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Ray Opoku made his mark

Ray Opoku
Ray Opoku and the history of Ghanaian fighters in the UK

GHANA has a long and proud tradition of producing top-class boxers. In recent years, Azumah Nelson, Ike Quartey and David Kotey stand out among the finest, while current stars include Isaac Dogboe and Richard Commey.

Back in the 1950s, when fighters from all over the Commonwealth started to appear regularly in British rings, Ghanaian fighters were very much to the fore. “The Black Flash” Roy Ankrah achieved great things and was much admired by boxing crowds all over Britain for his swarming, all-action style. Others included Al Allotey, Attu Clottey and Jack Johnson Cofie. In the early 1960s, Floyd Robertson emulated Ankrah by winning what was then known as the British Empire featherweight title. The London gyms of the day were full of young lads from Ghana, Nigeria and the West Indies, all of them striving to achieve as much as they could in the professional game, or at the very least, to make ends meet.

In April 1967, Ray Opoku left his native Ghana to ply his trade in British rings. At the time he was the leading contender for the Ghanaian featherweight title with a record of seven wins and a draw from his 11 contests. He had been approached by London manager, Eddie Giddings, to join his stable alongside compatriot Sammy Abbey. Sammy had arrived in the UK a couple of years before and had won 12 of his 15 bouts over here and was establishing himself as a top-level performer. Giddings was a good manager who looked after his fighters. He had boxed himself during the 1940s, making his debut at the Royal Albert Hall on a Freddie Mills bill.

With Abbey as a mentor and Giddings as an extremely kind-hearted and considerate manager, Ray set out on his own path to glory. He did not find it easy. The British climate, for one thing, came as quite a shock to him when he had to get up to do his roadwork early in the morning.

His first contest took place at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington. Matched with Steve Elliston of Bermondsey in an eight-rounder, he got off to an excellent start. Elliston had claimed the ABA Junior title in 1963 while boxing with Fisher BC, and as a pro he had won all but one of his bouts, losing only to Gerry McBride in his previous contest by disqualification. His fight with Opoku was supposed to get him back on track. Ray stormed into him from the offset, decking Elliston in the third. After that Elliston backtracked, trying to outbox the Ghanaian, but a cut eye in the last round put an end to Steve’s hopes and Ray was off to a flier.

He was then matched with Jimmy Revie, the future British lightweight champion, in an eight-rounder in Brighton. Revie was then a really hot prospect and he was too good for Ray, stopping him in two rounds. It seems to me that Opoku could have been given an easier introduction, but this is how it was in those days, especially for an unknown black fighter. The best way of earning good money was to take on the prospects in the hope of causing an upset or two in order to get noticed.

Ray soon found himself in the UK top 10 at featherweight and he continued to fight the best men around, including George O’Neill, Brian Cartwright and Brian Packer – all Area champions. Further losses came at the hands of John O’Brien, Johnny Cheshire and an up-and coming John H. Stracey. Ray didn’t shy away from fighting anybody and he always gave excellent value.

After retiring from the game in 1970 he worked for British Rail for many years, bringing up three children, two of which he named after Eddie Giddings and Eddie’s wife, Suzanna. He is still hale and hearty today and living in London.

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