Azumah Nelson is the greatest fighter to ever come out of Ghana, but not the only major name.
As Joshua Clottey prepares for the biggest fight of his career on March 13 against Manny Pacquiao, Ted "The Bull" Sares looks at the rich history of fighters from Ghana.
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Boxing is the main subject over here [Bukom].
--Boxing manager Yoofi Boham
You can see the trend, that each decade something unique comes out of Bukom.
--Sammy Okaitey, Sports Editor of Ghana's Daily Graphic
You've got to give people hope in life, and for the people of Bukom, boxing is hope.
--Claude Abrams, editor of Britain's Boxing News
This country of only 21 million, produces a disproportionately large amount of fighters and most come from the southern coastal city of Accra. Breaking it down even further, most come from an oppressively hot shantytown on the outskirts called Bukom and are members of the Ga tribe. Because of the flagging fortunes of the sport in this country, many of the fighters toil elsewhere which, except for South Africa, seems to be the prevailing pattern. Still, Bukom is a fight town with few equals.
As we lead up to the fight between Manny Pacquiao and Ghanian Joshua Clottey in March, a review of Ghana's rich boxing legacy seems in order.
"The Black Flash"
Roy Ankrah a.k.a "The Black Flash" was one of the first fighting from 1950-1959. He joined the British army and was trained by British boxing trainers thereby moving Ghanaian boxing into a broader arena. Though he reportedly had an amazing record prior to fighting in the British Empire, it could not be corroborated. In April 1951, Ankrah won the British Empire featherweight title and when he fought Ray Famechon (75-7-) in 1952, he was 24-1. He then fought and also lost to Luis Perez Romero (86-9-3). After winning nine straight, he would lose 4 of his last six and then retire with a fine record of 35-7. Ankrah was the most important figure in Ghanaian boxing during the 50's.
One of many boxers spawned by Bukom, David Kotei (also spelled Kotey) was the first Ghanaian to win a world title. He was world featherweight boxing champion between 1975 and 1976. He won it with a decision over the great Ruben Olivares and he did it at the Forum in Inglewood, California. After two successful defense, he lost his title in 1976 to Danny "Little Red" Lopez at the Accra Sports Stadium.
Back in 1982, a tough fighter out of Zambia named Charm "Shuffle" Chiteule, who did much of his work in Germany and the U.K., fought a Ghanaian by the name of Azumah Nelson. At stake was the prestigious African Featherweight Title which Nelson had won in 1981 by knocking out Australian Brian Roberts in the fifth stanza in Accra.
This fight was held at the Woodlands Stadium in Lusaka, Zambia. Nelson was 11-0 while the slick "Shuffle," who became the number one contender for the Commonwealth title, came in at 19-1. Chiteule had won the Zambian Featherweight Title in 1979 while Nelson had taken the Ghanaian featherweight title in 1980. Nelson knocked out Chiteule in the tenth round and in so doing was able to get a shot at the world title just five months later. Still, only aficionados knew who he was and that his amateur record was an outstanding 50-1.
But Nelson made himself known throughout the global boxing landscape on July 21, 1982 at Madison Square Garden when he gave the legendary Salvador Sanchez (42-1-1 coming in) all he could handle and then some before finally being stopped in the fifteenth round in a classic battle between two great fighters. It was a war from the start, as both fighters let their hands go in brutal exchanges marked by the great Mexican champion's jarring left hooks. Even though Nelson had been dropped, the owner of the phone booth was still in question going into the championship rounds, though the booth in this instance was a bit larger since both fighters were winging from range.
Finally, in the last round, a rejuvenated Sánchez decked a still very game but tiring Nelson with a malefic four-punch combo. The warrior rose but was wobbly. Sánchez went right after him, landed five more blows that badly staggered Nelson just before referee Tony Perez, in one of his best career calls, jumped in to halt the action at the 1:47 mark. At the end, Nelson's right jaw was badly swollen and likely broken and blood was coming from his mouth, but the Garden crowd roared its approval for his valiant effort. They knew what they had just witnessed; they knew a future legend when they saw it.
Sadly, Salvador Sanchez died shortly after this fight in an automobile accident on August 12, 1982. As for Azumah Nelson, this fight signaled what was to come. After winning six straight, his come-from-behind knockout of Wilfredo Gomez in Puerto Rico in 1983 removed any lingering doubts as to his championship stature. He would go on to win the WBC super-feather title in February 1988 when he won a disputed decision over Mario Martinez, but his attempt in 1990 to become a three division world champion failed when he lost a decision to Pernell Whitaker. He then bounced back to beat rugged Juan Laporte. After fighting to a draw against Jeff Fenech, he iced the future Hall of Famer in their rematch. He went 1-2-1 against Jesse James Leja, who inexpicably seemed to have "The Professor's" number.
It looked as if time had finally caught up with the Ghanaian when he lost a rematch with Leija, who promptly lost the crown in his next fight to Gabriel Ruelas. When he fought Nelson, many considered it a "safe fight" for Ruelas, but Nelson TKOd the champion in the fifth canto in one of his more satisfying wins, for it showed he was not through after all.
Eventually, with a record of 38-6-2, he would be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He gained national hero status in coastal West African nation of Ghana as the greatest fighter ever to come out of that country (David Kotei became Ghana's first World boxing champion when he won the WBC featherweight title in 1975). Indeed, many regard "The Professor" as the greatest fighter ever to emerge from the African continent.
The youngest of 27 children, Ike Quartey he had an amateur slate of 50-4 and represented Ghana in the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988 where he fought as a light welterweight. His older brother Issac won a silver medal in the 1960 Olympics.
After turning pro in 1988, "Bazooka" took the WBA World welterweight title in 1994 beating undefeated Cistano Espana of Venezuela and defended it seven times against the very best opponents including many world champions, but lost a close UD against the then undefeated Oscar De La Hoya in 1999 in a bid for the WBC welterweight title. Ike was 34-0-1 at the time. Moving up in weight, he lost another bid for the IBF light middleweight title to undefeated Fernando Vargas. After staying away from boxing for five years, he came back to win 3 in 2005, but Father Time caught up with him in 2006 as he lost first to Vernon Forest (37-2) and finally Ronald "Winky" Wright (50-3-1).
His primary weapon was his celebrated jab, considered one of the best in boxing at the time. He also used an effective "peek-a-boo" or "clam-shell" defense, which consisted of him deflecting punches off his arms, elbows and gloves which he kept held tightly to his cheeks and ribcage.
Though his record was only a so-so 25-14-1, Alfred Kotey won his first 16 pro dukes, many held at the storied Blue Horizon in Philadelphia. On July 30, 1994, he beat undefeated Puerto Rican Rafael Del Valle to win the WBO bantamweight crown. The talented Del Valle had just beaten the great Miguel "Happy" Lora. After two successful defenses, the "Cobra' lost the title to another Puerto Rican, Daniel Jimenez in 1995 in London. Things went awry after this loss . Kotey went 5-12-1 in his last 18. Yet, many were close fights and he was never stopped.
What I like about him is it's not like he just wants to go for the money. He wants to win a world title. He's very serious about his training and improving fast. Anytime he jabs or punches the pads, I feel it. Before it was not the same.
--Clottey's trainer Kwame Asante
IBF welterweight champion Joshua Clottey (from Accra) like former champions Alfred Kotey, Ike "Bazooka" Quartey, and Nana Konadu, is also looking to make his mark in Ghanaian boxing history, and though he lost a razor thin SD to Miguel Cotto, he did not lose any respect as a top-notch fighter.
Of course, if "The Grand Master" should somehow beat Manny Pacquiao when they meet in March, he will enrich Ghana's boxing legacy exponentially and put himself on the same platform with other great Ghanian fighters of the past.
Joseph "King Kong" Agbeko
Coming of a sensational and convincing decision win over Vic Darchinyan in July 2009, Agbeko (27-1) became the latest in a long line of fabled Ghanaian fighters. He won the Ghanaian bantamweight crown in 1999, the vacant African Boxing Union bantamweight and African Bantamweight Titles the following year, the vacant WBF bantamweight title in 2001, the vacant Commonwealth (British Empire) bantamweight title in 2004, and finally the IBF bantamweight title in 2007 when he stopped Luis Alberto Perez (25-1) in seven rounds at the Accra Arena in Sacramento, California. However, when he met another Perez (Colombian Yonnhy) in 2009, he was outworked in a sensational toe-to-toe war featuring incredible punch volume from both fighters and no clinches.
It was the second straight win over a major opponent by Perez, who knocked out South African, Silence Mabuza, before the latter's home crowd in Johannesburg in May. As for "King Kong," with a KO percentage of 78.57, he may still climb a few skyscrapers before he is done.
Others: Past and Present
Nana Konadu was a relatively unknown battler who fought between 1985 and 2001 and ran up a marvelous record of 41-5-1 and a KO percentage of 68.09. A road warrior, he fought everywhere and against everyone winning the WBC super flyweight title from Gilberto Roman (53-4-1) in Mexico City. Roman was decked five times over 12 rounds. In 1991, he beat Juan Polo Perez in Zaragoza, Spain to win the IBC Super Flyweight Title, and then in 1996, he won the WBA Ordinary World bantamweight title by stopping Veeraphol Sahaprom in Kanchanaburi, Thailand.
Joe Tetteh has limited success when fighting outside of Ghana which was more often than Still, he racked up an active slate of 44-29-7 from 1958 through 1974, though he lost his last seven. He drew with Pedro Carrasco in 1970 when The Spaniard was 98-1-1.
Napoleon Tagoe (21-4) won the WBC Continental Americas light heavyweight title and had a good run during the 90s highlighted by an upset win over the then undefeated Cuban, Ramon "El Mongo" Garbey. He would later lose to Juan Carlos Gomez in a bid for the WBC cruiserweight title in Germany in 1999.
Kofi Quaye fought mostly in Ghana and tallied an outstanding 18-2 record winning both the Ghanaian middleweight and super middleweight titles.
Abdullai Amidu a KO artist (18 -0 with 17 KOs) retired in 2005. All but one of his bouts were fought in Ghana.
David "Little Tyson' Tetteh ran up a fine 20-2 mark while fighting from 1993-2000. His two defeats were by MD and SD, and he never lost a fight in Ghana. His wins included one over Ossie Duran in 1998. His first fight outside of his homeland came against tough Billy Schwer in Essex, England and he won by 12th round dramatic stoppage taking the Commonwealth (British Empire) lightweight title. The 8th ranked "Little Tyson' was one tough customer.
Philip "Sweet Pea" Kotey last fought in 2007 and appears to be at the end with a fine 19-4-1 slate. As well, Laatekwei "The Shocker" Hammond has retired with a record of 15-5.
These days, Kofi "The Pride of Ashanti" Jantuah (32-4-1) is very much in the middleweight picture, but suffered a setback at the hands of undefeated Russian Dmitry Pirog in June 2009. teak tough Ossie Duran, who lives in the U.S but hails from Accra, fights on, but it appears Ben "Wonder" Tackie may be nearing the end of a career in which he showed total disdain for cherry picking and fought only at the highest level of his profession and usually in his opponent's home territory.
Charles "The Crusader" Adamu (17-4) defeated Briton Carl Dilks by a split point's decision in the Sky Sports Friday Night headliner at York Hall in London to claim the Commonwealth Super Middleweight championship he lost Carl Froch back in 2004. While he has issues when he fights outside of Ghana (2-4), he still is in the mix.
Albert "The Tornado"Mensah (18-3-10 has not lost since 2005 and is undefeated in ten straight outings, but his only notable win since then was UD over Ben Ankrah (10-4 coming in) in 2007
Emmanuel "Sleek" Clottey, brother of Joshua Clottey, is at the end of a career during which he simply fought too many brutal fights. His two recent KO losses to Victor Ortiz and Mike Alvarado were of the career-ending type.
Emmanuel "Bukom Jah" Lartei Lartey is 9-1-1 and holds an extremely impressive win over South African Kaizer Mabuza to capture the African Boxing Union light welterweight crown. However he drew with fellow Ghanaian Isaac "The Chokor Dynamite" Quartey in his first defense. Issac holds a win over fading but still useful Alfred Kotey. Bottom line: both guys are better than their records would seem to indicate. James, "Bukom Fire" Armah is 15-1 having lost only to Steve Quinonez. He is a road warrior and even fights in Accra.
Ray "Emperor" Narh (23-1 with a KO percentage of 83.33) is working his way to becoming a lightweight contender. He hails from Accra but now lives in Pittsburgh, PA. He has won 13 in a row (10 by KO) since being waxed in one by Kid Diamond in June 2004.
The foregoing were or are fine fighters, but when all is said and done, there was one Ghanaian fighter who stood out from the rest, and he was called "The Professor," a name he was given for his propensity to teach boxing lessons to his opponents. He also put his country on the boxing map in a losing effort. He was that good.