HomeSportThe boxer that Arsenal turned away

The boxer that Arsenal turned away

Napa caught the football bug at Milton Junior School in Bulawayo where he was a boarder. He made fools of his peers at break time at school dribbling them with a plastic ball until he joined his mother in England in 1991 where he went for trials at the Emirates.

Napa told Standardsport in an exclusive interview that he was shattered when he was turned away by Arsenal.

“I played a lot of football in my early teens and I was keen to become a professional player until my dreams were crushed after being told I was too small when I went for trials at Arsenal in 1993,” Napa said.

Napa said the snub by Arsenal pierced his heart and he joined  a club called Crown and Manor and started boxing in a bid to vent out his anger.

“It was never a career move, I just did it to let out my anger at not being able to become a football player.

“I started boxing and found myself getting into it more and more. Everything I was taught seemed to come naturally to me, the footwork, slipping and sliding. So I pursued it fully and had quick success.

“ I won the schoolboy championship in my 7th fight and beat the senior ABA (Amateur  Boxing Association) champ in my 10th fight and won the senior ABA championships in my first year as a senior,” Napa said.

Still nursing his Arsenal heartbreak, Napa turned professional in 1993 earning the nickname Dapper because he could sting and fly like a bee.

The now 33-year-old Napa won the British bantamweight title in July 2006, when he boxed a return against former conqueror Jason Booth. The fight ended with a points victory over 12 rounds for Napa. He defended the title three times against Lee Haskins, Martin Power and Colin Moffett. The third defence was voluntary and allowed Napa to pick up the prestigious Lonsdale belt for keeps.

Having proved himself at the domestic level, Napa set his sights at another shot for the European belt against reigning champion Carmelo Ballone. Napa was as good as his word, winning in October 2008 in a majority decision verdict over the Belgian after coming strong in the later part of the fight and putting Ballone down in the 10th round.

Napa returned immediately to championship action in his next fight, travelling to Liverpool to fight for his old British title against Gary Davies. Davies had won the vacant belt after it had been vacated by Napa prior to fighting for the European title. The fight on October 23 2009 resulted in Napa regaining the title with a majority decision. On January 22 2010, Napa defended the title against Jamie McDonnell only to lose a split decision verdict to the man from Doncaster.

McDonnell would go on to win the European title in his next fight and so chose to vacate the belt. This meant that Napa was able to fight for the vacant British title on June 4  2010 only to end up retiring at the end of the eighth round against roofer Stuart Hall, a man contesting only his ninth professional fight.

Despite coming on strong in the eighth round and being ahead on all the judges scorecards Napa claimed that the heat in the hall had affected him and that he’d struggled to make the bantamweight limit.

Napa said he lived in Zimbabwe until the age of 12 and went to Milton Junior School.

“I went over to the United Kingdom  to live with my mum in 1991 but I was raised by my grandparents in Zimbabwe. I then came to England and lived with my mum in Stokenwington and went to a school with the same name,” Napa said.

Looking back Napa does not regret the day that he went to the Emirates and was told that he was “too small”. That led him to try his hand at boxing.

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