher Malunga as soon as they touched down in Lusaka. “There were moments when we thought the fight might never materialise after it was postponed countless times. Catherine took the fight to Rivas. I don’t think she (Rivas) expected that kind of aggressive approach. She thought maybe we would be cautious but she was the champion and we didn’t want to show her respect in the ring, otherwise it would have been suicidal.
“Catherine was extremely fit and delivered sharper and crisper punches. In the second round she felt good and appeared to land even more punches. She was not scared and gained in confidence as the fight progressed. Her fitness made her approach the fight like a champion instead of a challenger.
“We planned to dominate from the get-got and I think that’s what rattled the champion. This is an important victory for Zambia and all of Africa. Catherine proved to all young African girls that anything is possible if you put your mind to it and work really hard.
“She has sacrificed a lot. But because we emphasised the importance of education, we always had special tutors and her school arranged educational material for her during preparations. But now it’s time to go back to school on a full time basis to catch up.”
Since her victory, Phiri has received an invitation to dine at the State House and the Minister of Sport has also extended an additional invitation to her. Meanwhile, corporate sponsors are said to have been calling her in an attempt to enquire how they can link up with her as a brand.
“We had invaluable support from almost everybody,” explains Malunga. The Zambian Ambassador in Mexico made sure our stay in Mexico was comfortable and even the State President called through to us on the eve of the fight to wish us luck. That was motivation enough for Catherine not to disappoint.”
Malunga said the champion will savour the moment and they will sit back and wait for her promoter to inform them when she will be making the first defence of the title.
It was not the kind of shock result as was the case when American Tommy Hearns sent Roberto Duran of Panama to slumber land in round two, but it was a shocking result in women boxing nonetheless, especially because Rivas was considered “invincible”.

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