Fatuma Zarika: Super Featherweight Champion Cries Foul, Asks for Government Support

Fatuma Zarika: Super Featherweight Champion Cries Foul, Asks for Government Support

Martin Moses
updated at March 28, 2024 at 6:33 AM
  • Fatuma Zarika has once again lamented the lack of government support for boxing
  • Iron Fist, as she is popularly known, was the first Kenyan to win a WBC belt in 2016
  • She is set to defend her WBF super featherweight title in May in the United Kingdom

That Fatuma Zarika is one of the most famous Kenyan female boxers of all time is not in question. She, alongside Conjestina Achieng, is among the few women who broke the boxing ceiling with intricate and decisive performances.

Unlike Achieng, Zarika is still active, but she is a pale shadow of the athlete who was on everyone's lips between 2016 and 2019 when she became the first Kenyan to win a World Boxing Council (WBC) title.

Fatuma Zarika, Yamileth Mercado, WBC super bantamweight title, WBF super featherwight title, Catherine Phiri
Fatuma Zarika punches Yamileth Mercado during their WBC super-bantamweight clash in 2018. Photo by Simon Maina.
Source: Getty Images

Fatuma Zarika's achievements

She first beat Jamaica's Alicia Ashley in 2016 to win the WBC female super-bantamweight title. She then successfully defended her title against Zambia's Catherine Phiri (twice) and Mexico's Yamileth Mercado before the latter dethroned her at the second time of asking in 2019 in a match held in Mexico.

Her post-match interview following that loss stung deep as a visibly angry Zarika accused the government of abandoning her despite all her successes.

Five years later, Zarika is still in the same predicament as she struggles to source sponsors and promoters. She has only fought twice since her loss in Mexico. She beat Patience Matsara in 2020 to win the WBF super featherweight title before knocking out Fatuma Yazidu last year to retain the same title.

The 39-year-old has now been slated to defend the same title on May 11 in the United Kingdom against a yet-to-be-named opponent, but financial constraints have dampened her mood.

"I have been in boxing for a very long time, and after everything I have won for this country, I feel that I deserve to be helped to prepare for fights," she tells Sports Brief.

Zarika: I feel underappreciated

Lack of goodwill from the government and inadequate sponsors remain major issues bedevilling the sports sector as a whole in Kenya. Zarika calls the situation 'demoralising' as she compares how her opponents from other countries are treated.

"I feel underappreciated. My opponents come here, and if they win, they return to their countries, and their governments reward them with houses and prize money. I am here, a belt holder, but no one comes forward to recognise my work. It is very demoralising."

Her fight in May hangs in the balance as she has yet to secure a sponsor. She hopes the government can step in and help her and her team to travel to the United Kingdom in good time.

"I am still looking for sponsors. I have tried getting in touch with the Minister of Sports(Ababu Namwamba) to see if he can help in my upcoming trip."

State of Kenyan boxing worrying

Zarika then opines that the sport is on its deathbed in the country due to management issues. No Kenyan managed to qualify for the 2024 Summer Olympics. Six Kenyan pugilists were among the 65 African boxers who failed to make the cut in the 1st qualification round in Italy.

"The level of boxing in Kenya has receded in recent years. We haven't had any important games, and the interest has decreased drastically. Our management and federations need to step up. It is hard to get sponsors on board if your house is not in order. No sponsor will want to put their money into a project that is not worth their while."

Zarika's word of advice to young athletes

The challenges notwithstanding, the former super-bantamweight champion still encourages young girls to take up the sport and keep the focus.

"I still encourage young girls who want to take up boxing as a career, but I warn them of the challenges of this game. They just need to maintain their focus and never lose hope. Because once you lose that hope, you have lost your life."

When she is not training or preparing for the match, you will probably find her at home resting.

"I unwind by relaxing at home. I cook for my family, watch a movie, a two to take my mind off the rigours of the sport."

Even as she battles to rebuild the nickname 'Iron Fist' that saw her become the darling of many people in 2019, Zarika remains hopeful that things will one day change for the better in a sport to which she has dedicated almost her entire life.

Martin Moses photo
Martin Moses
Martin Moses is a sports journalist with over five years of experience in media. He graduated from Multimedia University of Kenya (Bachelor of Journalism, 2017-2021)