Nigeria’s traditional Dambe boxing is a harsh and brutal sport, that can leave fighters toothless, broken bones, and much worse.
Unlike Western boxing, there are no boxing gloves in Dambe, and instead the right-hand is wrapped tightly in rope until it is hard like a stone. This fist is typically called “the spear”. The left hand is then left free to defend and distract your opponent.
Dambe boxing is traditionally fought in Nigeria’s northern Hausa community, and fighters can be as young as ten years old.
There are no time limits to the matches, but officials have the power to stop fights if they are getting too violent or one of the fighters is seriously hurt. Otherwise, Dambe fights typically end when a body part of one of the fighters touches the ground, or they are knocked down – known as “killing” your opponent.
“Both hands must work together for attack and defence,” says a young Dambe boxer. “Your left hand should be used to guide your attack, but don’t allow your opponent’s hand to touch you.”
“The boxers are punching lungs, kidney, intestines,” says our BattaBox presenter BollyLomo. “But I know I’m a strong man and I’ll be going into the ring!”
“I am shocked, this is crazy and amazing,” says our BattaBox presenter Eve. “The Dambe fight looks like boxing but you only use one hand to fight and one to defend. And it involves people of all ages.”
Historically, Dambe boxing originated from butchers guilds with fights often taking place at local festivals. Gambling is a big part of audience participation in the fights. Traditional herbs and medicines and charms are used by fighters to protect and heal themselves during the fights. And now, other regions in Nigeria are beginning to get involved in the fights – with Yoruba and Igbo’s beginning to fight Dambe.
“I have been fighting Dambe boxing for 7 years and have been in countless fights,” says Rasheed, a boxer from Niger state. “The most I’ve ever won is N12,000 – and I gave half of the money to my mummy and spent the rest on myself. My mummy knows that I fight, but she doesn’t like it.”
Injuries from Dambe boxing often involved bruises, lost teeth, black eyes, and in the long-term can lead to brain damage. For example, one of Nigeria’s most famous Dambe boxers – Shagun Dan Tagayi – a champion in sokoto region has recently become mentally impaired and can no longer fight.
Would you fight in a traditional Dambe boxing match?