When Efetobor Apochi steps into the ring, the comparison of his dimensions and demeanor to perhaps the most bombastic prizefighter from the recent past is immediate and inescapable.
Standing 5’11” with beefy, muscular shoulders and chest, he bobs and weaves his way into punching range behind a peekaboo guard before pulverizing his opponents with both fists upstairs and down.
That particular mode of combat has proven brutally effective thus far for Apochi, who has stopped all 10 of his opponents. Does that remind you of anyone?
“Mike Tyson was the main reason I became a boxer,” said Apochi (10-0, 10 KOs). “My dad was a huge Mike Tyson fan. Everyday I’d see my dad watch Mike Tyson and from there I got the interest in boxing and I wanted to be like him.”
But there is a glaring difference between Apochi and Tyson. Apochi began boxing at age 19 and turned pro at the ripe old age of 29. At 19, Tyson had already captivated the boxing world with his explosive power and volatile personality and was a year shy of becoming the youngest man to win a world heavyweight title. At 29, Tyson had already unified the heavyweight championship, lost that championship, been incarcerated, released and was a year shy of reclaiming two alphabet belts.
“I don’t really believe in the age,” Apochi said. “Sometimes it’s the will and the mind. It doesn’t matter the age. You need to know what you want and go after it. It doesn’t matter how young you start. I’ve seen people who started boxing when they were four and they still don’t have it. It’s about the will, the power within what you want. If you want it, you go after it.
“I don’t really have a timetable. I’m already on the world stage. I’m the best in the world. I’m the king of the cruiserweight division and nobody can beat me. Choose for me who you want to see me with. I’m ready for everybody.”
Apochi is trained by Ronnie Shields in Stafford on the outskirts of Houston. Having also trained Tyson in the past, Shields says there are similarities between the two style-wise but stops short of calling Apochi an exact clone of Iron Mike.
“We’re definitely trying to put him in with one of the top ten guys and then try to get him a world title fight,” Shields said. “He came in older. Most guys fought at nine or ten years old. He started late. RIght now he’s 33 years old so we have to make a push right now. He only knows one way and that’s training hard.”
Originally from Orugon, Nigeria, Apochi averaged a fight every three months since his pro debut in 2017 until the end of 2019. But the Covid-19 pandemic slammed the brakes on his race up the rankings and he only managed to secure one fight in 2020 in which he dropped Joe Jones three times for a third-round TKO. Of his 10 bouts, three, including the Jones fight, were televised on Fox Sports so he does have more exposure than the average 10-0 fighter.
Like Tyson, who spent hours in his youth studying great fighters from previous eras, Apochi is also a scholar of the game. Besides Tyson, he has a second-tier list of boxers he admires ranging from slick defensive geniuses to calculated assassins.
“Mayweather’s a good boxer but I’m not a good boxer. I can box but I don’t like boxing,” Apochi said. “After Lennox Lewis beat Tyson, I started to admire Lennox Lewis but I don’t have that style, I don’t have that height and all that. I respect a lot of boxers and there are so many boxers on my list like Roy Jones Jr. and even the Klitschko brothers.
“All the world champions and past world champions, no matter the category, the smaller weight categories, the heavier weight categories, I sit down and I learn from all those guys. When I sit down and watch all these guys, if I have to pick one or two things from them, I add to my boxing. Every time I come to the gym I’d be working on things to make my boxing better.”
With age comes a degree of introspection and reflection and Apochi echoes what many an old wise man in the sweet science have often reiterated – that boxing is as much mental as it is physical.
“I’ve got power in both hands but my biggest strength is actually my mindset,” Apochi said. “If you think about it, everybody can punch and everybody knows what to do. But when they get into the ring they can’t do it. I have this kind of special mindset. I know thyself and if you know thyself you know exactly where you are.”
Oleksandr Usyk became the unified and undisputed cruiserweight champion by consolidating all four major belts in 2018. The Ukrainian has since vacated those titles to campaign at heavyweight leaving the 200-pound division wide open and in a state of relative disarray.
“The cruiserweight division is slipping,” Apochi said. “Let’s put some action in it. I’m here to resurrect the cruiserweight division, to bring the drama and spice it up.”