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The boxing community is mourning the passing of David Defiagbon over the weekend.
A native Nigerian who fought out of Halifax, Defiagbon was the last Canadian to win an Olympic boxing medal when he earned a heavyweight silver at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Reports said Defiagbon died of heart complications Saturday in Las Vegas. He was 48.
“It’s a shock,” said Lower Sackville’s Wayne Gordon, who along with his late father Taylor, were instrumental in bringing Defiagbon to Canada. They coached him as an amateur.
Defiagbon won a gold medal for Nigeria at the 1990 Commonwealth Games. Shortly thereafter, he met Taylor Gordon, then the former national team coach, and the wheels were in motion to get him to emigrate to Canada. But it wasn’t a smooth transition.
“My dad first met David in 1989 when he took the national team for a tour of Africa,” Wayne Gordon recalled in an interview Tuesday. “David was very charismatic.
“Dad ran into David again in Barcelona in 1992. David told a compelling story about the adversities he went through with the Nigerian boxing team. He pleaded with us to help him come to Canada. It was heart-wrenching.
“We sent money over to him to buy an airline ticket and more or less escape from where he was,” Gordon added. “He got caught and (was) thrown in jail. We got word back so we ended up sending more money to bribe the guards to let him out of jail, get to the airport and escape Nigeria. And he did. He ended up living at my house for almost a year. David became a part of our family.”
For three years, the Gordons worked to get Defiagbon his Canadian citizenship so he could fight for his new home.
Defiagbon trained at the Gordons’ Citadel club and became a household name with his silver-medal showing at the ’96 Olympics. After losing to Cuba’s Felix Savon in the gold medal match, Defiagbon turned pro and moved west to join Sawridge Enterprises of Slave Lake, Alta. He eventually settled in Las Vegas.
Nicknamed ‘The Dream,’ Defiagbon won his first 21 pro bouts. In his 21st victory, the then-six–foot–five, 226–pound Defiagbon defeated Ron Guerrero on a fifth–round knockout on June 12, 2004 in Bermuda. He claimed the WBA Fedecentro title with the win and moved into the WBA’s top–10. That would be the pinnacle of his pro career.
He lost his next two bouts, including a TKO loss to Juan Carlos Gomez on Jan. 15, 2005. At the age of 33, it would be Defiagbon’s last professional fight.
“I was looking at pictures today of him having Christmas suppers with us, pictures with my kids,” Gordon said. “It’s really too bad.”