He will be 61 in September but Tony Nwabueze has not allowed his age stop him from learning about the new generation. The tattoos on his chest, the trademark T-shirt and baggy trousers, black sunglasses and face cap partly represent this.
Nwabueze exudes athleticism and his towering height is as intimidating as his stentorian voice.
But beneath his scary look, the African Super heavyweight wrestling champion is full of kindness, love and compassion.
Ever since Nwabueze turned pro in 1980 he has yet to lose in nearly 40 fights within and outside Nigeria.
The grappler loves to punish his opponents and he has won a majority of his fights by technical knockouts.
Nwabueze was nicknamed Tony Destroyer by his fans because of his style and TKO skills.
“I was a boxer for years before moving over to karate and taekwondo,” he told our correspondent in Lagos during the week.
“My training in boxing and martial arts has helped me a lot in wrestling. I combine these in my fights. When my opponent is proving very difficult, I resort to martial arts.
“And no matter who the opponent is, I will knock him out. Because of my approach to my fights and the manner of my victory, my fans nicknamed me Tony Destroyer.”
Nwabueze did not become a wrestler by accident for his parents had laid the groundwork for his future career.
He said, “My father and mother were leading wrestlers in our town Akumazu Umuocha in Agbor, Delta State.
“Then, there were wrestling competitions in my town and other towns. But there was one which brought my mother and father together
“Both of them won their categories and became celebrities. My father proposed to my mother and there was a marriage of champions.
“So, I’m no fighter by accident. I inherited it from my parents. I’m very proud of this and I’ve no regrets following in their footsteps.
“My late twin brother, who died in 2009, was not interested in sports but instead chose to to do other things with his life.
“My greatest regret however is that my mother died very early and didn’t see me become an African champion.”
Nwabueze was born in Lagos into a family of six. His father, Joseph Nwabueze, was a soldier and fought during the Second World War.
Tony Destroyer also joined the army in 1968 and was in the service for 22 years before retiring to concentrate on professional wrestling.
He said, “I was introduced to boxing in my secondary school days (at Birch Freeman College, Lagos).
“It was easy for me to become a boxer because I was born and grew up in Idi Oro, Mushin. It was tough growing up in the area then. There were a lot of street fights and you have to fight for survival.
“I was a great fan of Muhammad Ali and I wanted to be like him. I represented Lagos in the early 70s in many competitions I knocked out many of my opponents. We trained and fought at the Mobolaji Centre (now Rowe Park).
“I called it quits with boxing later for martial arts – taekwondo, kickboxing and karate. In 1975, I got my black belt in taekwondo.
“I became a wrestler when the late Mike Bamidele arrived in Nigeria from London to introduce amateur wrestling in the country.
“I was one of the five he selected to start amateur wrestling in the country. He was our coach and he took us round the states in 1979 to introduce the game.
“I represented Lagos and won five gold medals for Nigeria at various (amateur wrestling) championships.”
Nwabueze closed the book on amateur wrestling when the late Mike Okpala, who was popularly called Power Mike, became a promoter.
Power Mike became a household name in the country after he defeated Gambia’s Massambula in 1970 to become the African heavyweight wrestling champion and titleholder.
He later defeated Ali Baba of Lebanon in 1973, Johnny Kwango and other top wrestlers.
After retiring in 1976, Power Mike became a promoter. His company Power Mike International Promotions brought wrestlers like Mil Mascaras, Dick the ‘Bulldog Brower’, Buddy Rose, Michael Hayes, Mighty Igor, The Mongols, Carlos Colon, Chris Adams and Thunderbolt Williams to Nigeria.
Nwabueze, a fan of Power Mike, turned pro in 1980 to be part of the big show.
“Power Mike told me in 1986 to work hard to fight Johnny Kwango,” he said.
“He promised to send me to the United States after the fight to continue my professional wrestling there.
“I accepted the challenge. My people in Akumazi Umuocha travelled in two big buses to Lagos to support me.
“The National Stadium mainbowl was filled to capacity. I beat Johnny Kwango and injured him and he was taken to hospital.
“But Power Mike was annoyed with me because of the beating I gave Johnny Kwango. He told me that he had spent the N300 he was to give me for the fight on treating Johnny Kwango. He also refused to send me to America as promised.
“I tried to raise money through other sources but I couldn’t. Nobody was ready to help me and that is why I’m in Nigeria suffering.
“I would’ve since become a world champion and become a millionaire if I had travelled to America.”
Nwabueze has been the undisputed African Super heavy weight since he defeated Amadou Ahijou of Mali in South Africa in 2007. He defended his title in South Africa the following year by beating Musa Bakayoko. Two years later, he knocked out Cameroon’s Mbenge Amakia in Yaoundé.
Tony Destroyer regrets the decision he took after the fight and has not forgiven himself.
”It was a bloody fight and I deserved to win,” he said.
“After the fight, the President of professional wrestling in Cameroon and some other officials pleaded with me to change my nationality.
“They told me that many people in the country loved the way I fought against Amakia and wanted me to adopt Cameroon as my country and carry their flag in my fights. They also said they wanted me to stay back to help them develop wrestling in Cameroon.
“They promised me money, a house and training grants. They also promised to sponsor my fights abroad.
“But I rejected the offer because of my love for Nigeria. I’m one of the admirers of my governor (Emmanuel Uduaghan) and I felt I would deny the state the opportunity to savour the victory.
“Because my victory was celebrated by the Nigerian media, I was sure that the governor was interested in me and would receive me. I wanted to use the opportunity to plead with the governor to assist me with money to prepare for my world title.
“I want to win the world title. This is the vision God has given me. My preparations for the fight will cost N25m. Nobody is ready to challenge me in Africa because they are afraid. That is why I want to conquer the world. Once I get the chance to fight the world champion I will drop the African belt, because I’m tired of holding it.
“But unfortunately, I’ve not been able to see the governor.
“I learned that there is someone in the Government House who has been frustrating my efforts. I’m told that whenever my letter to the governor arrives at the Government House, this man will throw it into the waste bin.
“I’ve written a series of letters to the governor through the sports council but no response.
“I’ve not been recognised by the Federal Government. No national award. It’s like I’ve labored for nothing.
“Instead of living well I’m doing security work to keep body and soul.
“I regret not accepting the offer from Cameroon. I won’t repeat the mistake next time.”
Despite the frustrations Nwabueze doesn’t look like he is ready to retire from the game.
He said, “I will retire when God says it’s time for me to quit. Yes, I’m under pressure from my family to retire but I’m still very strong.
“Johnny Kwango, Mighty Igor and Mill Mascara fought far into his 70s. So, I can do the same.
“What I’m doing will encourage the young ones to take after me. I train from 5.30am to 9am every day. When the young ones watch me train in the gym that are motivated.
“I eat fruits and vegetables and I do not drink alcohol or smoke. I’m a vegetarian and I control everything I do. I don’t womanise.
“My wife is never in support of what I’m doing but she hasn’t missed any of my fights. When I’m being beaten by my opponent she will be crying. But when I retaliate she will jump on me and kiss me.”
None of Nwabuze’s six children has followed in his footsteps and he is not bothered.
He said, “My first son is a Reverend Father in Rome. He chose to be one and I’m not against his choice. I can’t force any of my children to do what I’m doing.
“My second son is a computer engineer and the rest are doing very.
“I went through a lot to train them. I get peanuts from wrestling but I got money from other sources to train them. It was difficult but I don’t regret what I went through to get them to where they are.”
He insists his wife and children are not against the tattoos on his body, in spite of his age.
“The idea of tattoos on my body came about when I went to South Africa for a fight,” the veteran grappler said.
“There’s nothing strange about tattoos because they have been with us in Nigeria for a very long time. The white only differentiated it.
“Tattoos are meant for sportsmen and musicians to differentiate themselves from the people in the streets. They are not meant for touts or area boys.
“When I’m in the ring people love my tattoos and would always want to touch me. I love them and no regrets having them.”