Mohamed Muruli – Uganda’s Commonwealth Games’ Double-Gold Medalist

Born in Kichwamba in Kabarole, Uganda on July 14, 1947, 5’7″ tall Mohamed (Muhammad) Muruli remains among the most outstanding and respected of Ugandan boxers.

At the African Amateur Boxing Championships, held in Lusaka in Zambia in June 1968, Muruli ably displayed international promise, though he fell to legendary Kenyan Philip Waruinge of Kenya in the finals of the lightweight division; and therefore settled for the silver medal. Waruinge had also won gold in the Africa Boxing Championships held in Brazzaville in Congo in 1965. Among Waruinge’s other achievements were fighting for Kenya at three Olympic Games (1964, 1968, and 1972), the later in which he won bronze and silver, respectively. Partly out of disillusionment about the judging that he considered biased, Waruinge turned professional and fought in Osaka in Japan. He also won lightweight gold at the 1970 Commonwealth games in Edinburgh, in the finals outpointing Deogratias Musoke of Uganda. Within a couple of years later “Deo” Musoke died, allegedly from overstarving and overtraining, in his quest to maintain his boxing division weight limit.

Naturally, Waruinge is remembered as one of Uganda’s biggest boxing rivals. He was a common fixture in the frequent friendly boxing tournaments between Uganda and Kenya. On turning professional in Japan, Philip Waruinge became known as Waruinge Nakayama. He fought as a professional from 1973 to 1978, but his record, including losses in the quests for the world title and Japanese titles is mediocre (14 wins, 10 losses, and 1 draw).

It was at the Olympic Games of 1968 (October 12 – October 27) in Mexico City, that 21 year-old Muruli further displayed his international competence. Muruli would easily beat, by decision, the first two (South American) opponents that were in his path; firstly Luis Munoz of Chile (by 4-1), thereafter tall Armando Mendoza of Venezuela (by 5-0). Muruli’s next encounter, that with Ronald Woodson “Ronnie” (“Mazel”) Harris of the USA would not be as fulfilling. Skillful and 5’10” (quite tall for a lightweight) Harris thoroughly outpointed Muruli (5-0); and in eliminating Muruli allowed him to settle for a respectable 5th, just a breath away from bronze medal contention.

Harris would become the eventual gold medalist, in-like fashion heavily outpointing his east European (Romanian Calistrat Cutov [bronze], and thereafter Polish Józef Grudzien [silver]) both by 5-0. Interestingly, Gruzdien still in the same mass class as a lightweight, had won gold as a 25-year old at the previous 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. Harris would turn professional in 1971, he remained undefeated until 1978. In 1978 he challenged Argentine Hugo Pastor Corro for the WBC/ WBA middleweight title, but lost by decision. Harris retired from boxing in August 1982, although he had won his last four bouts. Harris’ final tally as a professional is 35 wins (with 14 knockouts), 2 losses (1 knockout), 1 draw.

At the next major international contest… the Commonwealth Games held in Edinburgh in Scotland from July 17-24 1970, Muruli had blossomed to light-welterweight, the division in which he represented Uganda. In the quarter finals, Muruli would outpoint Guyanese Reginald Forde. Next, the semi-finals involved hard-punching Muruli causing the referee to stop the contest with Ghanaian Odartey Lawson in the first round. In the finals, Muruli would beat Welsh Dave Davies by 3-2. Eventually, Muruli’s gold, together with golds by light-flyweight James Odwori and heavyweight Benson Masanda; together with silver medal wins by flyweight Leo Rwabwogo and lightweight Deogratias Musoke would for the first time establish Uganda as Commonwealth Games’ boxing champions; therefore a world boxing power to reckon with.

The next major international challenge for Muruli, came in June 1972 involving the Africa Amateur Championships held in Nairobi in Kenya. Still as a light-welterweight, in the finals, 25 year-old Muruli would beat 22 year-old future African Games’ champion and later Nigeria national boxing coach Obisia Nwakpa.

Muruli, given his astonishing record, would logically be included among Uganda’s Olympic boxer medal hopes for the summer Olympics of 1972 that were held in Munich in Germany. Unfortunately, Romanian Calistrat Cutov, the previous Olympic bronze-medalist, outpointed Muruli in the very first preliminary round!

Fortunately, again Mohamed Muruli was selected to represent Uganda in the next major international competition. It would be the prestigious Commonwealth Games, this time held in Christchurch in New Zealand from January 24-February 2, 1974. Again Muruli had moved up in weight, and this time would be representing Uganda as a welterweight at the limit of 67 kg. In the preliminary round, on January 26 1974, Muruli ably disposed of Caleb Okech of Kenya by points. Similarly, in the quarter-finals, Muruli beat Carmen Rinke of Canada by majority points. Next came the semi-finals, and Muruli outpointed Scottish Steven Cooney. The finals saw Muruli outpointing Errol McKenzie of Wales; thus establishing Muruli as Uganda’s only 2-time Commonwealth Games’ Gold-medalist. This record, as well as Muruli’s stance as one of the toughest and most renowned of Uganda’s amateur boxers, has remained intact for decades!

The next major outing for Muruli was the World Amateur Boxing Championships held in Havana in the last two weeks of August 1974. Welterweight Muruli did not fare well in this prestigious event. In the preliminary first round Muruli was knocked out in the third round by Kalevi Kosunen of Finland. Counterparts Ayub Kalule (gold medal winner) and Joseph Nsubuga (bronze medal winner) were the Ugandan trophy winners in the tournament.

At the African amateur Championships held in Kampala in Uganda in November 1974, Muruli represented Uganda as a light-middleweight. Muruli proved his worth and in the finals, he knocked out Ndom of Cameroun. Additional gold medals won by Ugandans James Odwori, Ayub Kalule, Vitalis Bbege, and Mustapha Wasajja, overwhelmingly cemented Uganda as the African amateur king! Thereafter, Muruli boxed sporadically, even became a Uganda Army Boxing team coach. He is not listed in the team that was scheduled to represent Uganda at the Olympics of 1976 that were held in Montreal in Canada. Uganda and many other countries boycotted these Games, for political reasons. Muruli did not join the professional ranks, but many renowned or promising Uganda boxers such as John Baker Muwanga, Ayub Kalule, Mustapha Wasajja, Cornelius Bbosa (Boza-Edwards), Joseph Nsubuga moved to Europe to join the professional ranks. Some battled to become world champions! As Africans increasingly became professionals, and as boxing rules became increasingly more protective of amateurs, amateur boxing would never be the same again.

Nevertheless, Mohamed Muruli, one of the most skillful and most dreaded of African boxers, consistently proved his worth. Muruli won numerous gold medals in both local and international bouts. And his record as the only Ugandan to win two Commonwealth Games’ boxing gold medals, still stands!

Muruli’s son in London, Muhamad Muruli Jr., confirmd that the Uganda boxer died in 1995 in Fort Portal in Kabarole District.

Nicole Thomas

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