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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | MIKE DOWNEY

U.S. Is Left Fighting Mad : Get Ready for a Tonga Lashing

August 03, 1996|MIKE DOWNEY

ATLANTA — Greetings to the people of Tonga! I am coming to you live from the Alexander Memorial Coliseum here in Atlanta, U.S.A., where your 309-pound super-heavyweight boxer, Paea Wolfgramm, is about to fight for a shot at the island's first gold medal this Sunday in the Summer Olympics! But first, all hail King Taufa'ahau Toupou IV!

And now, with no further ado, it is 10:12 p.m. Friday night here in America, which makes it 3:12 p.m. Saturday there on Tonga, and so, as they say when you have volcanic activity on Fonuafo'ou, let's get ready to rumble!

There's the bell!

Wolfgramm comes out of his corner. He looks beautiful in those red Tonga togs with the sunburst on the front, doesn't he?

But it takes two to tango, even a Tonga tango, so let's take a look at Wolfgramm's opponent. He is the one in the ring without the tummy, Duncan Dokiwari of Nigeria, who is spotting our mighty Tongan no fewer than 90 pounds. But remember, whenever Tonga and Nigeria get together, you can throw those statistics right out the window!

A left by Wolfgramm. Misses! He bulls the Nigerian into a corner. Misses again!

The crowd begins its chant anyhow.

"Tonga! Tonga! Tonga!"

So far, Wolfgramm doesn't look quite as sharp as he did Wednesday night, when he defeated a Cuban in the most stunning upset of the Olympics! That clinched the first medal in Tonga's proud history. But if he wins this fight tonight, Wolfgramm will go for the gold!

As Wolfgramm himself told us, quoting from the great conflict when Samoans and Tongans were at odds with one another, "Mounga kihe loto!" ("The mountain is in our hearts!")

A left cross by Dokiwari. It lands! A straight right by Dokiwari. It lands! The score at the end of one round: Nigeria 2, Tonga 0.

Well, let's use this pause in the action to tell everybody a little more about Tonga, shall we? An archipelago of 170 islands--35 of them inhabited--Tonga is situated two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand. Formerly known as the Friendly Islands, the kingdom of Tonga is approximately four times the size of Washington, D.C., with a total population of 105,600. Its capital city is Nuku'alofa.

Now, back to the fight!

Wolfgramm is backed into a neutral corner. He is under a brutal assault by Dokiwari, who lands two more blows. The score is 4-0! Wolfgramm hasn't laid a glove on him!

Something's not right.

When he won his first fight, 10-9, with a punch five seconds from the end, Wolfgramm started slow, but he said it was because his opponent from Belarus "looks so young, so nice, so young, he taught me a lesson. You can't judge a book by its cover."

And when he shocked Alexis Rubalcaba, that 6-foot-7 Cuban, with two standing eight counts, Wolfgramm said, "The secret was composure, composure, composure."

So, what's wrong? Could Wolfgramm be nervous? Did his coach, Tony Fulilangi, put too much pressure on Paea by showing him the good-luck message from King Taufa'ahau Toupou, or by letting him know that his majesty personally asked Tongans to keep fasting, eating no food until the Olympics are over, while they said their prayers for victory?

What was it Wolfgramm said the other day? Oh, yes: "If I won a gold medal, I could not even imagine. I would die first, Coach would die next, and the King would give me half of Tonga. Or give it to my family, if I'm dead."

It's a big night in Tongan sports history, all right.

And a right hand by Wolfgramm!

He pushes the Nigerian into the ropes. Another right hand! Dokiwari 4, Wolfgramm 2, at the end of two rounds!

While I have a moment here, let's go up close and personal to give everyone a closer look at Paea Wolfgramm, the fearless fighter who suddenly has Americans screaming more loudly for him than they do for their own fighters! And why not? Tonga has as many fighters left as America!

Wolfgramm was born in the town of 'Utungake, Dec. 1, 1969, six months before Tonga's emancipation from the United Kingdom's protectorate. Five years later, his father, Bernard, and his mother, Fatafehi, moved the family to New Zealand, where today, the boxer has three children of his own--Albert, 6; Andrew, 4, and Godiva, 2--with his wife, Vanessa.

His occupation?

"House husband," Wolfgramm says.

Seriously?

"Yes. Well, I was a clerk for a telecommunications company for a while. A mild-mannered clerk."

Wolfgramm never fought anyone until he was 20. He had never fought anyone beyond the South Pacific until these Olympics. He carried the flag of Tonga into the opening ceremonies.

And here we go with Round 3!

Oh, a jab to the jaw by Dokiwari! It looks bad for Tonga! The score is now 5-2.

But here comes Wolfgramm, fighting back. An uppercut! It's 5-3. A right to the nose! It's 5-4. Only 90 seconds to go!

"Tonga! Tonga! Tonga!"

The fans are on their feet. The Nigerian connects, making the score 6-4. But with 70 seconds remaining, Wolfgramm swings wildly, staggers Dokiwari once, twice, and suddenly it's 6-6!

It's anybody's fight now! Twenty-five seconds, 20, 15. . . . Dokiwari is trapped against the ropes . . . and Wolfgramm scores! Tonga 7, Nigeria 6! It's over! Wolfgramm will fight Sunday for the gold!

"Tonga! Tonga! Tonga!"

Dokiwari throws his arms around Wolfgramm. He says, "This man hits very, very hard. I wish him the gold medal!"

Vladimir Klichko of Ukraine is the only one who can stop him now. All activity of Tongans will cease. The mountain is in their hearts.

"I'd like to say hello to everyone back on Tonga who's supporting me, and thanks to everyone here in America who's adopted me," Wolfgramm says. "And say hello to the king for me. See you on Sunday!"

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