What is Zambia known for?
The southern African nation is most often identified with it incredible nature scenes like the breathtaking Victorian falls and the unreal Zambezi river.
With the help of Catherine Phiri, they may be adding boxing to the list of Zambian identifiers.
Catherine Phiri, 32, of Lusaka is the first African woman to win the World Boxing Council Gold title in 2016, and she is quickly becoming the pride of Zambia.
Boxing is not a popular sport in her home country. Unlike The United States, The United Kingdom and Cuba, Zambians do not typically have the same zest for the sport.
More recently, boxing gyms like Exodus International Boxing Promotions (EIBP) have been springing up all over the nation, even in the poorest of neighborhoods
Catherine was just 16 when she got her start in one of these gyms. With amateur tournaments happening every Saturday, she quickly fell in love with the sport. It was the individuality of it that drew her to fighting. Unlike football, a game she first tried, she prefers the singularness of battling one on one with an opponent.
“I started boxing when i was 16. I wanted something more individual,” She says, “Unlike football – it’s about teamwork which involved about 11 players into the pitch. I wanted something where I could depend on my own. This is why I’m into boxing today.”
That desire for individuality bleeds into Catherine’s personal life as well. She has overlooked marriage and relationships to focus on her career and education, which has clearly paid off.
After achieving success in the amateur circuit, she started boxing professionally. In 2013 she won the World Council title fight in Lusaka. Later on she was blessed with becoming the African Boxing Union Bantamweight champion.
“This is a big thing for me. I’ve brought glory to Zambia,” Catherine says.
Catherine Phiri is not the first female Zambian boxer to bring glory to her country. Before her, a boxer by the name of Esther Phiri (no relation to Catherine) began the popularization of boxing in Zambia.
Esther is the country’s most acclaimed boxer, not just female boxer. She has been crowned welterweight world champion on seven different occasions.
Catherine acknowledges that Esther was a big influence in her career and drew her to the sport.
Much like Esther, Catherine was discovered in an amateur boxing club by coaches. Catherine’s main coach, Mike Zulu, even recalls when he first saw her fight.
“You can tell she is a fighter by the way she was approaching and attacking. I said, ‘she is going to become a great fighter,’” Zulu said.
From modest beginnings, Catherine used boxing as a way to escape her circumstances.
Achieving the type of success that Catherine has is difficult enough, but to be a woman in the industry is even more challenging. Women in Zambia are often relegated to domestic jobs or work within their households as mothers and wives.
Boxing allowed her the possibility to be dependent and dispute gender norms in her nation. In essence, fighting has changed her life for the better.
Mike Zulu agrees with that sentiment. “Boxing is a good sport,” he says, “It’s not as people speculate, saying it is dangerous. It changes young people’s lives. For example, Catherine Phiri, she comes from a humble background, from a poor family. But I can tell you now what boxing has done to her is something else. People can’t even believe.”
In 2016 WBC honored Catherine at their 54th convention in Florida for her contribution both locally and internationally to women’s boxing.
For more about this amazing woman’s story and journey click here.