RICHARD COMMEY’S biggest fan was in his corner long before he had a career – yet hasn’t seen any of his big fights. After each bout, she awaits the results with a certain eagerness. No matter the news, her expression rarely changes.
“My mom takes life as it is and stays even,” Commey says of Joyce Florence, his chief supporter. “Maybe she’ll show emotion at first but she won’t go crazy. She taught me how to be that way, to honour your heritage and that if you follow the right path, God will reward you.”
Commey inherited that trait from his mother, but boxing reinforced it. He’s endured his share of lows that might’ve discouraged others. Where some see losses, he sees lessons.
“I think that’s rubbing off on me!” exclaims Commey’s trainer Andre Rozier. “I go crazy if I’m not happy about something. Richard is always encouraging me and telling me to relax. He’s so cool, sometimes I forget he punches people’s lights out for a living.”
On this day Commey is in Los Angeles for the Mikey Garcia-Robert Easter Jnr fight. The hotel’s fitness centre isn’t ideal but he manages to run three miles. Afterward, he stops to inspect his cut physique in a mirror by the elevators, his humble demeanor giving way to the confident warrior underneath.
“You see the difference?” he asks, his chiseled face breaking into a gap-toothed grin. “I’m ready to fight right now.”
That’ll have to wait until Saturday night, August 4, when he faces Yardley Cruz at New York’s Nassau Coliseum as part of the Premier Boxing Champions on FOX card headlined by Andre Berto-Devon Alexander.
Should he win, Commey fights for the IBF world lightweight title next, held by Mikey Garcia. But Garcia is expected to move up and face world welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. in December. Commey will likely take on the next available contender for the strap.
“It really doesn’t matter to me who I fight for the title,” he says while shadowboxing in his downtown hotel suite. “I’ve worked so hard for it, I deserve it—and it will be mine because good things come to those who wait.”
Commey learned the importance of patience growing up in Bukom, a coastal fishing town on the outskirts of Ghana’s capital city Accra. Bukom is lauded for rearing many of Africa’s greatest warriors, but few understand how impoverished it is. The surrounding Accra suburbs are full of luxurious estates, with enough servants to make Prince Akeem jealous. Not so in Bukom, where residents relieve themselves on the same beach they bathe in and toddlers just old enough to walk play on top of landfills in tattered clothes.
Yet there is a pride and dignity among this tribe of fisherman. And a fighting spirit that produced Azumah Nelson, Nana Yaw Konadu, Ben Tackie, Ike Quartey, Joshua Clottey, Joseph Agbeko, and more recently, Isaac Dogboe and Commey.
Joyce Florence was a single parent in Bukom who traded perishable items at the market to support her son. The two are unwaveringly close.
“I’m a mama’s boy,” Commey laughs. “She says that when I was a kid and I saw something I liked, I would never ask her to buy it. Instead, I would say, ‘One day I’m going to buy that.’ I think that I get that from her because we are so alike. We even look alike.”
Ms. Florence didn’t make enough to provide Richard with an education; until this year, tuition was required for all levels of Ghana schools. Luckily, she had birthed Bukom’s Bo Jackson, a three-sport phenom.
“I started out playing soccer,” Commey says. “I was very good when I was a kid. I played for Cidabs Academy, which is part of an amateur league in Ghana.”
Commey soon added martial arts to his resume. He was one of the country’s top kickboxers when Japanese recruiters discovered him in 2007, taking him around the world to compete before he ultimately settled in the United Arab Emirates.
“Seeing different places helped me understand what my mom taught me,” he says. “Sometimes you feel like you’re in a bad situation, then you see people worse off. Or you feel on top of the world and you discover you haven’t gotten anywhere. In life, all the fingers are not equal. So, you must remain humble and respectful, because you never know who you’ll meet.”
Like Eamon Molloy and Leah Oatway, two people Commey befriended at a gym where he worked as a trainer.
“They were English but in Emirates for work,” Commey says. “I helped them train. We became very close. They really pushed me to boxing. I pray that God lets me win this world title because I will dedicate it to them. Without them, I wouldn’t be boxing and that’s always in my heart.”
Commey returned to Ghana and joined the Bronx Boxing Club, a famed Bukom gym run by Lawrence Carl Lokko, the reputed best trainer in Ghana today. One year later, future manager Michael Amoo-Bediako discovered the raw talent.
“I was on vacation in Ghana with my three sons,” said Amoo-Bediako. “My son Michael, who was a very good amateur at the time, trained out of Carl’s gym during our two weeks there and would spar with Richard. Even back then, I could see he had potential to become a world champion.”
Following a short 12-fight amateur career, Richard, 31, turned pro in 2011. Under Amoo-Bediako’s guidance, he rose quickly through the 135lbs ranks.
“African boxers are deemed difficult to market,” Amoo-Bediako says. “You have to be exceptional to get the best opportunities. Fortunately, Michael King of Kings Promotions approached us and gave Richard his first break.”
King’s passing in 2015 was a bitter pill for Team Commey to swallow. Team Sauerland, who co-promoted Richard with King, became his primary promoter.
In September 2016, the 24-0 Ghanaian met Robert Easter Jnr for the vacant IBF world lightweight crown.
The bout was an instant classic. Commey scored a knockdown in the eighth but nearly hit the deck himself in the twelfth, withstanding a hellacious assault that proved to be the difference in a split decision loss.
“Man, Commey was in shape,” Easter declares. “That dude made me fight for every second. People say he’s overlooked because fighters don’t mention him. They ain’t overlooking him, they know exactly who he is. They just don’t want to fight him.”
Three months later, Commey lost a disputed split decision to Denis Shafikov in the latter’s native Moscow.
“It was hard,” he reflects. “My mom kept telling me not to be discouraged. She reminded me how far I have come, that I should concentrate on the things I can control.”
After a homecoming win in Ghana in March 2017, Commey decided change was needed.
“The Sauerland’s terminated our contract after the loss to Shafikov,” Amoo-Bediako says. “Luckily for us, Lou DiBella of DiBella Promotions contacted me about promoting Richard. For the first time since Michael King, I really felt positive about Richard’s career. It’s always been our dream to compete with the best fighters in the US and this was the perfect opportunity for us.”
In August 2017, Commey relocated from Ghana to New York and hired Andre Rozier to train him. The news sent shockwaves through the Ghanaian boxing community.
“There was a lot of chatter about me leaving my trainer Carl. I appreciate everything he’s done for me, but I had to do what was best for my career. Andre is a perfectionist. And in terms of physicality, I feel much stronger now than when I fought Easter.
“If I was with Andre back then, I would have been wiser in the twelfth. My corner didn’t tell me what was going on, whether I was behind or to go all out. That was the difference. And Andre would have helped.”
Last March, in their first fight together, Commey turned in a career-best performance, dropping Alejandro Luna twice and finishing him off in six. Still, he wasn’t pleased.
“I didn’t do as well as I could, as well as Andre wanted me to,” he says, rubbing his protruding knuckles. “I’m still not there yet, but we’ve come a long way compared to the Luna fight. My jab is much better, and my movement has improved. You’ll see against Cruz. He’s getting knocked out clean.”
As we head toward the Garcia-Easter weigh-in, Commey dons a new pair of Ray-Bans that match well with his fresh white Nike tee, navy blue Nike shorts and grey Nike sneakers.
“Life is good,” he smiles.
Commey has come a long way from the dusty roads in Bukom, but the town remains close to his heart. Last April, Amoo-Bediako launched Streetwise Foundation, a program endowing equipment to needy boxing gyms in Ghana. Fittingly, he appointed Commey as the Foundation’s global ambassador; a reminder of how investing time and resources—financial and otherwise—can uplift the youth.
“I have my personal goals, but number one for me is giving back. We have a lot of talent in Ghana but it’s not easy to make it. They need help,” Commey said. “So, no matter where I reach, no matter where I go, I can never forget where I came from. That’s what my mom taught me.”