Bush remembers Wanyama, the smiling champion

Ady Bush, right, with Franco Wanyama and Edwin Cleary at a Cleary's show in 2012.
Ady Bush, right, with Franco Wanyama and Edwin Cleary at a Cleary's show in 2012.

Warwick boxing coach Ady Bush has paid tribute to former Commonwealth cruiserweight champion Franco ‘Thunderbird’ Wanyama who died aged 51 after a heart attack in Rugby last month.

Wanyama, who fought for Uganda at the Seoul Olympics and gained 20 wins from 29 professional fights, beat Carl Thompson and Johnny Nelson in his first four years as a pro, going on to forge a career as a paid sparring partner for the Kitschko brothers among others.

In 2007, he moved from his home in Ghent, Belgium to the Midlands and he went on to be a regular guest at Cleary’s shows in Leamington and Warwick.

Bush has fond memories of the man who almost fought the legendary Tommy Hearns in Detroit in 1995, only for the contest to fall through at the last minute.

“He helped out at the club a couple of time and gave some good advice to the lads,” said Bush.

“We first met Franco as a guest at the Warwick Boys School show and from then on he came to lots of Cleary’s shows as a guest and always signed a autograph with a smile on his face.

“He will be missed in boxing as the man who always had a smile.

“With just a phone call from me to ask if he could pop over to the gym or that we had a show, he would be there no questions, just name the time and place.”

Wanyama, who was suffering from mental health problems in his later years, was living in a sheltered housing facility at the time of his death and his estranged wife Lucy has set up a GoFundMe page in order to try and raise the funds to take him back to Uganda to bury on a hill next to his parents.

The appeal, which is aiming to raise £10,000 has already surpassed £2,000, with Cleary’s ABC’s sponsors Fitzpatrick’s Fitters among those boosting the fund.

The GoFundMe page can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/funeral-for-franco-thunderbird-wanyama

Wanyama leaves a wife, Lucy, and three children, Shannon, Nellie and Wanga.