“It was 1988, January 12. I remember that fight vividly when Azumah Nelson defeated Mario Martinez to win the WBC World Super Featherweight title. I was a young boy but it was an experience I will never forget – the whole of Accra stayed up to watch the fight. It was like a rapture,” Joseph Lamptey, a 45-year-old boxing enthusiast said of his fond times with Ghana boxing.
Mr. Lamptey is part of a generation that witnessed the great days of boxing, from 1970s to late 1990s when boxing was the heart beat of the country – the dream of every young Ghanaian boy, especially those along the coast of Accra, and when the world looked to Ghana for the next big name in the sport.
The history of boxing in Ghana dates to eons ago, however, the country’s name came into the international limelight in the 1970’s, when David Kotei, popularly known as D.K. Poison won Ghana’s first international title on September 20th 1975, by defeating Ruben Olivares by split points decision after 15 rounds to become the first Ghanaian world boxing champion.
During those days, and the ensuing three decades, boxing was so big in the country that it is said that the government in 1976 borrowed a sum of US$45,000 from D.K. Poison to mitigate against harsh economic conditions at the time.
After D.K. Poison, came Azumah Nelson – the greatest African boxer of all time and the only African in the world’s Boxing Hall of Fame. The undisputed Featherweight champion, did not only get Ghanaians loving boxing, but also the world looking up to the country as a hub for boxers.
Nicknamed the Professor because of his astute technical understanding of the nitty-gritties of the sport, Azumah Nelson’s reign lasted from the early 80s to the late 90s, when he lost his trainer.
Many other boxers like Ike ‘Bazooka’ Quartey, Joshua Clottey and Joseph Agbeko – all former world champions, came but none has been able to reach the standards set by Professor Azumah Nelson.
However, with the likes of Isaac Dogboe and Emmanuel Tagoe coming through the ranks lately, Mr. Lamptey, who has seen it all, is optimistic that the two can return Ghana boxing to its glorious days.
Already, Dobgoe, 23 years, has 18 fights to his name, with all being wins and 12 coming by way of knock-out. He is also the current WBO Interim Super Bantamweight Champion – a title that paves way for him to have a shot at the WBO Super Bantamweight title.
For Emmanuel, the ‘Game Boy’, Tagoe, he is the current IBO Lightweight champion, a title he successfully defended last Saturday night against Argentine boxer David Saucedo in Accra.
“I have seen great fighters in the past, and I believe both Dogboe and Tagoe have all it takes to become boxing greats. All they need now is exposure; they need to get more fights outside the country against more credible opponents.
They may not be as natural as Azumah Nelson, but they can take Ghana boxing far,” Mr. Lamptey, who grew up in James Town, the boxing hub of Accra explained to B&FT Sport.
Ghana has over the last decades struggled to produce an undisputed boxing world champion since the days of Azumah Nelson, but with renewed interest from people like Black Stars Captain Asamoah Gyan, who owns Baby Jet Promotion, expectations are high that the country could soon produce another world champion.
The construction of the Trust Sports Emporium in Bukom, a boxing facility which comprises an 800-seater sports auditorium, a two-storey aerobic, physiotherapy and gym block, a 300-seater conference hall and a 4000-seater open air arena, in 2016, has also contributed to the growing optimism about Ghana boxing.