The power of positivity: Lolenga Mock interview

Luke G. Williams
12/09/2018 8:19am

Photo: Lolenga Mock, Instagram

Lolenga Mock fled violent political unrest in Congo for a new life in Europe after his parents were slain. He tells Luke G. Williams how he refuses to allow negative thoughts as he pursues a world title dream at age 46...

At the age of 18 Lolenga Mock was sent into the jungle in the Democratic Republic of Congo to prove himself.

“When you turn 18 in my tribe, you have to pass a test to show you are a man and a leader who can protect your village,” the 46-year-old tells Boxing Monthly. “The test is to live in the jungle and kill a leopard.”

With the single-minded determination and self-belief that have characterised his life, Mock succeeded. Significantly, the fur from that slain leopard has stayed with him ever since, decorating the trunks Mock has worn throughout 56 professional contests in a career that has now moved into its 28th remarkable year.

For Mock, this leopard skin has acquired totemic significance. “It makes me remember where I come from and which tests I have passed in my life,” he reflects. The tests Mock talks of were daunting ones. Born in 1972 in what was then called Zaire, Mock’s youth, like many of his Congolese contemporaries, was indelibly marked by the seismic impact of Muhammad Ali’s victory against George Foreman in the country’s capital city of Kinshasa in 1974.

“Ali was the inspiration for my generation,” Mock explains. “When I was small, everybody talked about the Foreman fight. For years many children were called Muhammad Ali by their mother! As a child, I said: ‘One day I want to be world champion like Muhammad Ali.’ That was my dream. It still is.” Mock first entered a boxing gym aged about 10 and turned pro at 19, winning his first 14 contests.

But then everything changed. In 1997 Mock’s father, a politician, was murdered along with his mother during the vicious political unrest that surrounded the fall of president Joseph Mobutu. The civil war that followed is ongoing.

Fearing for his life, Mock fled the maelstrom of violence and chaos, ending up in Kenya as a refugee, while his wife was stranded in the Congo. “I was broken,” he admits. “Boxing saved my life, for sure. I could have easily ended up on the streets begging, but because I had a dream to become world champion, I found strength and determination to work hard.

“I would go to the gym and train for three, four, five hours every day. The gym saved my life, because I met other people and took all the positive energy I could. It also gave me a few hours every day where I could forget my situation and my sadness. Slowly I rebuilt myself.”

A move to Denmark followed in 2003, by which point Mock had fought several times in Europe. “Being a refugee or immigrant is hard,” he says. “People often have a hard time accepting you — they don’t know your background and who you used to be. I had no family, I had nothing. My only family when I arrived was boxing. Boxing was my everything.”

Lacking firm management Mock became, in his own words, “an opponent, a journeyman with no protection”. Despite being a natural super middleweight (a division he still campaigns in comfortably today), he often fought at higher weights against career light heavies and cruiserweights. “I didn’t know anything about how boxing worked,” Mock admits ruefully.

A moment in the limelight in 2003 demonstrated Mock’s resolve, though, as well as his power. A five-fight winless streak had seen his record slip to 21-6-1 when he was brought in as the latest fall guy for fast-rising British cruiserweight David Haye at the Rivermead Leisure Centre in Reading.

Mock, though, wouldn’t play the fall guy for anyone. “David Haye!” he recalls, chuckling gently. “That was the fight! Nobody knew about me before that. Nobody knew about Lolenga Mock, not even the British commission. But I also didn’t know anything about Haye. There was no YouTube or whatever. I didn’t care who I was fighting. Everyone thought I was just an African kid coming to collect the money and go down.”

The fight played out according to expectations in the first round as Mock was floored, but in round two he roared back, a clubbing right to Haye’s temple sending the favourite to the canvas so heavily that his legs remained wobbly for the rest of the round.

However, Haye dropped an onrushing Mock in the fourth. The Congolese warrior regained his feet by the count of four, but referee Mark Green stopped the fight, an intervention that drew boos from Haye’s home crowd. “Haye was lucky,” Mock declares. “I was so small compared to him that everyone thought he was going to kill me. Everyone knows the fight was finished in the second round. Watch it on YouTube, you’ll see.

“After the fight I left the ring and the British public were amazing, they were cheering me, asking for my autograph. It was like I’d won the world championship.” Flooring and nearly beating such a hot prospect “really motivated” Mock and bolstered his self-confidence. He continued to take on all-comers, winning some and losing some against a veritable who’s who of the super middle and light-heavy divisions, including Mario Veit, Charles Brewer, Lucian Bute and Erik Skoglund.

However, although Mock won the European Union and WBO Intercontinental titles a shot at the big time and a world title fight eluded him. After losing to Skoglund on points in October 2013, Mock, who had reached the age of 42, looked like he was finished with boxing.

Personally, though, Mock was a man renewed. His wife, who he hadn’t seen in years, was finally able to join him in Denmark. With no official record of their marriage in the Congo the couple tied the knot again in 2007 in the city of Aarhus, where they still live today with their three children.

Mock believes that starting his own family enabled him to “become somebody” again after the trauma of his parents’ murder.

But the sense of a destiny unfulfilled lingered. And so it was, after more than two years out of the ring, Mock returned.
Remarkably, 11 straight wins have followed since 2015, against decent opponents too, including Derek Edwards, Luke Blackledge and Dmitrii Chudinov. A WBC ranking is now in Mock’s possession and a title eliminator against Avni Yildirim looms on Saturday, in what Mock is calling “the biggest fight of my career”.

“When I made my comeback, some said: ‘Oh Mock! You should retire. You’re old!’” Mock admits. “But I’ve proved with all these hard fights that even these young boys can’t beat me.

“They’ve all thought: ‘Ah, this is an old man!’ They don’t realise age is just a number. I’ve had no protection from the boxing world. I’m a super middleweight but I’ve fought cruiserweights. I’ve lost some, but when that happened I just smiled and thought: ‘One day this will change.’ Now? Everything’s changed.

“People in Denmark were talking negatively about my comeback to start but now people are saying: ‘Mock is doing something here.’

“Bernard Hopkins and George Foreman are a big inspiration, being world champions past the age of 40. I’m going to show the world that I can follow them and reach my dream.”

Mock maintains his ascetic lifestyle is crucial to his success and longevity. “My secret is discipline,” he says. “I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I just spend time with my family. I have morning training, then I come home, eat and sleep. Then I go to the gym again. Then I go home, have time with my kids, help them with their schoolwork and talk to them. On Sundays we go to church, which helps us bring up our children the right way.”

He also explains that he draws inspiration — as well as his nickname of “Lumumba Boy” — from DR Congo’s first prime minister, Patrice Émery Lumumba, who helped lead the country to independence but was executed in 1961 by forces marshalled by future president Mobutu and supported by, among others, the CIA. Western governments saw Lumumba’s pan-African nationalism and “socialist” tendencies as a threat.

“Lumumba is the one who fought for independence and died for the people of my country,” Mock explains “When I came to Europe and I saw how much politics was involved in boxing, I said: ‘From now I’m ‘Lumumba Boy’ and I will bring revolution in boxing, by moving from a journeyman to a ranking and then, one day, world champion.’”

This year has seen Mock’s profile skyrocket. His life story has been told in a book by Danish journalist Tania Clausager, sub-titled The Man Who Never Gives Up, while he has signed with MTK Global, who are hoping to land him a world title shot should he defeat Yildirim.

“Signing with MTK is the stuff of dreams,” Mock enthuses. “I’ve climbed the rankings and I think MTK can help me with my dream. Yildirim is a young boy, very strong, but I am going to do my stuff the way I always do, and win. I am from African stock and I am forcing myself to reach my dream.”

Author Clausager sees the Mock story as an inspirational one. “Here is an African refugee, who came to Denmark, and got no help from anyone — but he worked and worked to follow his dream,” she tells Boxing Monthly.

“He is a mixture of African culture, a European citizen and a Danish family man. The best way I can describe him is an old soul in the body of a 25-year-old. He has seen a lot of shit, so life has made him wise, clever and experienced — but he has managed to be the most positive, helpful, humble and happy person I have ever met. How can that not be an inspiration?”

It’s an assessment that chimes with my own experiences of Mock. Throughout our telephone conversations, texts and emails, Mock’s polite demeanour and friendliness spoke volumes for his personal qualities.

“I never focus on the negatives,” Mock says. “I always focus on the positives.

“Anyone can be my friend unless you are negative. If anyone says: ‘You’re old, you shouldn’t be boxing’ I take them to one side and say: ‘You’re being negative. I don’t want negative people around.’”

A demonstration of this quality comes when we talk of one of Mock’s few regrets, namely that he has been unable to visit his homeland since leaving in 1997. In his absence the DR Congo has fallen further and further into chaos — influential political thinker Noam Chomsky, for one, has described the violence there as representing the “worst atrocities” globally of the past decade, with an estimated five million people killed.

Yet Mock is able to convert his deep sadness at the state of his homeland into a positive mindset.

“I am happy in Denmark,” he says. “Denmark has adopted me, and this is my home now. Of course, I would like to be able to go back to my roots and my country one day. I would also like my kids to see the country I came from. But until the political situation changes, I can’t.

“I really regret the situation my country is in. Things are bad. If it happens that I never get a chance to go back then I have a big dream to one day be able to make a movie about my life, my career and where I came from — so my kids can learn about their home country that way. I know it sounds crazy, but I always dream big.”

It’s that capacity to dream that makes Mock so compelling. “I aim to be an inspiration for the young generation and the old generation,” he emphasises, his voice acquiring the passion and cadences of a preacher. “To the young generation my message is: ‘Stay cool, be disciplined and you can reach your dreams’. And to older people my message is: ‘Never give up.’”

CINDERELLA MAN
MTK Global hopes to secure a Hollywood ending for Mock’s story

Paul Gibson, director of international operations for MTK Global, was moved when hearing of Lolenga Mock’s struggle to overcome adversity, so much so that he recommended the company promote the amazing veteran.

“I was speaking with Ivor de Lima, a Brazilian guy who has been based in Denmark for years and years and trains Lolenga,” Gibson told Boxing Monthly. “We got talking about Lolenga’s unbelievable story. And really, the reason for signing him is that story.

“We’re hoping that MTK can get him over the line and get his dream fulfilled. His back story is amazing — born in Kinshasa just a couple of years before the Rumble in the Jungle, he was a good fighter who came over to Europe to make a bit of money and was really used as a road warrior and journeyman.

“He was never given a fair crack of the whip and was on the wrong end of various decisions or just thrown in as a lamb to the slaughter, as he was meant to be against David Haye in that famous fight in 2003 where effectively you had a super middle against a cruiserweight.

“All Lolenga has ever wanted is a shot at the world title. If he wins his next fight or two he could very well find himself ranked two or three by the WBC and right in line for a shot. That’s the plan.

“I think it’s a lovely story. If he can make it into a world title shot it really will be a Cinderella story, after being used and abused as a journeyman through his peak years. He’s such a dedicated man and such a lovely man. And here he is now at 46 having never looked better and with a real chance for a Hollywood ending.”