When the story of Richard Commey vs Teofimo Lopez is told, it will be said that the American-Honduran beat the Ghanaian to a punch and finished with fury. A punch that took a country’s only world title and had the people wondering how they got here.
In boxing, speed is worth its weight in gold and when a boxer has the power to match, the end result is often devastating. Lopez came into the fight with a 14-0 record with 11 stoppages and believed he was already champion before he stepped into the ring. The bookies had Commey as the underdog and many of us believed it was erroneous to the point of disrespect to the champion.
While the reasons for having Lopez as the favourite were undoubted, there was a sense Commey had an intensity Lopez couldn’t handle. The thinking was that the Ghanaian was going to brawl his way to victory, and why not? His four previous fights against Ray Beltran, Isa Chaniev, Yardley Cruz and Aljandro Luna did not go the full distance. He simply went in there with a killer mindset and finished off opponents. Perhaps we disrespected Lopez by thinking Commey could do to him what he did to the previous four.
Commey opened up almost the same time as Teofimo Lopez and the American-Honduran beat him to the punch with a power right. There are boxers and there are fighters. You must define yourself as a pugilist and work with your best assets. If there are two things Richard Commey has never possessed, it’s speed and defense but he adequately makes up for it in raw strength and aggression.
My first thought from the very first minute was that Commey was boxing instead of making it a brawl to unsettle Lopez mentally and render him inconsistent in thought and execution. Instead, he fought Lopez’s fight by trying to keep it clean and classy. This was supposed to be a street fight, one that the Ghanaian has witnessed and most likely been involved in growing up at Chorkor. He may have underestimated Lopez’s punching power, and I did too but it does nothing to the fact that the game plan was wrong from the start.
He was supposed to ask questions of Lopez and when he hesitated the American-Honduran posed a few of his own. Commey failed to come up with the answers. Teofimo Lopez wrote a cheque and cashed it. Mike Tyson says “everybody has a game plan until they get punched in the mouth”. Having a game plan guarantees nothing but failing to use your best assets in a sport as brutal as boxing is akin to having suicidal tendencies.
Boxers are built by training. Strategy may differ depending on the opponent but the underlying style which is determined by skill set remains the same. Ghana has never produced quick boxers. In its purest form, the Ghanaian boxing style is to walk down the opponent while picking points behind a solid guard.
None personified this better than Ike Quartey and Joshua Clottey. The last of that breed of Ghanaian boxers is Geroge Ashie. Sadly it appears the curtain has come down on his world title ambition.
Commey has the endurance and durability but somehow never picked up the art of staying behind a high guard. What sets Commey apart from previous Ghanaian world champions is his aggression or better still recklessness. Much has been made of his loss to Robert Easter Jnr in 2016 but in truth, he handed victory to the American by coming up with nothing in the form of defense.
The issue of a lack of defense appears to be an emerging trend in Ghana boxing. Isaac Dogboe’s defeat against Emmanuel Navarrete is an easy reference but even before that, he had gone down early in his fight against Jessie Magdaleno when he opened up and got caught by the Mexican.
It is not a lack of defense that exposed Commey against Lopez, it is a failure to go to war with his best arsenal-intensity.
What next for Commey
Richard Commey is not done by any stretch. He still has future in the sport although it’s difficult to tell if he will be a two-time champion. His mindset gives him a chance. He rallied from back-to-back defeats to capture the world title but this is different. I had issues with the lack of respect shown him by pundits, especially the guys at ESPN and he’s proven them right. Even more damaging is the fact that their view of his credentials sticks. I believe Commey is way better than this fight suggests.
Andrier Rozier has improved him tremendously but there are still flaws in his repertoire that needs to be fixed. His defense and concentration must be worked on. He attacked Lopez with his right hand while dropping his left. Most boxers think offense before defense but the best thinks the reverse and are able to do both at the same. They say the best form of defense is to attack but it doesn’t apply to boxing or any combat sport. In boxing, you must attack and defend in the same maneuver since every attack opens you up to a counter. Defending a counter-attack is the reserve of the very best.
The challenge for Commey is that he seems to be at a point where instilling these qualities might be difficult. At 32 it will be difficult to break him down and rebuild his constitution. That leaves him with making the best possible use of his best weapons. Commey is not built to go round obstacles. He doesn’t possess that sort of ring IQ. He’s built to blast through opponents.
Implications for Ghana boxing
The dynamics in terms of winning a world title do not look good. In fact, it is unlikely Ghana will have a world champion soon, not in the next two years at least. The general direction of the sport is cause for worry. While infrastructure seems to have improved significantly over the years the country’s stock at the global level continues to diminish.
A combination of managers who are only interested in recouping their investments in the shortest possible time and boxers whose hunger barely goes beyond a few thousand dollars means that any talk of a world title is often for the purpose of hype. Winning a world title is a long term project that requires managers who are committed to invest money and time over a long period.
It is also time to bite the bullet. Boxing is a dirty game but when the dirt derails the country’s fortunes on the world stage, it must be removed. Have we not heard of fights being staged behind people’s windows and been entered into official records? Do we not know that most Ghanaian boxers are pitted against substandard opponents for the purposes of making their record look good with a view of getting a fight, not necessarily world title shots outside the country? Let’s turn a blind eye to defeats in world title fights and focus on losses involving Ghanaian boxers outside the country for intercontinental and other regional titles. How many foreign boxers have we not robbed in favour of Ghanaian boxers at the Bukom Boxing Arena and other fight venues in the country?
We’re churning out half baked boxers who are not good enough for the top level. Ghana boxing is run by people who have made winning world titles and protecting the country’s legacy an afterthought.