Michael Okpala

Born on the 8th of August 1939 to Echeobi and Janet Okpala of Neni, in what is now Anambra State, Michael Okpala, more famously known as “Power Mike”, will forever remain a symbol of African athleticism and superhuman strength in the memories of those who witnessed his daring feats. The first-born of three children, young Michael began schooling at an Anglican primary school at Adazi-Enu, where he first developed an interest in sports and became an amateur boxer.

Following the completion of his primary school education, which in those days was a fairly impressive level of education, in 1952 Michael left Neni and moved to Onitsha, where he joined the Dick Tiger Boxing Club as an amatuer middleweight boxer. At the club, he was influenced and inspired by the bravado of Richard Ihetu (more famously known as “Dick Tiger”), whose victories in the ring had twice crowned him the undisputed world middleweight champion.

Michael later moved to Kano, where he dabbled with numerous occupations. After trading tires and serving as an apprentice for a motor mechanic for some time, he realized his dream and was instantly reborn as “Power Mike”.

While in Kano, Power Mike organized a superman show business in which he demonstrated his strength to the amusement and pleasure of Kano’s cheering locals. Almost instantly, he became a wonder throughout not only Nigeria, but the world as well. His showmanship took him to various corners of the world, where he caught the imagination and awe of international audiences by performing superhuman feats such as bending large nails, lifting the weight of multiple men and automobiles, and breaking coconuts, all with his bare hands.

In 1961, he returned to Nigeria for a nationwide tour that took him to cities in all corners of the country. Three years later, he travelled to Ghana for a series of performances and then branched off to Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal, from where he entered Europe in 1967, with the company of his personal friend Engr. Onyeso, the Igwe of Agukwu-Nri. After performing in Sweden, he moved to Greece, where he met Kalie Abdulkalie, a Lebanese coach, who trained him in wrestling. In a short time, he became among the best wrestlers in Greece and later returned to Africa in 1970, following the end of the Biafran War. In that same year, he defeated Gambia’s Masambula and became the African heavyweight wrestling champion. In subsequent years he floored international superstars such as Johnny Kwango, Power Jack, Joseph Kovacs, Judd Harris, and the Canadian John Tiger.

In 1976, Power Mike retired as the undisputed world heavyweight wrestling champion. For the rest of his life, up until his death in 2004, he became a leading advocate and promoter of sports and sporting competitions in Nigeria and attracted international attention to the country’s youth athletes. In his community, Neni, and throughout Igboland, he was commonly referred to as ‘Azu Eruu Ala’, or in English: “one whose back never touches the earth.”