Things couldn’t have gotten much worse for Richard Commey’s boxing career.
Heading into his fight with Robert Easter Jr. for the vacant IBF lightweight title on Sept. 9, 2016, Commey was 24-0 with 22 knockouts. The growing sentiment had been that Commey was a future world champion in the making. It only appeared to be a matter of time. But after falling to Easter in a razor-thin split decision, Commey got right back in competition three months later to face Denis Shafikov and lost again, coming up short in another split-decision.
Coming off narrow back-to-back losses like that would rattle many fighters and make them question their status in the sport. Indeed, Commey felt for a while that he wouldn’t get another chance to claim a belt. But hard work and three consecutive dominant victories — including two by stoppage — have earned him the chance to accomplish his goal when he battles Isa Chaniev for the same vacant IBF lightweight title on Saturday.
“For a time I didn’t think (I’d bounce back), especially after the loss to Denis Shafikov,” Commey told Sporting News. “But then I got those wins and my manager worked so hard and contacted the right people to get me another opportunity at a belt. Then I knew everything was going to be all right and one day an opportunity would come.”
Getting into boxing with the intent of becoming world champion wasn’t always engrained in the mind of the 31-year-old from Ghana. In a country where soccer and boxing were the primary focus of children growing up, Commey fell in love with kickboxing because of his background in another form of martial arts.
“I didn’t really think of doing boxing, but I loved Shotokan Karate because we fight and show respect,” Commey said. “I always wanted to learn different ways to defend myself. So I started with the Shotokan and then came kickboxing. I’m good at it, so why not? I tried and became one of the best and that led me to Japan. I was so good at kickboxing, I didn’t need to try soccer. I don’t come from a rich family. I just wanted to do kickboxing.”
Commey became so good at kickboxing that he ventured globally to compete in top tournaments. In 2009, Commey’s brother and friends suggested he give up kickboxing and make the transition to boxing. After some contemplation, Commey decided to give the sweet science a try. So in 2010, Commey went back to Ghana and started boxing training. He immediately liked it and went on to make his debut in February 2011.
“Everyone kept telling me I was good at boxing and that I can box, Commey said. “If I loved it then, I would have started when I was younger. It was in my head from people to be a boxer but I kept saying no to the idea. It wasn’t really something I thought about. I wasn’t ready for it. But everyone kept saying I could do it. And then I finally realized it and was like, ‘Whoa, maybe I should do this and give it a try.’ When I started training all the time, I realized what they said was true since I realized I could do it.”
The winner of Saturday’s contest between Commey and Chaniev is likely to face WBO titleholder and top pound-for-pound contender Vasiliy Lomachenko in April. For Commey, though, there’s little use in thinking beyond finally winning a world title.
“Mentally speaking, I’ve never thought about what is ahead,” Commey said. “I only focus on the current fight and I’m only focused on this one on Saturday. Whatever happens afterwards will happen and that will make me happy. You have to understand that I just want to win this title first. That is my cause and all I’m thinking about is winning this title first.”