Rogers Mtagwa, the Tiger from Tanzania!
By Ken Hissner, DoghouseBoxing (Mar 2, 2009)  
In April of 2000 “The Tiger” from Tanzania raised his hands in victory in defeating Obote Ameme, 7-2 (who would win his next 11 bouts), in the land of Mount Kilimanjaro, where the world’s highest free standing mountain is! This country bordered by 8 nations and the Indian Ocean produced a giant of a man from one of the poorest African nations, whose goal was to come to the United States and become a world champion!

Rogers “The Tiger” Mtagwa, 25-12-2 (18), had won the African Boxing Union super bantamweight title in 1999,
along with 5 straight victories and a 10-2 record with one defeat avenged. His destination was where Philadelphia’s “Joltin” Jeff Chander lived and defended the WBA bantamweight title he had won in 1980 some 9 times. What he didn’t realize was the same promoter that guided Chandler, J. Russell Peltz, doesn’t believe in putting fighters in “easy”. Upon his arrival in the city of “brotherly love” Mtagwa’s lost in his debut in May of 2000 and overall would lose 3 of his first 4 fights, with 2 against unbeaten fighters Debind Thapa, 10-0, and Emmanuel Lucero, 13-0. The other loss was to Isidro Tejedor, 12-4-4, who would pay the price in a 2003 rematch.

Mtagwa would then win 3 straight knockouts in 1991. He was well accepted by the Philly fans because he was a warrior. In 2002 Joe Parella (also managed Eric Harding) became his manager and the level of competition picked up while battling to a draw with Victorio Abadia, 19-3-1. Mtagwa would then lose to Antonio Diaz, 22-3, by majority decision. Mtagwa, on 24 hour notice traveled to New England and battled to a draw with Edwin Santana, 27-5-5. Ending 2002 Mtagwa would lose another split decision to Jose Reyes, 8-1, who would go on to win his next 10 fights. Reyes weighed 130,
and for Mtagwa who when he arrived fought at 116, was giving up too much weight.

In 2003 Mtagwa won all of his 3 bouts including the rematch with Tejedor at the New Alhambra in South Philly. Next he would open 2004 in whom he called “my toughest opponent,” at Foxwoods Resort, losing to future IBF featherweight champion Valdemir Pereira, 15-0 (12), of Brazil, being stopped in the 8th round. “His good friend, and trainer, Monte Clark, had just passed away, and he just wasn’t focused,” said Parella.

After a knockout win Mtagwa was put in with former WBO super bantamweight champion Agapito Sanchez, 32-10-3, losing a majority decision. “You won that fight,” said a Sanchez cornerman Lenny DeJesus to Parella. Sanchez had a previous TD with then IBF super bantamweight champion Manny Pacquiao, with both titles on the line. New trainer Tommy Barnes got a little help from legendary trainer George Benton, for 6 weeks before Mtagwa would fight for the vacant USBA featherweight title against Joe Morales, 19-9, in July of 2005. “I learned a lot from George Benton,” said Mtagwa. “George showed him how to go to the body,” said Parella. It seemed it was the ticket to victory as Mtagwa stopped Morales in the 10th for the USBA title and a top ten IBF spot.

An IBF title eliminator with Orlando Salido, 25-9-2, would be next. Salido was tough, having won 11 of his last 12 fights, with the only defeat to Juan Manuel Marquez for the WBA/IBF featherweight titles. “I don’t like to make excuses but I hurt my rib in training and thought the fight might be postponed,” said Mtagwa. It seems Salido found that weakness in winning by the 5th round with body punches. Just 2 fights later Salido would defeat IBF champion Robert Guerrero, but have the result changed to ND.

Mtagwa knew he could hang with the bigger featherweights and took on Armenian Artyom Simonyan, 15-2-2, including challenging for the IBF super bantamweight title. With a new trainer in former world middleweight contender Philly’s Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts, Matigwa would post his biggest win stopping Simonyan in the 4th round in defending his USBA title at the New Alhambra in June of 2006. Simonyan has not fought since. Another title defense 2 months later at the same venue was another 4th round knockout over Alvin Brown, 26-8, setting the stage for a major fight in Chicago.

His opponent would be Martin Honorio, 22-3-1, who was 12-1-1, in his last 14 fights. The fight was a foul filled war. The heavily populated Mexican city of Chicago gave Honorio much support and probably influenced his split decision win over Mtagwa. Though Honorio would have a title bout a year later he didn’t fight for 8 months after suffering from eye injuries (detached retina’s) in the Mtagwa fight. Twice, in the 6th and 9th rounds the referee John O’Brien halted the action to check Honorio. In a neutral city, this fight would probably have been stopped and given to Mtagwa.

2007 started off with a knockout win and then a fight for the vacant NABF title against Mexico’s Aldo Valtierra, 24-8, at the New Alhambra in July. In spite of a bad cold, Mtagwa would win a split decision. The result would be changed to a no contest when Mtagwa tested positive for ephedrine. He had taken a friends medicine for his cold not realizing it contained an illegal substance.

In November Mtagwa would meet Australian Bill Dib, 16-0, on the Cotton-Mosley undercard. “On the way up to Madison Square Garden by train, Mtagwa would complain about pains in his back and arm,” said Parella. “We got him massaged, but he still wasn’t right. He was terrible in this bout losing a decision,” Parella added.

In 2008 Mtagwa would have a rematch with Valtierra back at the New Alhambra. He was the heaviest of his career at 129½, up from 123 in their previous meeting, while Valtierra was at 131¾. It was a war, with a point deducted in the 8th round against Valtierra for rabbit punching. It did not influence the decision as Mtagwa won on all scorecards 97-92 and 97-93 (twice).

It would be 8 months before Mtagwa would fight against Tomas Villa, 20-5-4 (13), a tough Mexican living in Texas, but having fought his last 4 fights in this Arizona casino. Villa had been 11-0-1, with 9 knockouts in his last 12 fights, having won the IBA continental super bantamweight and the IBA featherweight title (in his previous fight) with neither one the line. Mtagwa would come in at 121, the lowest since May of 2000 when he made his US debut, while Villa was 124. “I could make 119,” said Matagwa. The fans at the Casino Del Sol, in Tuscon, were in for a treat. This battle has to not only go down as one of the best fights of 2008, but possibly the best turnaround finish. The Mexican people with their big cowboy hats at ringside were cheering their adopted fighter Villa throughout the fight. It was a wild swinging war with Mtagwa being dropped in the 9th round. “I wanted to stop the fight after the 9th round,” said Parella. “I told him not to stop the fight,” said Mtagwa. With 3 Spanish judges, the only way Mtagwa was winning this fight with 3 minutes left was by knockout. The fighters touched gloves, and Mtagwa dropped Villa like a ton of bricks. The shocked look on the fans faces told you “The Tiger” was in control! Villa got to his feet only to be dropped 2 more times before referee Rocky Burke called a halt at 1:20 of the 10th and final round! “He is a good listener and a good finisher,” said Watts.

The victory projected Mtagwa into the IBF ratings at #9 and the WBC at #14 in the junior featherweight division. Mtagwa is the top contender for the vacant USBA title at #3 with the 2 top spots listed vacant. In the IBF the champion is Cellestino Caballero, of Panama. With the #2 spot vacant and #6 defeating #7 over the week-end, Mtagwa should move up. Keeping active by his promoter, Peltz Boxing, Mtagwa will be in the main event May 1st at the New Alhambra where he is 5-0 along with the no contest, which was reversed. It’ll be 9 years in May since his Philly debut.

“The Tiger” is a quiet, polite, hard training fighter who will turn 30 later this month. He has come a long way since leaving the land of Mount Kilimanjaro, on the continent of Africa. “It’s been 7 years since I last visited my country,” said Mtagwa. Though once passing on a short notice fight with then IBF featherweight champion Robert Guerrero, Philly just might have the closest thing (weight wise) to another “Joltin” Jeff Chander!

Ken at:

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