ALFRED KOTEY fell on hard times before he knew the good times were over. He went from revered WBO bantamweight champion to gatekeeper within two years, his peak gone in a flash. Without a title to bargain with or a promoter leading him back to one, Kotey found himself stranded in the away corner for the rest of his career.
After he was handily outscored over 12 rounds by Juan Manuel Marquez in 1997, his third straight points defeat, it was clear that Kotey – only 29 – was in decline.
British fans will remember Kotey for winning and losing his championship inside York Hall and squeezing in two UK small hall defences in-between. By the time of his death, however, the Ghanaian didn’t remember.
Kotey had been in fading health for a while. His memory had gone and he struggled to speak when a stroke rendered him braindead in the Bronx, New York, where he lived. Just 52 years old and completely hopeless, his life support machine was turned off on June 30.
Ike Quartey, a former WBA welterweight champion and Kotey’s 1988
Olympics teammate, said: “It’s been very difficult for me these past few days since
his passing. Everyone in boxing knows my relationship with Alfred Kotey. He was
a brother and my boxing partner.
“He was the one who motivated me into becoming one of the best fighters to have come from Ghana. I will forever miss him and even in death, he remains my brother.”
Kotey should be remembered as one of Ghana’s best, too.
Raised in the slums of Bukom, Kotey went on to win two out of three in Seoul, going out at the quarter-final stage in the flyweight tournament, before turning professional in the fight city of Accra in November 1988.
Six bouts in, Kotey won the Commonwealth flyweight title in 1989. It was then that his talent, and a desire to succeed inspired by his countryman and friend, Azumah Nelson, saw him leave Ghana. It was a long and punishing road.
“He will be remembered as a gentleman and a classy athlete but one whose talents inside the ring were almost certainly not matched by the sort of financial reward that may more easily accrue to home-grown heroes,” said the Commonwealth Boxing Council’s Simon Block. “A fate that often befalls talented boxers who have to leave their homelands to pursue their careers in countries where opportunities exist to get to the top, but where success does not always translate into either substantial ticket sales or television audiences.”
Brilliant at his best, Kotey briefly seemed destined for more. At Bethnal Green in July 1994, Kotey challenged 15-0 WBO bantamweight boss, Rafael Del Valle, who had won the title via first round KO of Duke McKenzie. Wilfredo Vargas and Miguel “Happy” Lora had subsequently been defeated by Del Valle before Kotey exposed the Puerto Rican slugger over 12 rounds. Victory over Armando Castro followed in Middlesbrough then Drew Docherty was demolished inside four rounds to wow spectators in Cumbernauld.
Back to York Hall in 1995. The scene of his coronation 15 months before would now signal the beginning of the end. Daniel Jiminez, another McKenzie conqueror, dropped down from super-bantam after losing his WBO strap to Marco Antonio Barrera to snatch the 118lbs title from Kotey on a close 12-round decision.
Kotey moved to the USA. Jesse Magana, Guty Espadas Jnr, Adnan Vargas and Marquez outpointed Kotey. He rose in weight and became known for his durability but little more. Acelino Freitas, Orlando Salido, Victor Ortiz and Anthony Peterson, among others, took it turns to use Kotey as target practice. Nobody missed.
He fought on until 2012, losing his last bout in Accra. The full circle was complete and Kotey – a month shy of his 45th birthday – retired with a record of 26-16-1 (17). He was so much better than those numbers suggest.