Algerian Younes Nemouchi meets familiar foe Ugandan Kayuma David Ssemujju

The pair previously met at the African Boxing Olympic Qualification tournament in Senegal in 2020

Younes Nemouchi enters the ring first. His red boxing gloves are up and shielding each side of his face, a ritual to stay in the zone before his first fight at the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020.

He was followed shortly by his opponent, Ugandan Kayuma David Ssemujju in blue, a familiar foe but in an unfamiliar setting under the bright lights of the Kokujikan arena.

Also known as Ryogoku Kokujikan, it is one of the most famous Sumo halls in Tokyo.

Without a crowd, the shuffles of journalists can be heard after they were told to remove their shoes to respect and preserve the venue.

Both boxers were called from their corners. Another ritual. They listened to the referee’s instructions, nodding whilst staring each other down.

Their last meeting would not have been far from either of their minds. It was February 2020 when they fought in the African Boxing Olympic Qualification tournament in Senegal.

That was a convincing 4-1 win to Nemouchi in the semi-final, before going on to win gold. It was a win that came as a surprise to the Algerian. He wasn’t supposed to be there.

Just four days before the tournament, Nemouchi, 27, received the call to say that another boxer had pulled out, diagnosed with tuberculosis. He stepped up to the plate, having no idea how far it would take him.

None of this could be further from where he started. Hailing from Constantine, Eastern Algeria, Nemouchi was encouraged to join a local boxing club when he was young.

“I live in a district where you have to be strong,” he tells The National after the fight. “I am a very active and competitive person. Sport came so naturally. I was very curious about boxing and that’s how I started.”

The discipline of boxing, enforced through regular training, channelled Nemouchi’s aggression. It gave him an outlet and a purpose.

“I used to get in trouble when I was young but not any more," he says. "Boxing helped me become calmer. When you enter the ring, you release everything, every stressful moment you had during the day."

With the first round under way, Nemouchi sits back as the Ugandan opens up aggressively.

Ssemujju is unable to break the defence of the Algerian, who blocks, ducks and pivots to avoid danger. He counters with a stinging left hook, shaking the head of the Ugandan.

“My parents didn’t want me to box, especially my father,” Nemouchi says.

For someone who likes challenges, his biggest was getting his father to accept his passion and understand what it means to him.

“When I made it to the Games in Tokyo, it was the first time in my life that my father tells me, ‘I am proud of you’, and this meant the world to me," Nemouchi says.

"My father is very strict and very well organised. I am the complete opposite."

Nemouchi remains in control of the fight, doing just enough to edge out his opponent, capitalising on his longer reach.

But Ssemujju is not done. They come together at one point in the third and the Ugandan lands a satisfying blow, enough for Nemouchi to drop his mouthguard.

It’s not enough. The fight ends and Nemouchi relaxes, knowing he has done enough. The judges rule overwhelmingly in favour of the Algerian middleweight, 5-0.

He leaves the famous ring, at ease and assured. He has two days until his next fight. The Olympic dream continues for the young chancer from Constanine, and he could well make history.

Next up is a formidable opponent in the 2019 World Championship silver medallist Eumir Marcial from the Philippines on Thursday morning.

When he looks at his whirlwind journey up until this point, Nemouchi has already achieved what he set out to.

“It was a challenge for me and I won my father’s pride."

Updated: July 29th 2021, 6:02 PM