Indefatigable female and male pros Fatuma ‘Iron Fist’ Zarika and Rayton Okwiri alongside Police amateur Shaffi Bakari were no doubt the most decorated Kenyan boxers in 2019.
Bakari won a silver medal at the Rabat All African Games following his loss to Botswana’s Mohamed Rajab in the 52kg flyweight final.
It was a bitter pill, though, for Shaffi to swallow as he had to battle his opponent despite the discomfort in his left hand.
Rabat’s performance is Kenya’s best display since Algiers 2007, where stylish Suleiman Bilali won gold alongside Daniel Shishia at middleweight division as late Joshua Ndere took light-heavyweight bronze.
The impressive tally of five medals was, by and large, the biggest numerically since the memorable fourth All African Games at Nairobi’s KICC where the star-studded Hit Squad comprising of legends Steve Muema and Robert Napunyi Wangila ran away with eight gold medals.
Bakari powered into the African Games boxing final and became the first Kenyan to do so since Bilali’s display in Algiers in 2007.
The other four medalists in the Musa Benjamin-led team in Rabat 2019 were Elly Ajowi at heavyweight, Police middleweight newcomer George Cosby Ouma, Boniface Mogunde (welterweight) and super heavyweight Frederick Ramogi.
On the professional front, Zarika and Okwiri were the most outstanding. Okwiri 33, racked up a unanimous point victory against Augustine ‘Big Ben’ Matata from the Democratic Republic of Congo in a 10-rounder dominating in virtually all rounds when judges scored it 96-92, 99-92 and 98-91. He defended the Africa Boxing Union (ABU) middleweight title and candidly confirmed he had fought his toughest amateur fight this far.
Sadly for Zarika, her failed title defence in Mexico was a moment every local boxing fan would want to forget, fast.
The 34-year-old hard-hitter met her waterloo in an away rematch against Yamileth ‘Yeimi’ Mercado on her fourth defence but shocked the boxing world with sentiments that she has no regrets losing the title to the home pugilist.
Zarika complained that there had been no recognition from the government since becoming the first Kenyan to lay hands on a World Boxing Council (WBC) world title.
Mercado racked up sweet revenge when the judges had it 99-91, 98-92, 99-91 in her favour.
Zarika claimed she was in the deep end heading into the fight after her sponsors Sportpesa closed shop in the Kenyan market.
Apart from the Mexico debacle, Zarika has been impressed with clean hooks and jabs.
In March, the Iron Fist did the talking against her Zambian challenger, Catherine Phiri and savoured a 3-0 unanimous decision win where judges, Michael Neequaye, Fillemon Mweya and Irene Semakula scored it 98-92, 99-91 and 97-93, sending a partisan crowd to a frenzy at KICC.
It was a repeat of the December 2, 2017 title contest at the Carnivore grounds, Nairobi where she carried the day in an explosive fight.
She vanquished Mercado in a split-point decision on September 8 last year, which was her second title defence after her win over Phiri.
In October 2016, Zarika made history as the first Kenyan to win the coveted WBC world title.
The then 31-year-old orthodox boxer dethroned champion, Alicia Ashley, from Jamaica of the WBC super-bantamweight title via a split decision at the Dort Federal Event Centre in Michigan, United States.
Meanwhile, 2019 saw the rebranding of the national amateur boxing body Amateur Boxing Association (ABA) to Boxing Federation of Kenya (BFK) following protracted wrangles and subsequent court battles which saw Anthony Ombok Otieno aka Jamal replace John Kameta.
BFK became one of the few federations to comply with the Sports Act of 2013 and the Rules and Regulations set by the Sports Registrar, which signified a step in the right direction.
In the long run, Kenya Police have crowned the National League champions for the umpteenth time, beating perennial rivals Kenya Defence Forces to second.
And for the first time in a long time, BFK held their annual awards in Kisumu at the close of the five-leg National League where Shaffi and 2018 Commonwealth Games bronze medalist, Christine Ongare, were named the male and female boxers of the year.
The election of Jamal into office to join the growing list of leaders on the amateur boxing front has since brought back fans into event venues with Uwanja Wa Mbuzi in Mombasa and Charter Hall attracting big crowds.
After the Christmas break, the provisional squad for the Dakar Olympic qualifiers in February will hit the ground running.
The team, which was finalised after the Kisumu leg will head into camp in early January.
Unlike years when Hit Squad teams were picked from national trials, BFK decided to assess the boxers progress in league events.