By Tadious Manyepo
Ali “Otto” Phiri is a name that won’t turn on ears when mentioned.
The bearer won’t turn eyes either when he passes by.
He doesn’t love attention which he deserves though.
As the Minister of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation, Kirsty Coventry, hoisted the new WBO Africa boxing champion, Brendon “Boika” Denes’ name in Harare on Thursday, Phiri stood behind jostling photographers.
He looked unconcerned and clapped together with the crowd at this presser.
Even during Kodak moments, he remained still, as he often does, not keen to draw any attention from the main actors.
Yet he is the one behind not only Denes but Zimbabwe’s only world champion Charles Manyuchi’s success.
In this interview he gives his usual chuckle and maintains his stance, just like a disciplined boxer.
“I am only a coach and Denes (Brendon) is the one who we have gathered here for,” he said.
“I know my duty is to make sure the boxers get enough training to win bouts.
“I am happy that Denes has become the WBO Africa welterweight champion after beating Namibia’s Shonena, who had gone 16 matches without defeat.”
Phiri is the Charles Manyuchi Boxing Academy coach, a stable which has churned out a number of champions despite still being at its infancy.
He was drafted into the project by former WBC silver welterweight champion Charles Manyuchi.
The latter, who is the holder of the WBF middleweight title, was groomed by this man.
“There was no way I would leave him (Phiri) out of the stable yet he is my coach,” said Manyuchi.
“There are a lot of people who helped me grow to where I am today, including those from outside the country, but Phiri is certainly one of those who have thrown a huge chunk.
“He is the definition of a good coach, hardworking and a great motivator.”
Phiri started working with Manyuchi a decade ago, well before the Chivhu-based fighter enlisted under a Zambia stable, Oriental Quarries, under Chris Malunga.
Even after that, Phiri continued to offer coaching services to the boxer, who would rise to the top of WBC silver welterweight category.
As the chips came off, Manyuchi appeared to be down the slope after his defeat to Ukraine’s Qudratillo Abduqaxorov to surrender the WBC crown in March 2017.
It had to take the man who started the journey to reignite the spirit in Manyuchi.
And within two years, Manyuchi is back and is the man of the moment in the game once again.
He beat Pablo Ezequiel Acosta to claim the WBF title, which he was supposed to defend against Uganda’s Muhamed Sybyala in April but couldn’t due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
He will defend it early next year.
While the focus slightly shifted from Manyuchi, all eyes had to be on Denes.
But the million dollar question was always surrounding the boxer’s mentality ahead of the massive fight away from home against a world acclaimed pugilist.
He was once banned for flouting the Zimbabwe Wrestling and Boxing Control Board’s regulations.
He was down once and even considered quitting.
But Phiri was there for the graduate boxer who then went on to defy the odds at the magnificent Windoek Country Club last Saturday.
“My job is to train boxers and prepare them to win matches. I love that job and I would like to thank God.”
Phiri was born 34 years ago in Shurugwi before venturing into boxing at the age of seven.
He was in the Zimbabwe national team, at one point becoming a national champion.
His professional record stood at 7-1 when he decided to pursue coaching.
Besides Manyuchi, Phiri is also behind the success stories being written by Evans Usavihwevhu and national flyweight champion Tinashe Majoni.
Charles Manyuchi Academy director Prosper Chibaya has since bought Phiri a car as he said: “Words alone cannot appreciate him enough.
“We will continue supporting him so that he helps the sport. He is a rare talent.” The Herald