Former Golden Gloves Champion, 1973; 128 amateur wins; 58-5-2 professional record
Former Chevrolet salesman, top 2 percent of salesmen at General Motors in the nation
CBN.com Maurice "Termite" Watkins was talking to a friend in the front of the car dealership where he worked. The friend informed Termite that a civilian contractor was looking for people proficient in pest control to spray for bugs in Iraq. As it was, Termite had a license in pest control for many years.
Termite, named because his dad owned a pest control business, went home and told his wife, Sharla, “Honey, I know you’re going to think I’m crazy, but I think I’m being called to Iraq.”
As a boxer, his career ended with 128 amateur victories and an impressive 58-5-2 record as a professional. He even fought on the undercard of the 1980 Muhammed Ali-Larry Holmes bout.
When Termite heard about the opportunity to go to Iraq, he felt this was a way for him to serve his country. His wife and kids begged him not to go but by April 1, 2003, Termite, then 48, was in Iraq taking care of flies, killing scorpions, camelback spiders, and mosquitoes in military mess halls and reconstruction sites throughout Iraq.
In the midst of violence, Termite knew he was always within footsteps of danger. Once he was riding in a truck, and the driver fell asleep. The truck flipped over, and Termite pulled two people out of the burning wreck. “The flames were literally held back until I pulled the men out,” says Termite. As soon as he got the men out, the wreck exploded.
After a few months later, Termite was approached by Mike Gfoeller, the regional director of the Coalition Provisional Authority, who had heard about his boxing career. Mike asked Termite what the odds were for him to revive the Iraqi national boxing program to qualify at least one boxer for the 2004 Olympics. “I told him a million to one,” says Termite. Mike said one was all they needed. Twenty-four Iraqis tried out for the team. Undaunted by the risk to his own well being, the random violence of insurgents and the inadequate facilities and equipment for the boxers, Termite summoned the 24 Olympic hopefuls to training camp.
“IRAQ IS BACK”
Iraq had not been allowed to go to the Olympics since 1960. Athletes living in Iraq under the Saddam Hussein reign lived in fear. They would be terrorized and abused by Saddam’s son, Odai, who was in charge of the Olympic team. If a boxer lost, he would have to spar with Odai. If the boxer returned a punch to Odai, he would be shot.
After American soldiers killed Odai, Termite felt it was time to earn the Iraqis’ trust, so he refused to wear his bulletproof vest. The team united and soon coined the phrase, “Iraq is back” as their rallying cry.
With money seized from Saddam, Termite bought headgear, mouthpieces, groin protectors, shoes, and gloves. The boxers trained indoors, running miles in small laps. He added carbohydrates to their meals because all they ever ate was meat.
Fifty-seven days after their first workout, the Iraqi team flew to the Philippines for their first qualifying tournament. Najah (pronounced Nah-JAAH) Ali, 24, a flyweight with a computer-science degree from Alrafdean University in Baghdad, emerged as the best of the Olympic contenders. His father, a former Arab boxing champion, taught him to box.
Although Najah pursued a college degree, he always dreamed of going to the Olympics. That dream nearly died in the tumult of postwar Iraq. During their training wherever Najah and Termite went, people encouraged them.
“Not one person bashed us,” says Termite. “We’ve found that whether people are for or against the war, they are for freedom.”
Najah made it to the second round at the 2004 Olympics in Athens but lost his match to Armenia’s Aleksan Nalbandyan. Others were able to benefit from Termite’s persistence to get his team to the Olympics. A wrestler, sprinter, weight lifter, and the soccer team from Iraq were able to participate. “It’s about freedom,” says Termite.
Termite was raised in a Christian home and fully gave his life to the Lord at 17.
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