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Young Ugandans dream of being professional wrestlers

In the mid-morning heat, the soil is tilled and wetted inside a makeshift wrestling ring.

Young Ugandans are gathering in the district of Mukono to take part in a soft-ground wrestling competition.

A dramatic announcement hails the arrival of the first contestants.

The training sessions imitate the pro wrestling contests the teens regularly see on television.

While a pair tangles inside the ring made from bamboo poles strung with sisal rope, others standing ringside cheer the muscular shows of strength.

They mimic every move, action and sound as their famous idols in the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) combat sport.

Wrestler Daphne “Shawn K” Kisakye was inspired to take part after watching those televised shows.

“I was like: ‘oh! are you really sure these guys can do that? It was very amazing,” she says.

“I told myself that one day I will maybe, if God wishes, if we can be with an academy of wrestling here in Uganda.”

The Uganda Soft Ground Wrestling group is a relative newcomer – it started in 2023.

It was founded by Daniel Cedric Bumba – known in the local wrestling community as Bumbash.

The 35-year-old says he has been a wrestling fan since childhood. He became what’s known as a video jockey after college, offering lively commentary and translating WWE matches into the local Luganda language for fellow viewers.

Now he’s a pioneer, known only to a small group of fans in Uganda who follow pro wrestling on TV but are aspiring to make it widely popular.

“This pro wrestling, it has not been here in East Africa, for example, but we heard of it in Nigeria and South Africa,” says Bumba.

“So I wanted to introduce a new thing on the block where by it comes from the inner me because I have the zeal, the adoration, and the love for the game.”

Bumba hopes that some of these wrestlers, many of them orphans, can do well and long enough to go professional.

It is the glimmer of a dream, with little else in place. The youth pay 100,000 shillings ($26) as a commitment fee for a chance to leave the poverty of this farming region. That’s the rough equivalent of 10 days’ work by an average construction labourer, a significant amount.

Bumba has yet to find appropriate training facilities and health insurance for participants.

It looks fraught with danger, but he insists they take precautions.

“Because it is the ground it looks to be unsecure, health-wise a person might worry about breaking of the backbone, breaking of the bones,” he says.

“But now this soft ground wrestling as you hear it – soft ground – comes from a theme that you are supposed to take further training. I do training for approximately eight months before approving a kid or a youth to engage in the battleground.”

Injuries do happen. Jordan Ainemukama describes having been treated for shock, but considers this to be on the minor end of the scale.

“So far I have never had an injury, a serious injury,” he says.

“You have a shock, then you go to the clinic, then they prepare you like two or three weeks then you get set, then you come back but not always serious. But this game is not dangerous as long as you are used to it and you know how to take landings. Our coach always tells us safety first.”

Some of Bumba’s trainees live in a dorm nearby, where they have access to weightlifting equipment and occasionally eat together.

Others come from their homes to wrestle or watch others fight.

Bumba has big ambitions for his organisation.

He hopes to build a professional ring and an academy so that many African youths can enrol in the sport.

Bumba sees this as a benefit to many children who might otherwise be idle or trapped in crime.

Many of the youth in or around the ring in this village 20 kilometres (12 miles) outside the Ugandan capital, Kampala, have long dropped out of school.

“The dream for this place is first of all to create awareness of the game. Secondly, I personally I want to become a brand ambassador of wrestling in East Africa, furthermore the president of the Uganda Wrestling Federation because it has been dormant. I want these students or young Ugandans to pursue their careers in pro wrestling and go further to follow their dream so as they can become professional potential wrestlers in future,” he says.

And some of his young proteges imagine a future on the biggest wrestling stage of all.

“My dream is to be in the greatest company called WWE professional wrestling in United States of America. That’s where my role model is Seth Rollins,” says Ainemukama.

Maybe wrestling in the mud could one day lead to WWE Championship belt coming to Uganda.


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