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Sqoop – Get Uganda entertainment news, celebrity gossip, videos and photosSqoop – Get Uganda entertainment news, celebrity gossip, videos and photos

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Ugandan mud wrestlers dream of glory on world stage

In a mud pit ringed off by bamboo poles and two thin yellow ropes, a young Ugandan woman lies face-up after being tossed upside down by her opponent.

She gets a second wind and takes down her rival with one swipe at her feet to the delight and cheers of dozens of fellow wrestlers watching from the sidelines of the rickety ring.

The barefoot youngsters are training in “soft ground wrestling” at the Bumbash Wrestling Academy in the town of Mukono, some 30 kilometres (19 miles) west of the capital Kampala, hoping their skills may one day lead to fame and glory.

The sport copies the style of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) in the United States.

Like WWE, the Ugandan version is as much theatre as sport, with bouts announced using the gimmicks of American shows and supervised by a referee in a bold black and white striped top.

But competitors in Uganda endure spartan training and living conditions.

“The boys and girls here will be tomorrow’s Hulk Hogan and Sasha Banks,” the academy’s brainchild Daniel Bumba told AFP, referring to megastar American wrestlers.

Bumba, a 35-year-old trained quantity surveyor turned television presenter, founded the school last year with his friend Arthur Asiimwe, 32, and it now has more than 200 trainees, including 30 women.

Nestled in a marshy plot surrounded by eucalyptus trees and yams, the academy features an open-air kitchen next to a two-room office where a 65-inch television set shows footage of training sessions.

‘Dream come true’

In one corner of the ring, a makeshift ladder fashioned from a plank of wood and two sticks is used to gain height and perform spectacular jumps like those made popular by WWE’s The Undertaker, John Cena and Randy Orton.

“We were watching those (WWE matches) of the whites but we never knew that one day also we Ugandans could get a chance of having wrestling in Uganda,” said trainee Bridget Nahoba, sporting dyed-red hair.

“The moment I discovered Uganda also has a wrestling academy, I had to run very fast, because that was my dream come true.”

The 25-year-old former nursing student and fan of professional wrestler Bianca Belair said she hopes to join the WWE ranks to break down the gender barrier in the male-dominated sport.

Nevia Hope Nabwire, 18, said she shares similar aspirations.

“I love wrestling. I love Sasha Banks. I want to be like her,” said the former street vendor, who dropped out of school, unable to pay the fees.

The youngsters determined to escape the poverty of their home villages train extensively for five days every week.

Under the blazing sun, they pump weights and practise chokeslam, powerbomb and other throwing techniques, with their heavy falls cushioned only by a layer of mud.

Facing eviction

The amateur acrobatics, which have become popular online, have however raised concerns among medics who have warned of possible injuries, especially to the spine.

“You stay safe when you know how to land. But you are at risk when you don’t know how to land,” Bumba said, noting that training in this skill takes about eight months.

The academy’s activities have also caught the attention of the Ugandan government.

Army officials visited the school in early March to make sure it was not a training ground for anti-government rebels, said Bumba.

The academy, according to its founders, is in the process of registering with the government, a move it hopes will attract sponsors.

“We have challenges… the trainees frequently suffer from malaria because we are in a mosquito-infested bush,” said Bumba.

But he said they were at risk of eviction, with the landlord seeking $20,000 from the academy to buy the four acres of land where they train.

The young wrestlers nonetheless remain hopeful of pursuing their American dream.

“I would really like to meet Roman Reigns one day and perform with him in the same field,” said Justice Omadi, a former street orphan whose stage name is Eastern Giant.

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