In search of Habib Ahmed
John Angus MacDonald
Tonight WBO super middleweight champion Gilberto Ramirez defends his title against Habib Ahmed. John Angus MacDonald went in search of the unheralded but undefeated Ghanaian and found information hard to come by...
Back in November when it was revealed that Gilberto Ramirez would make the second defence of his WBO supermiddleweight title against Habib Ahmed, my initial reaction was: ‘Who?'
A quick glance on social media proved I was not the only one who was unfamiliar with the man the Top Rank press release referred to as 'Wild Hurricane'.
My next port of call was Boxrec, to see if Ahmed had any standout names on his record.
What I did learn is that he had a record of (25-0-1, 17 KOs). Oh, and that his profile picture has him standing in front of a superimposed, diagonal Ghanaian flag, so badly photo-shopped that the bottom right hand corner was cropped out to make his national flag red, yellow, green and white.
To be honest, I didn’t really pay any more attention to Habib Ahmed. I had always intended to watch one or two of his fights ahead of his world title challenge, but I wasn’t expecting an awful lot. I had presumed he was a ranked, available, challenger who would allow Top Rank to fulfil the requirements of their TV deal with ESPN.
However, on Sunday, my interest was piqued by a Tweet from Rian Scalia professing that he was struggling to find any footage of Ahmed. The reason this Tweet was significant, is because Scalia, according to his Twitter Bio, is a: ‘Combat sports “hipster” extraordinaire.’
This description actually does Scalia a disservice as it does not reveal the true extent of his fascination with people hitting other people, in the interest of sport. He is the only person I know who will watch both the Kazakh U12 Amateur Novice Boxing Championships and name every current kickboxing world champion (given that kickboxing is worse than boxing for its proliferation of titles, it is an impressive feat). Ok, that might be an exaggeration, but probably not as big of one as you may think - after all Steve Kim, boxing scribe for various outlets, has proclaimed: "If Scalia hasn’t seen him, I’m inclined to believe he doesn’t exist…"
Suddenly, it dawned on me; Habib Ahmed wasn’t just unheard of to the vast majority of fans – he was a complete unknown (to all, but the most ardent of Ghanaian boxing aficionados.)
In an age where you can watch countless hours of – almost – any fighter hitting the heavy bag, or shadow boxing, it is peculiar to have no footage of a fighter whatsoever. I found this both disconcerting and highly intriguing.
In a cliché of Britishness, I like an underdog – which both my bookmaker and, sadly, my bank balance can attest to. What I like even more though is a mysterious underdog. Thabiso Mchunu stunning Eddie chambers in ‘Fast Eddie’s’ first – and last – fight at cruiserweight was one of my favourite semi-recent upset victories as prior to the fight, no video existed of Mchunu on the internet.
Similarly, there were only a few short clips available of Jose A. Gonzalez before he arrived in Scotland. Yet, he bamboozled Ricky Burns, before Gonzalez broke his hand/ Burns broke the Puerto Rican’s heart (delete as applicable dependant on persuasion).
While there was more video of Julius Indongo ahead of his fight with Eduard Troyanovsky, he too had never fought out of Africa, and was selected as a routine defence, yet he stopped the champion in the opening round to claim the IBF super lightweight title.
Of course, there are far more examples of unheralded and undeserving challengers getting crumpled within a couple of rounds, but since they don’t fit with my romanticised view of mysterious boxers giving their far more illustrious opponents fits, I haven’t committed them to memory.
For me, this is boxing’s equivalent of ‘the magic of the cup,’ and no matter how untrue either of them are, damn it, I’m was going to cling on to them.
So my quest to uncover boxing’s best kept secret had begun. For the next five days or so, Habib Ahmed would be my obsession. Unfortunately, I don’t have any contacts who frequent Ghana’s Prison Canteen, so my search would have to start where most of my obsessions start: on the internet.
Stage one was to scour YouTube, Daily Motion and all other video sharing sites. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe or trust Scalia, more that I don’t trust anyone. These websites though proved an exercise in futility.
I returned to Boxrec to see what information I could gleam. As far as I could see, his best win was over Philip Kotey (March 2017) – a man best known for being stopped by Kell Brook inside two rounds. Ahmed dispatched Kotey in the 11th, claiming the vacant African super middleweight title in the process. This strap saw Ahmed enter the WBO rankings at number 13.
This was the start of Ahmed’s ascent up the sanctioning body’s rankings, which would eventually see him rise to the lofty position of number four, despite only beating Flash Issaka (23-14, 18 KOs) in the intervening time. That was all I could get from everyone’s favourite records compiler, apart from the fact that he’s 5’8”.
Like every other millennial, when I want more information on any given topic, I ask Google. On this occasion, even the search engine was flummoxed. The only Wikipedia entry that came up for Habib Ahmed is for an Indian cricketer, who was born in 1939.
Unfortunately, the most popular search result for the name was for a Manchester man who was arrested and imprisoned for ten years after being found guilty of being a member of a terror group and possessing a document for terror-related purposes. Anyone monitoring my internet history – I’m looking at you MI5 (inadvertently through the iPhone camera which you’ve activated) – it must appear that I have an unhealthy obsession with a British man linked to Al-Qaeda. I suspect I am now on some form of watch list and that my phone has been tapped. Presumably any intelligence officer monitoring my calls will believe: "I’ve had a great camp," is some sort of code for clandestine extremist activity, given the frequency with which those that I communicate with use it.
Anyway, by this stage, I was drawing a blank. However, while Scalia had believed his own hunt had been fruitless, he did unearth details of Ahmed’s amateur achievements. It appeared he had only fought outside of Africa twice in the unpaid ranks. Once in the 2009 World Amateur Championships where he competed at welterweight and at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, where he boxed at middleweight.
This was my Eureka moment! My breakthrough came from the most unlikely of sources – a boxing forum. I am aware that forums are much maligned, and given that they are the ancestral home of the Boxing Troll – before they migrated to social media, multiplied and became a multi-limbed, single-organism – I can understand their detractors' point.
However, I have found them to be useful on occasion. My personal forum of choice, is Checkhook Boxing. Amongst the mad men and list compilers, I have found many knowledgeable posters. One such contributor is a man who goes by the screenname “Okrick”. He posted last Friday that he happened to be in the Spanish Boxing Federation office – as you do – and had uncovered a box containing video of the entire 2009 Amateur World Championships.
While this post sounds far-fetched, “Okrick” had always been a reliable source of information in the past, and as proof he posted a video of Luke Campbell facing current WBC super bantamweight champion, Rey Vargas. He also posted the list of every bout in the tournament and said he would be able to upload any of these contests.
Originally, I had not paid an awful lot of attention to the thread, but suddenly I found myself desperately searching the list to confirm Scalia was correct. Sure enough, he was (I should be more trusting).
On Wednesday, I asked “Okrick” if he could upload Emil Maharramov vs Habib Ahmed. I was informed that my new Spanish friend was away for two days, but would upload the fight on Friday. Given that it was a Canadian boxing writer who had discovered Ahmed’s accomplishments, and a Spanish forum poster who had found the video of the championships and would be posting the video, I was far too proud of myself for the small part I played.
While I impatiently waited for Friday, I looked over the results of the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Despite the BBC website's claims to the contrary, Ahmed lost his opening contest to Keiron Harding of Wales. Harding would go on win the Bronze medal after losing to Eamon O’Kane in the semi-final.
I had a brief moment of elation, I knew of Keiron Harding! It then dawned on me that it was a name I had not heard in some time. I turned to Boxrec. Harding fought once as a pro, on the undercard of Lucas Browne’s victory over Richard Towers in Hull, in 2013. After that, he ostensibly disappeared.
My quest to find a man who has been sighted fewer times than Lord Lucan and Shergar, had led me to a ghost. It transpired that Harding had been another talented fighter who found it difficult to balance work with training. Something had to give, and only one was paying. Now, still only 27 years old, Harding has abandoned his dreams of boxing. Instead he works as a scaffolder.
When I tracked Harding down, I was hoping he would be able to offer me some insight into Ahmed, even if it was over seven years since they faced one another. Was he tough? Blessed with fast hands? Elusive? Powerful? Sadly, he is almost as much of a mystery to the man he fought, as to the rest of us.
“I don’t remember much - just that I beat him,” Harding told Boxing Monthly, before expressing his dismay at the different paths their respective careers have taken. “[I’m] gutted he’s fighting for a world title and I beat him easily.”
It’s a funny old sport.
This week Gilberto Ramirez said of his opponent whilst talking to BoxingScene: "I don’t know too much about him".
Welcome to the club, Gilberto. Although, as the week progressed, more details emerged.
By Thursday, the man who didn’t exist was leaving a digital footprint. Joy Sports revealed a few more details about the Ghanaian Keyser Soze. During preparations for the London 2012 Olympics, Ahmed was struck by a car whilst making the three kilometre walk from the Accra Stadium to his home in Jamestown – we can probably scratch ‘elusive’ from his list of attributes. He required surgery on a broken hip, which ruled him out of the Olympics.
Other highlights of the piece by Joy Sports included a picture of Ahmed standing beside a man who must be – at best – 5’5” and a lightweight (presuming he is a boxer), above a caption which read: ‘Habib Ahmed with his sparring partner.’ Now, if this is the case, and this man was truly a sparring partner, the only resemblance he has to Gilberto Ramirez is that he looks like he may be Hispanic.
The most exciting part however, is Ahmed – in a corrugated iron shed which even Joe Calzaghe would have described as “basic” – hitting the pads with his trainer, Ofori Asare. At last! Footage of the lesser-spotted-Ahmed! My excitement at this footage resulted in perplexed looks from my loved ones.
Was this as good as it would get? The hours passed on Friday and I kept checking the forum like an addict impatiently waiting for his fix. I was even compelled to politely remind “Okrick”.
At three thirty in the afternoon, my quest was complete. I had finally received a link to an amateur contest from nine years ago, which in reality has little relevance. Ladies and gentlemen, click here and let me proudly introduce, Habib Ahmed.