By Joe Queijo: John Mugabi was a phenomenal puncher who took the junior middleweight and middleweight divisions by storm in the early eighties with his phenomenal power.
Mugabi was born in Uganda, but made London his professional home before finally moving to Tampa, Florida. He knocked his first 14 opponents before taking on his first ranked contender, Gary Guiden, who had been stopped in four in a world title attempt by Davey Moore, but had halted rugged Sean Mannion. Yet Mugabi destroyed Guiden in three, scoring another three kayos, before taking on ranked middleweight Curtis Parker.
Parker was expected to expose the Beast, but was massacred in one wild round. Next up was another quality contender in James “Hard Rock” Green, who nearly stopped Mugabi in the second of a vicious brawl before eventually falling in the 10th round.
Frank “Animal” Fletcher, one of the most exciting TV fighters of the early 1980s, was a faded force after being stopped by Juan Domingo Roldan, but his fierce pride made for three intense rounds before Mugabi exploded in the fourth to tame him. Fellow puncher Earl Hargrove was slaughtered in a round before a world middleweight title shot came against Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
Hagler had just beaten Thomas Hearns in three wonderful rounds and was expected to expose Mugabi to the harsher realities of championship boxing. But, instead of a mismatch, fight fans were given 1986´s fight of the year as the challenger nailed the iron-chinned Hagler with an array of power punches until the champion finally took control scored an 11th round kayo.
Mugabi then got a straight shot at the vacant WBC 154lbs belt against Duane Thomas, who nearly fell in the second and looked poised for an early defeat when, in the third, he landed a counter left hook which unintentionally thumbed Mugabi in the eye. The Ugandan was badly hurt and forced to turn his back giving Thomas a shock victory and leading Mugabi to disappear for 13 months.
He was never quite the same fighter after his return. Mugabi won a slew of fights by kayo over journeyman before travelling to France to fight recent Don Curry conqueror Rene Jacquot for the WBC crown. “The Beast” dropped the champion quickly, only for Jacquot to sprain his ankle falling giving Mugabi an easier than expected victory.
Mugabi took on talented Terry Norris in his first defence and was spectacularly destroyed in a round. Soon afterwards, he took on vicious-punching future WBC middleweight king Gerald McClellan for the then-lightly regarded WBO middleweight belt and was again finished off in a round. He later made an ill-advised comeback in Australia, which saw him struggle and lose against boxers of limited ability.
At his peak, Mugabi was a devastating long-range bomber, who fired lethal right hand bombs or vicious left hooks. He seemed to go for the kayo with every punch as he fired his devastating blows. The African was a surprisingly good counter-puncher though often ineffective at close range, and a brutal finisher who would let loose a stream of blows until his opponent was lying on the canvas.
He was arguably one of the hardest punchers of all-time.