African Traditional Wrestling and its variants has over the centuries been practiced exclusively within the African continent by African fighters, predominantly found in West Africa from countries such as Niger, Benin, Senegal, Gambia, Burkina, Nigeria, Ghana. But this information is not new to some of the users on this platform who are familiar with African Traditional Wrestling. However, what is different is that, there was a time when an athlete far detached from the Dark Continent, had a foray into the African Traditional Wrestling and on top of that, dominated the sport.
That person is non other than Juan Espino, a former champion of the African arena, christened the ‘White Lion’. Juan is a not only a champion in Africa but a Grappling champion of Europe and Grappling champion of the World on multiple occasions.
If not for the saying ‘to each his own’, i would have said Africa is a wrong choice. It beats ones imagination that one will leave the safer forms of wrestling in Europe and America to come and engage in a dreaded and dangerous sport like African Traditional Wrestling. When heavyweights use bare knuckles and feet’s to hit and kick each other without the basic protection of mouth guards or helmets as the case may be, one will have to agree that that is a crude and dangerous sport. To cap it all, there are no insurances or proper financial agreement in the event of death or permanent and incapacitating injury to provide succor or some sort of compensatory mechanism in place.
The only consolation for a fighter who wishes to enter the sandy circle of the arena is the voice of his marabous, his soothsayer, charms and emulates on his arms and body, prayers points and rituals of the mystic world. The most interesting aspect of the saga was that the White Lion did patronize the Mystic world by having Spiritual guides such as Marabous and the Soothsayers. Whether he believes it or not, It will be safe to admit that he performed his mystic rituals quite well, considering that his stars continued to shine each time he locks horns with an opponent in the arena. His mystic signature style is no different from other African fighters who wear charms, emulates and the usual grey loincloths. One thing that stands out though, is the breaking of raw eggs between him and an opponent which must precede the locking of horns.
The White Lion is the first European to become a professional wrestler of the African tradition. ‘laamb’ a Senegal style of wrestling that allows fighters to throw punches and kicks in other to stun opponents before the final take down was his choice. Perhaps because right from childhood, Juan had learned and experimented with different styles of wrestling such as the Kurish, Ju-jitsu, Gouren and other kinds of combat styles, he was able to quickly integrate perfectly and understood the requirements of pre-fight traditions.
Since coming to Africa to grapple in the ‘laamb’ style around 2008, the White Lion has not lost one single match, not even a draw which is surprising for someone his size, stature and above all an outsider. One cannot ascribe brute strength as a means by which he was able to conquer his opponents, but the combinations of pre acquired skills and experience, together with an uncommon reserve of fearlessness before giant athletes in a strange land.
Juan Espino, who is 38 years, has since moved on from the crude form of African Traditional Wrestling to the ‘big leagues’ of finer climes, better pays, refined styles, rules and regulations, and above all, bigger challenges. The MMA and the UFC, brutal as it is, is way better than African Traditional Wrestling. One thing is quite certain though, Africa can never be forgotten in his life and is a reference point in the making of the champion he has become today. The good thing is that he is presently making positive exploits in his area of concentration.
Will the White Lion ever stage a come back to engage the younger and upcoming Black Lions of African Arena? Will his teeming Fans ever hear the roar and watch the victory champion dance of the White lion once again? Only time will tell.