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Mohamed Muruli – Uganda’s Commonwealth Games’ Double-Gold Medalist
Born in Kichwamba, Kabarola, Uganda on July 14, 1947, the 5’7″ tall Mohamed (Muhammad) Muruli remains one of Uganda’s most prominent and respected boxers.
At the African Amateur Boxing Championship held in Lusaka, Zambia in June 1968, Muruli showed international promise, although he lost to legendary Kenyan Philip Waruinge of Kenya in the lightweight final; and therefore settled for a silver medal. Waruinge also won gold at the African Boxing Championships held in Brazzaville, Congo in 1965. Waruinge’s other achievements included fighting for Kenya at three Olympic Games (1964, 1968 and 1972), winning bronze and silver at later games. . Partly out of disillusionment with what he saw as biased judging, Waruinge turned professional and fought in Osaka, Japan. He also won lightweight gold at the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, beating Deogratias Musoke of Uganda in the final. A few years later, “Deo” Musoke died, allegedly due to excessive starvation and overtraining, in an effort to maintain his weight limit for the boxing division.
Naturally, Waruinge is remembered as one of Uganda’s greatest boxing rivals. He was a regular fixture in the frequent friendly boxing tournaments between Uganda and Kenya. When Philip Waruinge turned professional in Japan, he became known as Waruinge Nakayama. He fought as a professional from 1973 to 1978, but his record, including losses in world and Japanese titles, is average (14 wins, 10 losses and 1 draw).
It was at the 1968 Olympics (October 12 – October 27) in Mexico City that the 21-year-old Muruli further showed his international ability. Muruli would easily defeat the first two (South American) opponents that stood in his way by decision; first Luis Munoz from Chile (4:1), then tall Armando Mendoza from Venezuela (5:0). Muruli’s next meeting with Ronald Woodson “Ronnie” (“Mazel”) Harris of the USA would not be so fulfilling. Skillful and 5’10” (quite tall for a lightweight), Harris thoroughly outclassed Muruli (5-0); and Muruli’s elimination allowed him to settle for a respectable 5th place, just shy of bronze medal contention.
Harris would become an eventual gold medalist, much like fashion far surpassing his Eastern European (Romania’s Calistrat Cutov [bronze]and then Poland’s Józef Grudzien [silver]) both 5:0. Interestingly, still in the same weight class as a lightweight, Gruzdien won gold as a 25-year-old at the previous Olympics in Tokyo in 1964. Harris turned professional in 1971, remaining undefeated until 1978. In 1978, he challenged Argentina’s Hugo Pastor Corra for the WBC/WBA middleweight title but lost by decision. Harris retired from boxing in August 1982, although he won his last four fights. Harris’ final record as a professional is 35 wins (with 14 knockouts), 2 losses (1 knockout), 1 draw.
At the next major international competition… the Commonwealth Games held in Edinburgh, Scotland from 17 to 24 July 1970, Muruli blossomed into the light welterweight division in which he represented Uganda. In the quarter-finals, Muruli would outlast Guyana’s Reginald Forde. Next, the semi-final involved heavy blows to Muruli, causing the referee to stop the fight with Ghanaian Odartey Lawson in the first round. In the final, Muruli would defeat the bigger Dave Davies 3-2. Finally, Muruli’s gold along with James Odwori’s light flyweight and Benson Masanda’s heavyweight golds; together with the silver medals won by Leo Rwabwogo and Deogratias Musoke at lightweight, it would establish Uganda as Commonwealth Games boxing champions for the first time; i.e. a world boxing power to be reckoned with.
Muruli’s next major international challenge came in June 1972 and involved the African Amateur Championship held in Nairobi, Kenya. Still a light welterweight, the 25-year-old Muruli would defeat 22-year-old future African Games champion and later Nigeria’s national boxing coach Obisio Nwakpa in the final.
Given his amazing record, Muruli would logically be among Uganda’s Olympic boxing medal hopes for the 1972 Summer Olympics held in Munich, Germany. Unfortunately, Romania’s Calistrat Cutov, a previous Olympic bronze medalist, outclassed Muruli in the very first heat!
Fortunately, Mohamed Muruli has again been selected to represent Uganda in the next major international competition. It would be the prestigious Commonwealth Games, this time held in Christchurch, New Zealand from January 24 to February 2, 1974. Muruli moved up in weight again and this time he would represent Uganda as a welterweight at the 67kg mark. In the preliminary round, on January 26, 1974, Muruli deftly eliminated Caleb Okech of Kenya on points. Similarly, in the quarterfinals, Muruli defeated Carmen Rinke of Canada by most points. The semi-finals followed and Muruli edged out Scotland’s Steven Cooney. In the final, Muruli outpointed Wales’ Errol McKenzie; making Muruli Uganda’s only gold medalist to be awarded twice at the Commonwealth Games. This record, as well as Muruli’s standing as one of Uganda’s toughest and most renowned amateur boxers, has remained intact for decades!
The next big outing for Muruli was the World Amateur Boxing Championships, held in Havana in the last two weeks of August 1974. Muruli, at welterweight, did not do well at this prestigious event. In the opening first round, Muruli was eliminated in the third round by Finland’s Kalevi Kosunen. Counterparts Ayub Kalule (gold medal winner) and Joseph Nsubuga (bronze medal winner) were Ugandan trophy winners in the tournament.
At the African Amateur Championships held in Kampala, Uganda in November 1974, Muruli represented Uganda as a light middleweight. Muruli proved himself and eliminated Cameroon’s Ndom in the final. Further gold medals won by Ugandans James Odwori, Ayub Kalule, Vitalis Bbege and Mustapha Wasajja overwhelmingly cemented Uganda as Africa’s amateur king! After that, Muruli boxed sporadically, even becoming the coach of Uganda’s boxing team. He is not named in the team to represent Uganda at the 1976 Olympics held in Montreal, Canada. Uganda and many other countries boycotted the Games for political reasons. Muruli did not enter the professional ranks, but many renowned or promising Ugandan boxers such as John Baker Muwanga, Ayub Kalule, Mustapha Wasajja, Cornelius Bbosa (Boza-Edwards), Joseph Nsubuga moved to Europe to join the professional ranks. Some fought to become world champions! As Africans became more and more professional and boxing rules increasingly protected amateurs, amateur boxing would never be the same.
Yet Mohamed Muruli, one of Africa’s most skilled and feared boxers, has consistently proven his worth. Muruli has won numerous gold medals in local and international competitions. And his record as the only Ugandan to win two Commonwealth Games gold medals still stands!
Muruli’s son in London, Muhamad Muruli Jr., confirmed that the Ugandan boxer died in 1995 at Fort Portal in Kabarole District.
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