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Living the Dream

Ouma abandons violent past, looks to ground Taylor

Posted: Thursday December 7, 2006 7:58AM; Updated: Thursday December 7, 2006 11:10AM
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Once a guerilla-trained soldier, Kassim Ouma brings a 25-2-1 record into his middleweight title bout with Jermain Taylor on Saturday.
Once a guerilla-trained soldier, Kassim Ouma brings a 25-2-1 record into his middleweight title bout with Jermain Taylor on Saturday.

When Kassim Ouma was a 5-year-old in Uganda, a guerrilla militia stormed his grade school. In a haze of bullets and flames, the rebels kidnapped all the boys, loaded them into a garbage truck and hauled them into the bush, where they were trained as child soldiers.

At 6, Ouma learned to build bombs. By 7 he was toting a sub-machine gun and lobbing hand grenades. Ouma was one of Uganda's tens of thousands of "lost boys" -- a name taken from the motherless band of children in J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan.

After the guerrillas took power in 1986, Ouma began boxing and became a champ in the army. While visiting Washington, D.C., during a national team tour in '98, he defected and was granted political asylum.

Ouma made his U.S. boxing debut in an amateur bout in Norfolk, Va., subbing for a fighter who couldn't make weight. The southpaw won that match, and within six years had claimed the IBF 154-pound title. On Saturday, "The Dream" (25-2-1) challenges middleweight champ Jermain Taylor (25-0-1) in Little Rock, Ark., for the undisputed 160-pound crown.

The 27-year-old Ouma is as ferocious in the ring -- he threw an astonishing 1,331 punches during a 10-round bout against Vernon Phillips in 2001 -- as he is imprudent outside it. Since coming to the U.S., he has been hurt in two horrendous car crashes and injured in a drive-by shooting. His first defeat -- in '99 -- came after going M.I.A. before a bout. With only an hour left until fight time, he was found in the bathroom of his hotel room. With a bar of soap. And two female shower caddies.

Ouma is still haunted by the atrocities he was forced to commit in his youth, and seldom discusses them. "My past gives me nightmares," he says. "When I was told to kill, I killed."

I caught up with Ouma a few days before his bout with Taylor.

SI.com: Most touts don't give you much of a chance against Taylor. You're a huge underdog.

Ouma: I spent eight weeks in training camp. I'm going to knock Taylor's head off. I'm going to make Little Rock burn, because I'm on fire.

SI.com: How do you size up your opponent?

Ouma: He doesn't impress me that much. The only thing that impress me is he's a champion. But not for long. I have the advantage.

SI.com: And what advantage is that?

Ouma: I'm a soldier and I have a soldier's mentality in my heart and in my mind. I'm going to attack him and attack him and attack him.

SI.com: Have you seen The King of Scotland, the new film about former Ugandan despot Idi Amin Dada?

Ouma: No, but I am looking forward to meeting Forest Whitaker, the actor who plays Amin.

SI.com: Amin was deposed in 1979, and later found asylum in Saudi Arabia. When his numerous offspring took and failed their entrance exams to a Saudi private school, the New York Post ran one of the all-time great headlines: "AMIN'S CHILDREN ARE IDI-OTS."

Ouma: I was just an infant when Amin fled.

SI.com: You've been dating Ugandan singer Juliana Kanyomozi. According to reports in the Ugandan press, you're planning to marry.

Ouma: We're not even engaged yet. We're just an item now.

SI.com: Juliana's old boyfriend wants her to wed a more serious guy. He predicts you'll leave the ring penniless.

Ouma: I'm don't think I'll be broke. I've got good people around me. Some day I would like to import Ugandan coffee to the states. I might even own my own Starbucks in Uganda.

SI.com: Do you plan to drive to the fight on Saturday?

Ouma: I'll take my tour bus. It has eight bunks and a bedroom for me.

SI.com: Will you shower beforehand?

Ouma: Sure, I'm a clean fighter.