It’s almost criminal how there’s been a little buzz around Richard Commey’s IBF title defence against Teofimo Lopez at the Madison Square Garden this weekend. It is understandable given how Ghanaian boxers have largely disappointed in the last 20 months.
It is easy to instantly point to Isaac Dogboe’s back to back crushing defeats against Emmanuel Navarette but there have been far worse performances from Ghanaian boxers over the period. Rafael Mensah’s one-sided beat down against Alberto Marchado last summer is up there with the worst of them but there are still performances that pale in comparison to Mensah’s.
Ebenezer Tetteh’s one round cameo against Daniel Dubois in September is a strong contender for the worst performance of any Ghanaian boxer, dead or unborn. You cannot leave out Maxwell Awuku and Patrick Allotey, the latter best remembered for taking cover on his back in a corner during a world title match up against Jaimie Munguia.
The template in recent times for most Ghanaian boxers is to grab a continental title, often the WBO version, pile up winning streaks against substandard boxers to push themselves into the rankings for the purposes of getting fights outside the country. These fights fetch a few thousand dollars and it’s difficult to blame boxers who go for it. Boxing is a tough sport and sometimes hard choices must be made. How else can you explain Ebenezer Tetteh (18-0-16KO) getting knocked out in less than three minutes? He lost the fight embarrassingly but he sure returned to Ghana richer. He probably made more from losing to Dubois than he had made in his entire career prior.
Real among an era of pretenders
In an era where most Ghanaian boxers talk about world titles, as any boxer should, but lack the will to endure what it takes to achieve it, one man has taken a different path. Richard Commey took the long, hard road to success. His has been a story of sheer bloody-mindedness characterized by a refusal to fail and to become a champion by any means necessary. His greatest test was in 2016 where back to back split decision losses against Robert Easter Jnr and Dennis Shafikov within a space of three months threatened to collapse a dream that had been nurtured since 2011 or earlier depending on who you ask.
In boxing, it is not only about how you win, how you lose also matters. Nobody loves losers but everyone loves a fighter who gives everything. Commey lost against Easter in an explosive 12 round war that had the crowd on their feet for most of the fight. In defeat, he announced his arrival in a manner reminiscent of Azumah Nelson when he fought the great Salvador Sanchez 37 years ago. His 12 round war had the American audience asking for more. Four fights later he was champion of the world. His first title defence against Raymundo Beltran was more a statement of intent than merely holding on to a piece of leather. He wants the big fights, on in particular; VasylLomachenko. That fight appears close but Lopez stands in the way.
Keeping Ghana boxing on the map
When he mounts the ring on Saturday night it will go beyond beating Lopez and grabbing that Lomachenko, it will also be about keeping a country with a rich boxing history in the global picture. There are currently seven Ghanaian boxers in the world title picture but the dynamics in terms of ranking has them at least two years away from glory. While Duke Micah, previously the WBO’s number one contender and 15th on the WBC’s list, has fallen off the radar, he perhaps offers the best hope for another world title for Ghana.
Like Commey, Micah appears to have chosen the long, hard road and has avoided taking corners by padding up his stats with easy fights for the purposes of moving him up the rankings. He rose from the canvas and scored three knockdowns of his own en route to a unanimous points decision in his last fight a week ago. He’s fought 24 times without blemish. Some have engineered world title paydays with less.
Wasiru Mohammed, arguably the current local pound for pound king is ranked number 11 by the WBO in a division previously ruled by Isaac Dogboe. Dogboe’sconqueror Emmanuel Navarrete now hold the strap and looks invincible with four title defences in the last seven months. I’ve watched Wasiru fight and in my opinion can match the likes of Cesar Juarez, Carlos Castro and Thomas Ward who are all ranked above him, but can he best Navarrete? The answer is an emphatic NO.
The WBO’s number 12 ranked super middleweight Emmanuel Martey only recently lost his first fight outside Ghana to Russia’s Maksim Vlasov and looks far removed from the title held by Billy Joe Saunders. Obodai Sai is ranked number 10 by the WBO and has Sergey Derevyanchenko, Liam Williams and Daniel Jacobs all ahead of him, with Demetrius Andrade owning the sanctioning body’s middleweight strap.
Lightweight Emmanuel ‘Game Boy’ Tagoe is ranked number 9 by the WBC, number 6 by IBF and number 2 by WBO. He looks destined for a title shot but that is as good as it will likely get. The WBC title is held by Devin Haney with the likes of Jorge Linares, YvanMendy, Ryan Garcia, Luke Campbel and Javier Fortuna all ahead of the Ghanaian. Between 2016 and 2018 Tagoe held the International Boxing OrganisationLightweight title and lived proudly under the illusion of being a world champion. It is important to set the record straight.
The recognized champions of the world are those holding belts from WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO. Tagoe realized this but only when he or better still his promoters had paid thousands of dollars in sanction fees to the IBO. The two years and the money that was wasted could have been used to enhance his reputation outside the shores of Ghana, specifically the US, where he’s now based, in a bid to annex a proper world title. Now, at the age of 30, he must first build a reputation and loyal following before any talk of a world title shot. The reality of this sport is that being good is not enough, you must also be popular.
Another Ghanaian world title prospect is Joseph Agbeko who is ranked number two by the WBO. At 39, it’s difficult not to hold the view that this is more about one last hefty pay cheque than a real ambition to become a two-time world champion. If Ghana boxing is on life support, Commey’s title is the oxygen machine that provides stability and offers belief to the upcoming that it’s possible to reach the top without cutting corners and stay there. His success will serve as a reminder that the real money is made at the top.
Bookies erroneously have Commey as the underdog and that is owed largely to perceived technical superiority the Honduran has over the Ghanaian. Lopez takes inspiration from the Mayweathers and likes to rely on the pull counter perfected by Floyd. It makes sense given his speed and overall quick reflexes. Lopez is also comparatively the more accurate, landing nearly50% of his punches compared to Commey’s 33%. What Commey brings to the fight is raw power. He also has the endurance to chase down Lopez for 12 rounds.
This fight will mirror Mayweather’s two fights against Marcos Maidana but while Floyd answered the questions posed by the Argentine, one wonders if Lopez can answer the questions put before him by Commey. The Mayweather style is problematic and fighters who practice it find themselves vulnerable against aggressive opponents. Any boxer who uses the style in a fight even partially must be sure to execute it perfectly. Any flaw in its execution is likely to end up in disaster.
It is not as if nobody broke the ‘Mayvinci Code’ as Mayweather calls it, it was because of Floyd’s ability to make adjustments when he was found out. Floyd’s ring IQ is what sets him apart from later fighters who have employed the Mayweather style. If Commeybreaks the code, does Lopez possess the ring IQ to make adjustments? He may not admit it but Commey is not thinking about going the distance. He’s focused on getting the KO and rightly so. He’s unlikely to match Teofimo’s accuracy to win on the scorecards but he surely can outwork and overpower him. Lopez’s challenge will be to stay in the fight for the 12 rounds. What adjustments can Lopez make against incessant pressure from the very first round?
My money is on Commey to win this by KO. Comey has proven that he can give and more importantly take. He’s risen from knock downs in the past. He might get caught but his fight history suggests he can handle it fairly well. Lopez will crack at some point. I just don’t see him taking everything Commey throws.