Greetings, grapple fans! 853‘s special correspondent MERCURY MAN is back with a traditional bank holiday wrestling special – from the back of a minicab, with a bit of Hollywood glamour thrown in…
The odd Uber for me these days – organised by MercBoys 1 & 2 – after me knees went missing. I look a bit odd in the back of a cab with a mask under me hat, but oh well.
You know what it’s like. You get in, you ask friendly questions. Busy? Nearly finished? Are you local? They’re all interesting to a hack because there’s invariably a story lurking there somewhere.
Like Muladi Badibengi’s.
Muladi is chairman of Lewisham Wrestling Club; he was once very much a contender himself; and on one level or another he’s also a film star. But first, perhaps, some explanatory background.
“I was born in DR Congo (formerly Zaire) in a town called Mbuji-Mayi,” said Muladi. “This town is one of the richest towns in Congo. We have a lot of diamonds. I’m one of the family of 11 children. Many children were exploited to find the diamonds worth a lot of money, but not allowed to keep them. Most children were not going to schools. My family decided to move to Kinshasa, the capital. I came to the UK from DR Congo in 1993, during the time of the former military dictator, president Mobutu.”
Muladi had already got to grips with wrestling. “I did it for my self defence because when we moved to the capital, Kinshasa, me and my family we did not speak the capital language call Lingala and I was bullied in the schools and local people. I decided to find one of the best self defence sports and I found wrestling, which is one of the traditional sports and a very tough sport, and wrestling has helped me a lot in my life.”
As well as keeping the bullies at bay, Muladi got very good at it. “I learned so quick I became the youth champion, and when I joined the senior level I was selected to represent my country in a major competition in Africa and prepare for the Olympic Games.”
You’ve guessed it. Something went wrong. Some bright spark had the idea for 63kg Muladi to train with a 130kg grappler. His shoulder never knew what it hit it and Muladi was out of the sport for three crucial years. But Mbuji-Mayi’s loss was Lewisham’s gain.
Muladi started Lewisham Wrestling Club in 2003 – find out all about it at lewishamwrestlingclub.org.uk – because “I believe in the power of sport to change young people’s lives in a positive way. Ours is a voluntary organisation and is free to children and young people”.
“Ours is MMA – mixed martial arts – but is not an Olympic sport. We are a charity and have a very powerful and positive influence on young people, especially keeping away from crimes and anti-social behaviour. I think we have made a great impact locally.”
Not only that. One or two Lewisham Wrestling Club members threaten to make a name for themselves. “Yes, we have a young man whose name is Patrick Bougrine,” said Muladi as he turned up Burnt Ash Road. “He joined when he was nine years old. He’s 15 now and has won a lot of medals, including English and British champion.
“Also we have Chloe Spiteri, trained by me. She was in the GB team and the only Londoner at the test event for the 2012 Olympic Games. She represented England in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014.”
Funding? “We used to get small funding from Lewisham Council but that’s been cut. There is an organisation that supports us with a small amount of money and we have member contributions and adult fees.”
Film star?! “I met a good agent and my first film was in 2013 through my wrestling. I acted in many movies and series, including Dancing Queen and The Crown, season two, on Netflix, and I have many movies coming up. I want to make wrestling movies with a colleague so we are looking for a sponsor.”
Right, Muladi. Drop me the Co-op please. Need some sourdough bread. Good luck with everything. Stay safe.
MERCURY MAN looks at different sides of life in south-east London. Click here to read past columns.
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