These Boxers Fight With Cords Wrapped Around Their Fists. Crowds Love the idea.

KANO, Nigeria — Tijjani Zakari stepped into a dusty boxing ring in northern Nigeria along with wound thick, threaded cord around his right fist along with forearm. because of This specific fighter, the wrap was more battering ram than padded glove.

Zakari squared up to his opponent, squatting low with his bound arm cocked at his side. Less than a minute after the opening whistle, he landed an echoing blow of which floored his opponent. A thousand spectators roared. He had won.

This specific is usually dambe, a generations-old West African style of boxing originally practiced by the Hausa people. the idea is usually producing a comeback in Nigeria.

Two groups are cultivating This specific fighting style, with the desire of taking the idea abroad. One is usually a grass-roots league of dambe clubs, called the Nigeria Traditional Boxing League Association. The various other, Dambe Warriors, promotes the sport online along with in live events.

The groups are taking different approaches, however both face the difficulty of preserving dambe’s traditions while appealing to a wide audience along with reckoning with the sport’s brutality.

“This specific is usually a long journey,” Faruk Bello, the league’s president along with one of its founders, said, “however we are so determined.”

In dambe, a boxer wraps his stronger arm in cord for striking, the “spear.” He uses the various other arm for defense, the “shield.” The goal is usually to knock over an opponent within three rounds.

With roots in military practices, dambe grew into an event to celebrate harvests, naming ceremonies along with funerals, said Aliyu Muhammad Bunza, a professor within the department of languages along with culture at Federal University Gusau in Nigeria. Boxers fought for fame, representing their towns along with fighting clans.

Today, a patchwork of dambe associations hosts weekly fights for entertainment across the country, however the sport is usually most common within the north.

With its popularity have come questions about its safety.

Some believe dambe is usually too dangerous in any form. Split brows, broken noses, smashed teeth along with knockouts are common. The destruction is usually written in scars on the faces of fighters who have spent years within the ring.

“the idea’s too brutal,” Femi Babafemi, an amateur boxing coach, said. “Those of which are doing the idea are definitely endangering their lives.”

Still, dambe has become a full-time job for many fighters. Fans, ring owners along with wealthy patrons support their favorite fighters. One established boxer, Auta Nafiu Abdullah, who has fought for seven years, said he earned, on average, about 100,000 Nigerian naira, or about $275, a month.

The fights are frenetic along with perilous.

Boxers gather in fighting clans around a sand pit, taunting rivals along with breaking suddenly into combat. Today, they head-butt along with kick as well as punch. All the while, singers along with drummers play mesmeric songs to embolden fighters.

Bello, who started out watching dambe 40 years ago, said he started out the league in 2017 with fellow enthusiasts because he had grown fed up with what he saw as the declining quality of the sport.

The league founded six clubs along with designed a season of weekend tournaments in which teams pit their best boxers against one an various other.

Playing for a club appealed to Garkuwa Maichaga, who followed his brother into dambe at age 10. He joined the league after more than 20 years of navigating the dambe circuit alone, which he described as tiring along with expensive.

Along having a regular season, the league drafted a complete set of rules. the idea consulted with historians, fighters along with fans to codify generations of tradition while introducing fresh regulations to rein within the sport’s wilder tendencies.

The league standardized uniforms, limited rounds to three minutes, created a system for scoring fights along with even included a code of conduct for spectators of which threatens rowdy fans having a red card along with expulsion.

“We want one day to have a conventional dambe whereby all countries of the entire world will be participating,” Bello said.

Four fresh clubs joined the original six within the second season. along with the league reached out to groups in Niger to establish ties across the region.

“coming from Africa along with on to the West,” Bello said. He believes of which with the right support, dambe will make the leap coming from regional martial art to Olympic sport. along with he dreams of one day taking an exhibition fight to Las Vegas.

however to create broad appeal, the league is usually gradually banning some customs of which may prove difficult to export.

For example, fighters wear amulets for protection along with intimidation. They also rub a herbal mixture into rows of half-inch incisions cut up along with down their arms, believing the idea to strengthen punches.

For added safety, the league hired a doctor to monitor fights. the idea is usually reaching out to sportswear manufactures to create a glove of which mimics the traditional hand wraps, only without the flesh-tearing cords. Weight categories will be added next season. So will health insurance along with ambulance support, if the league can bring in more money.

Without sponsorships, the league relies on selling tickets — usually less than 500 naira, or about $1.40, each — to fund the clubs. along with its board members work day jobs to help finance operations.

The pair behind Dambe Warriors, Chidi Anyina along with Anthony Okeleke, share the same passion for growing the sport however see the idea as both an athletic pursuit along having a spectacle. Drawing on their media along with digital backgrounds, they promote dambe through YouTube along with live events, while recasting the idea for a modern audience. The vision is usually to become “the U.F.C. of Africa,” Okeleke said, referring to the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Today, the pair’s YouTube channel’s 21 videos have racked up 13 million views along with more than 50,000 subscribers. The data revealed of which more than 0 percent of the views came coming from overseas, mainly the United States, Brazil, Indonesia, India along with the Philippines.

To build a local audience, the pair hosted a fight in March on a beach in an upscale neighborhood of Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub. They wanted to catch the attention of the city’s upwardly mobile along with bring the sport into the south coming from its historic home within the north.

This specific was also a chance to put their own spin on dambe, Anyina said, “to elevate the idea.”

They hosted a second fight in Lagos in June along with are planning to tour the north. Once they “own the idea” in Nigeria, they will use data coming from YouTube to choose the best destination for their first overseas event.

however as they look abroad, they are encountering a problem similar to the one facing Bello along with the league. “We are having to battle between keeping of which whole traditional essence of the game of dambe along with selling the idea to a global audience,” Anyina said. “the idea’s not like we have easy answers.”

They are determined to preserve the spectacle of dambe — the sand, the hand wraps along with the way boxers spray mouthfuls of water on each various other to cool off — however believe adding a clearer scoring system along with fight schedule will help outsiders engage.

“We’ll try to just balance the fresh, modern structure to their unique style,” Okeleke said.

Jirgi Bahago, a boxer who has fought for 15 years, said of which since the Lagos event, he had received more calls to compete than ever before. along with Aminu Kaura Goje, owner of a dambe ring where Anyina along with Okeleke have filmed fights, said the pair had introduced a fresh audience to the sport by putting the idea online.

The sport is usually still teeming with potential, Anyina along with Okeleke said, listing opportunities of which they are pursuing, including broadcast deals, brand partnerships, merchandising along with documentaries.

“the idea’s way bigger than us,” Okeleke said.