Ask 10 people what’s wrong with Ghana boxing and you may get 10 different answers. While each faction of the sport is likely to point the finger at another, there is a common thread in their observations.
In order to understand where Ghana boxing is at today, one must first examine its beginnings.
In the past, Ghana’s amateur system produced world champions and solid contenders alike. Fight fans recall the glory days of Azumah Nelson and Ike Quartey but what made Ghana boxing an international force were men like Clement Quartey, Roy Ankrah, Floyd Robertson, Alfred Ankamah, Kofi Jantuah, and Ben Tackie.
Those days are long gone. Current amateurs suffer from a lack of tourneys that could further develop their talent. Most turn professional without proper experience.
“So many people think boxing in Ghana is centered in Accra, but I fell in love with the sport in Sunyani,” said retired two-division champion Nana Yaw Konadu, referring to the city nearly 200 miles away from the capital.
“At the time, coaches were sent all over the country to groom boxers and that really helped. There were frequent regional and national championships which made a fighter competitive—unlike what we see now.”
Former welterweight champion Ike Quartey is even more emphatic in his assessment.
“We are not getting the right boxers to win consecutive world titles because our amateur system is dead,” Quartey told BoxingAfrica.com.
“In our time, you needed to be a good amateur fighter, to compete in international competitions such as the Commonwealth and Olympic Games before you turned professional. Things have changed now and everyone decides to go in search of money.”
In most countries, amateurs are funded by the national government, which allows them to compete in tournaments, locally and internationally. That isn’t the case in Ghana laments George Lamptey, President of the Ghana Boxing Federation (GBF).
Yet the show must go on.
“We still have to groom these young ones despite not getting support from the state,” said Lamptey. “In this light, we managed to come together with the professional body to revive our boxing league so we can unearth and nurture talent in the sport.”
Lamptey’s GBF, along with the Ghana Boxing Authority (GBA), have created Bukom Fist of Fury, a regional amateur and professional boxing tournament. But one tournament is not enough although Prof. Peter Twumasi, Director General of the National Sports Authority (NSA), says it will have to do.
“The financial burden on us as a government regulatory sports agency is very huge. This is because we have a mandate to ensure all sporting disciplines are funded by the state,” said Prof. Twumasi.
“We can’t do it all for sporting federations because we have limited funds. Due to this, we helped the boxing fraternity secure sponsorships from ADB and GNPC for their league. This, we believe, forms part of measures by the government to help in keeping boxers competitive and fit.”
Ghana continues to produce world champions, but the number of its quality contenders has dropped considerably. Patrick Allotey, Habib Ahmed, Maxwell Awuku, Dodzi Kemeh and Richard Harrison Lartey are all examples of homegrown fighters who failed miserably against credible opposition abroad.
Kwasi Ofori Asare, trainer of Bastie Samir, says fighters today lack the work ethic of their predecessors.
“In the past, boxers were focused on making it big before financial rewards but what we see now is different,” said Asare. “Most of them think of money before going into the ring.”
Not all trainers concur. The respected Lawrence Carl Lokko of Bronx Boxing Club in Accra trained former world champion Richard Commey and undefeated bantamweight contender Duke Micah for much of their respective careers.
According to Lokko, fighters “sometimes either make bad career choices or are rushed into fights they weren’t prepared for which destroys them. It is not always about the money because we have boxers who were determined to make it but couldn’t get the right assistance to get to the top.”
Indeed, talent doesn’t guarantee success. The boxer needs the proper work ethic—and development, as Lokko points out.
That development is as important in the pros as it is in the amateurs. In the past, Ringcraft Promotions, a defunct outfit, guided the professional careers of Nelson, Konadu and Quartey.
Today, many boxing shows in Ghana are rife with mismatches and questionable outcomes. Rumors of fixed fights are as common as the palm trees surrounding the arena.
Former GBA head Samir Captan says boxers are used as journeymen by promoters and managers for financial gain.
“We are not able to produce credible fighters because our boxers build fake records from home,” said former GBA head Samir Captan. “They avoid credible fights which would prepare them for the world stage.”
“When you look at the past, the likes of Azumah and Ike Quartey fought all the tough opponents without avoiding anyone,” Captan continued. “That was what made them excel at the world stage. We lack that now because most of our fighters don’t earn their records.
“They only build their reputation in walkover fights and then land themselves title shots. That is when they are found wanting with abysmal performances.”
Naturally, the promoters disagree.
“I don’t think a fighter can land himself a title shot without holding a credible belt,” said Alex Ntiamoah, CEO of Box Office Sports Promotions. “Sometimes boxers lose, but we shouldn’t talk about them being rushed.
“Note that some of these fighters are able to take their chances and become champions. Joseph Agbeko was a typical example.”
Ntiamoah’s assertion is debatable. Agbeko’s first fight abroad, in 2002, wasn’t against a world champion or one soon-to-be. Instead, an 18-0 Agbeko took on a 1-0 Sabin Bornei in the UK. Agbeko knocked him out in six rounds.
Agbeko fought abroad several more times before becoming a world champion three years later.
Compare that to the recent case of the aforementioned Habib Ahmed, who had never fought outside Ghana professionally, let alone faced a decent contender, when he met unbeaten WBO world 168-pound champion Gilberto Ramirez in February 2018.
Ramirez blasted him out in six rounds. It would appear Ahmed’s team chose immediate financial gain over long-term development, underscoring Captan’s point.
Current GBA President Peter Zwennes believes progress is being made despite the many obstacles.
“I refuse to accept the continuous attempt to discredit achievements by recent champions,” said Zwennes. “I believe the longevity of previous champions has to do with individual abilities.”
Even so, Zwennes admits improvement in fighter development could mean Ghana boxing reaching its apex again.
“We can put in place all the measures in this world but without funding, we can’t achieve that,” said Zwennes. “I hope the government and companies will come to our aid to help us in this charge.”