Nova Scotia

From Nigeria to Nova Scotia: Remembering Olympic boxer David Defiagbon

The last Canadian boxer to take home an Olympic medal is being remembered as a man who never gave up.

The silver medal winner died over the weekend at the age of 48

David Defiagbon, left, fights Juan Carlos Gomez in Magdeburg, Germany, on Jan. 15, 2015. It was Defiagbon's final fight. (Getty Images)

The last Canadian boxer to take home an Olympic medal is being remembered as a man who never gave up.

David Defiagbon, who lived in Halifax before moving to the U.S., died over the weekend of heart failure at the age of 48.

The story of his journey from Nigeria to Nova Scotia, and eventual silver-medal win at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, is nothing short of inspiring, said his former coach Wayne Gordon.

"David is a survivor," Gordon told CBC's Information Morning. "He grew up in a single-room house with a mud floor, and he saw boxing as an opportunity of furthering his life."

Former Nova Scotian boxer David Defiagbon is dead at 48. Friend and mentor Wayne Gordon shares some memories. 6:32

Gordon's father, Taylor, first met a young Defiagbon when he took a national team to Lagos, Nigeria. A friendship formed and so did Defiagbon's determination to come to Canada.

But the journey wasn't easy.

Gordon recalls Defiagbon getting stopped by the military police just as he was about to board a plane to Canada.

Defiagbon is being remembered by his former coach as an athlete who never gave up. (Submitted by Citadel Boxing)

"They put him in jail, they beat him," said Gordon, who now leads Nova Scotia's provincial boxing team and is also a former Olympian.

"We got a frantic phone call of him crying and saying that he was just totally discouraged. He wasn't sure if he was even going to be able to get out of jail."

Eventually, Defiagbon, a Commonwealth Games gold medallist for Nigeria at welterweight in 1990, was allowed to continue his trip and he arrived at the Halifax airport with just one bag that carried all of his belongings.

'A great athlete to train'

Defiagbon trained harder than any other boxer, Gordon said. He never had to coax him to put in another round in the gym.

"It was like we have to take a little bit of time off. We have to not work so hard. He was a great athlete to train."

Becoming a Canadian citizen and winning a heavyweight silver medal was the pinnacle of his career, Gordon said, but he didn't stop there.

Defiagbon competed at the Atlanta Games in 1996, earning a heavyweight silver medal. (Submitted by Citadel Boxing)

Defiagbon decided to move to Las Vegas so he could box professionally and become a world champion, something he came close to doing, Gordon said.

He said his nickname, Dave (The Dream) Defiagbon, was very fitting.  

"He always wanted more. He set his goals high. Once he achieved that goal of the Olympic games, he started setting new goals."

The nickname also referred to Defiagbon's boxing style. At six-foot-five, he glided around the ring.

Defiagbon fought twice in the Olympics, competing for Nigeria as a light middleweight in 1992. He lost his first match to an opponent from the U.S.

Defiagbon's silver medal in 1996 is the last time Canada has won an Olympic medal in boxing. (Submitted by Citadel Boxing)

In 1996, he defeated fighters from Kenya, France and the U.S. before losing to Cuba's Felix Savon in the gold-medal bout.

He turned professional before the end of 1996 and made his pro debut at the Halifax Forum, defeating Bill Dorsch. He went on to fight six of his first seven matches in Canada.

From there, most of his career was spent in Las Vegas, where he made his home.

He won a pro title, the World Boxing Association's Fedecentro heavyweight belt, in 2004 over Ron Guerrero. But his career ended with losses to Oleg Maskaev and Juan Carlos Gomez, leaving his record at 21-2.

He remained in Las Vegas after his boxing career ended.

With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning