BOXING was once a source of pride for Ghana, a country that has produced a disproportionate number of champions. But as the number of world-class fighters waned, citizens turned their attention – and hopes – toward the national football team.
A resurgence has been taking place recently. Last year, a new stadium seating 7,000 was built strictly for boxing. Fittingly, it’s located in capital city Accra’s tiny Bukom district, birthplace of Azumah Nelson, Ike Quartey, Joshua Clottey and others.
Michael Amoo-Bediako, managing director of Streetwise Management & Promotions, is one of the leaders of this renaissance. His growing stable includes lightweight Richard Commey. On March 11, Streetwise will host a triple-header in the newly built Bukom Boxing Arena. The card will feature Commey, Commonwealth champion Duke Micah and welterweight Frederick Lawson. It’s perhaps the finest card ever on Ghanaian soil; a sign that boxing’s roots will continue to bear fruit there.
How did this show on March 11 come about?
To be honest, it’s been four years in the making. I always wanted to do something on Ghana’s Independence Day (March 6) but a lot had to align for it to be possible. With Richard [Commey] being released by his promoters and the new arena being built, it all just fell into place.
How excited are you about featuring Ghana’s best in their homeland?
Very excited, not just for myself but for the opportunities it will create for Ghanaian boxing. And with the support of the WBC, the exposure for boxers should give them the recognition they deserve.
Commey’s departure from Team Sauerland came as a surprise. What happened?
Richard had a clause in contract allowing Team Sauerland to terminate it if he lost two or more bouts. In September, he lost a world title fight via split decision against American Robert Easter Jr. in Pennsylvania. Then the following December, he went to Moscow to face Russian Dennis Shafikov where he also dropped a split decision. Shortly after, Team Sauerland exercised their right to terminate his contract.
We believe that had those two fights been anywhere else in the world, Richard would have won. Going into someone’s back yard to get a result can be very difficult, especially for an African.
What’s Richard’s mindset right now coming off those defeats?
Richard doesn’t class them as defeats. He feels he won the fights but we must accept that the losses appear on his record. So, his mindset, along with mine and his trainer Carl Lokko, is that we know as Africans things are always that much harder. We must overcome the stigma that African boxing is not on the same level as our counterparts in America, Europe and even Asia and work even harder to reach our goals, change the mindset of others and help to put African boxing on a level playing field.
Tell us about Commey’s opponent.
Hedi Slimani is from Belgium. He has a record of 26-2 with 14 KOs, and is ranked twelfth by the WBC. So it’s a great match up with Richard, who is ranked number ten.
What’s the next step for Richard following March 11? Are you entertaining offers?
To be honest, we are just focusing on this next fight. A victory will take Richard a step closer to another world title shot. As a team, we’ve learnt quite a lot over the last few years and being patient has been one of the most important lessons. After March 11 and a victory for Richard, I will review the situation.
A victory against Slimani would put him in or around the top five. The next fight should be a title eliminator.
Duke Micah had a tough fight versus Matthew Chanda in the UK last November. Give us your thoughts on what happened.
I honestly think he won the fight more comfortably than the split decision suggests but he is a work in progress. It was his first big professional fight outside Ghana and he made things hard for himself by backing up against the ropes too much. But I must give Chanda credit, he pushed Duke quite hard. There won’t be a queue of fighters lining up to fight him, I guarantee you that.
Duke will meet Mexico’s Jonathan Aguilar on this card. He’s a tough customer, a stern test for Duke but I believe he has the boxing skills to be victorious. This will tell us exactly what we need to know about his development.
Frederick Lawson hasn’t fought since losing to Kevin Bizier in 2015. Why has he been inactive and how did you guys connect?
Frederick is also a free agent now. He’s fully recovered from his injury so it’s about getting him back to world title contention. Frederick will face Sakima Mullings. It’s a good test for a comeback.
Michael, how did you get involved with boxing and managing?
I got into boxing by accident. I bumped into a young amateur boxer called Philip Bowes whom I still manage today as a professional. He asked for help back in 2008. I took him under my wing and sponsored him throughout his amateur career. Then one day it dawned on me that if he were to turn professional, he’d need a manager. I did a bit of research an obtained a manager’s licence from the BBBoC and it escalated from there.
Give us your thoughts on the Ghana boxing landscape.
Things are looking up with this new arena. We now have a facility where we can hold reasonably-sized shows and give the boxers a platform to perform. What’s needed now is investment and sponsorship. Every promoter knows if you haven’t got those, it can be a very expensive exercise. We have a new government in place as well and I am hoping to meet the new sports minister to discuss how best we can work together to help raise the profile of Ghanaian boxing to attract more sponsors and investors.
You and your team are at the fore of this resurgence. What is your mission?
To build an infrastructure from the bottom of Ghanaian boxing to the top. You cannot achieve any success unless you have a solid foundation. That means starting with the amateurs. When you look at what has happened in the UK over the last few years with the amateurs, and the investment they received from the national lottery, British boxing has gone from strength to strength, culminating in multiple Olympic medallists right through to professional world champions. UK boxing is booming right now and that’s because they have the infrastructure and it sits on a solid foundation.
Is Ghana ready to expand interest in boxing and host more fights?
Yes. When you think back to the days of Azumah Nelson, the whole country would stop when he was fighting and that’s what we need; new Azumah Nelsons, new world champions to raise the flag of Ghana once again in the boxing fraternity. Then we can put on more fights in the country with top quality opponents willing to travel to Ghana to ply their trade.