Africa’s first world champion: Remembering Battling Siki

He was a legendary fighter, born in Senegal and willing to brawl anywhere in the world. A world champion who competed with the likes of Mike McTigue and legendary Frenchman Georges Carpentier. Yet his name remains a mystery to many outside of the most devoted boxing circles.

A documentary on the man known as Battling Siki, Africa’s first-ever boxing world champion, will be screened at the West Norwood Picturehouse on Friday, May 24, as part of the London Pan African Film Festival.

Return to Your Corner tells the story of a man born in St Louis, Senegal, who headed to France, where he defeated the best in Europe. In 1922, he won the world light-heavyweight title, defeating Georges Carpentier to become the first African World Champion, although history shows him as a French Champion.

Racism would follow Siki wherever he went. He was asked to throw fights but refused. A decision that led to a gruesome end aged just 28. In 1993, the WBC returned his remains to Senegal. The champion finally went home.

Archived film footage still exists of Siki’s fight with Carpentier, displaying how the sport of boxing has changed and evolved over time. Few know his name even in Africa because Battling Siki was a world champion during the colonial era. Therefore, his world title is recorded as belonging to his colonial ruler.

Standing up to racism at a time when few would dare, Siki turned it around and used it to promote himself and his fights.

The documentary on Siki premiered in New York on February 15, 2023, at the New York Athletic Club, hosted by the World Boxing Council (WBC). Former world champions Michael Spinks, Iran Barkley, Vinny Paz, and current fighter Franchon Cruz-Dezurn attended.

Several political figures, including the Consul General for Senegal in New York, El Hadji Amadou Ndao, attended the event. Following this, the Consul General and the WBC started looking into future Senegal screenings. The New York Education Department has been looking to have the film screened in every school in Black History Month.

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