Everybody who follows boxing, and almost everybody who doesn’t, knows about the Rocky story. The legendary tale of a journeyman fighter coming from nothing, getting a big opportunity and making something of himself by becoming a champion against all odds.
French-based Cameroonian Stephane Malenou is looking to make his own Rocky story on June 23 in Paris, when he takes on a yet to be announced opponent for the vacant World Boxing Federation (WBF) Intercontinental Welterweight title.
Malenou was born June 30 1983 in Doula, Cameroon and grew up in the country’s capital Yaoundé. The second youngest in a family with six children, his father was in the army and passed away when young Stephane had just turned seven.
His mother was out of a job, so his upbringing was very poor. When his oldest sister got sick, his mother stayed in the hospital with her for several months, leaving the five other children to fend for themselves for long periods of time. It was a tough time for Stephane, who was struggling to channel the aggression that build inside of him:
“I fought with all the children in school, and in my neighborhood. Some times against two or three at the same time, and I always tried to prove myself against others physically. I liked the competition, and I always wanted to be the best”, says Malenou.
A chance encounter with one person changed the entire life of the troubled boy, and provided him with a better way to use his energy than fighting at school and around the neighborhood:
“One day I met a guy called Felix Kemeni, who was a very good boxer and trainer at the Sports & Recreation Center. He took me to the boxing club, and that’s how I became a boxer at 12 years of age.”
“A couple of years later I was one of the best amateur boxers in the country, and eventually I was included in the national team. In 2002 I was travelling with the national team, and decided to stay in Paris. I had no support, no money or anything, and I was sleeping in the streets.”
The hard life in France didn’t break Malenou, and in time he managed to build relations that would enable him to turn professional. He made his paid debut in November 2003, and won a six round decision. Two weeks later he was back in the ring, full of hope and confidence that he was on a fast-track to the top.
But Malenou found out that it would not be so easy, as he lost his second fight to the much more experienced Bouziane Oudji (15-3-1), a former French champion who had challenged for the European title a year earlier. He rebounded well with a victory in March 2004, but then lost again the following month.
With a mediocre 2-2 professional record, Malenou was not expected to do well when he was matched with Bayram Arici (9-4-1) in a bout for the International French Cup in June 2004. But he put on a great performance, and won a unanimous decision after eight rounds.
Things were looking up for Malenou, and a draw with the 13-1 former French champion Karim Netchaoui in January 2005 only served as a reminder that he was a talented prospect, despite the less than stellar record. Three months later he beat Nicolas Guisset (8-1-1), and it appeared that he had finally established himself as a force to be reckoned with on the French scene.
“I was sure I had it made, that now someone would come along and sponsor me, and that I would get a promotional contract. But nothing happened”, said Malenou. “It became harder for me to get a fight, and I was very frustrated.”
The frustration followed him into the ring when he finally did get a fight, and Malenou lost his next three outings. At 4-5-1, he travelled to America and hoped it would be the land of dreams for him. In June 2008 he made his US debut and won on points over the tough Reggie Holly in New York.
Following the Holly victory, it would be more than a year before he got another fight. When he did, it was not exactly clever matchmaking as he was pitted against 6-0 Issouf Kinda, and lost another decision. He decided the American dream was over, and returned to Europe, not knowing what the future would bring.
After another long lay-off, Malenou returned to action in October 2011, and stopped Pieter Vandamme in Belgium. This victory would signal the start of a new chapter for the now 28-year-old, and over the next two years he was moved along wisely and put together a string of five victories.
At 10-6-1 (3), and almost twelve years after the day he decided to not return to Cameroon but stay in Paris, he is finally on the verge of completing his Rocky Story. If he captures the WBF Intercontinental title on June 23, he will be an unlikely champion, but one who has certainly paid his dues and deserves the glory.