Longtime cruiserweight contender Ola Afolabi, best known for his action-packed four-fight series with Marco Huck, announced his retirement from boxing on Tuesday, his 36th birthday.
Afolabi, a Nigerian from England who spent years fighting out of Los Angeles, announced his retirement in a 1,547-word letter to his fans on his Facebook page.
"Around 16 years ago, I was hungry and partially homeless when I stumbled into a boxing gym in Hollywood, out of all places," Afolabi wrote. "With no prior training or experience in boxing, I decided to give it a go. At the ancient age of 20, I worked hard every day. I would deejay in a shady club on some days, and on other days, I'd work as an overnight receptionist at a student hostel in exchange for a bunk bed in a shared room of six foreign students.
"I would then hit the gym with barely enough sleep to spar with world champions like James Tony, Francois Botha, Julio Gonzales and other experienced up and comers. I did this for two years before getting discovered in 2002 by my managers, Victor Martinez and Pedro Rosado. These two amazing men fed me and housed me, and for that, I will be forever thankful. R.I.P. to Pedro who recently passed away. I wish he was still around so we could all sit down at dinner and reminisce, and laugh about my career."
Afolabi (22-5-4, 11 KOs) turned pro in 2002 with a four-round draw and was 3-1-2 in his first six bouts. He eventually became a top contender and won an interim world title in 2009 with a 12th-round knockout of Enzo Maccarinelli.
In his next fight, Afolabi got a shot at world titleholder Huck in December 2009 and lost a highly competitive unanimous decision on Huck's turf in Germany, site of all four of their fights.
In the rematch in May 2012, Afolabi nearly took the title from Huck, but the fight was declared a majority draw. They met for the third time in June 2013, with Huck retaining the title by majority decision.
In Afolabi's final fight, if his retirement sticks, he faced Huck for the fourth time Feb. 27 and got knocked out in the 10th round. It was the only one of their bouts that wasn't for a major world title.
Although Afolabi's knockout ratio was only 50 percent, he was known for his tremendous punching power if he landed flush. Afolabi, who overcame a detached retina and multiple shoulder injuries, was also known throughout the sport as a top-notch sparring partner willing to work with anyone, including heavyweight champions Wladimir Klitschko and Tyson Fury. From 2005 to 2008 he did not fight because of injuries and difficulty getting anyone to fight him.
"This means I missed my prime as a boxer," Afolabi wrote of the layoff. "The years I was supposed to do my best work and feel my strongest were lost."
Getting ready for a fight, Afolabi suffered the detached retina in England sparring with a young Fury, who in November outpointed Klitschko to win the heavyweight world championship.
"About a week before the fight, I was having my last sparring session with a little-known heavyweight at that time named Tyson Fury. During that last session, I suffered a detached retina in my left eye," Afolabi wrote. "Two days before the biggest fight of my career, I was in an emergency room having surgery on my eye. The surgery was successful but I wasn't to have physical contact for at least two weeks.
"Two days after the surgery, I was fighting a guy (Maccarinelli) with a 29-1 record with 23 coming by way of KO. I knocked him out in the ninth round and became the interim world champion."
After the first loss to Huck, Afolabi signed with the Klitschko's company, K2 Promotions, and managing director Tom Loeffler began to guide his career.
"For the first time and almost at the end of my prime, I'd have someone looking out for me, and I'll be fighting more often," Afolabi wrote. "The fights didn't get easier or harder but they kept me active."
Afolabi said his timing and reflexes are not what they once were and he felt it was time to retire.
"When you get old, the first things you lose are timing and reflexes. Although I tried my very best and worked really hard, I lost the fight," he wrote, referring to his fourth meeting with Huck.
"This is why I have to wrap it up. I have always been a realist," he wrote. "Boxing has been painful, but it has also brought me so many positives that outweigh the negatives. I see my idols like James Toney and Roy Jones with damages like slurred speech and balance problems still fighting in their 40's for $100,000 or less. These are guys with talents and status I could only dream of. If it can happen to them it will definitely happen to me. I will not let it happen to me."
Afolabi said his only regret is not ever having a chance to fight in Lagos, Nigeria, or in London, his two hometowns.
"I accomplished more with no experience, help or protection than most fighters with all the advantages in the world did," he wrote. "So after two retina surgeries, double vision and a bad shoulder, I must say goodbye to boxing. I have enough money to live on, so I'll get out while I can and still live a healthy life and be smart with money. Thank you so much to everyone that helped and supported me on this long hard road.
"Life gave me lemons and I turned them into a f------ chocolate milkshake!"