Richard Commey: Out of Africa
The Essex town of Harlow is a far cry from the hot and bustling streets of Accra, Ghana, but this is where unbeaten lightweight contender Richard Commey has called home since he arrived in the UK in 2012 with the help of his manager and gym owner, Mickey Amoo-Bediako.
Amoo-Bediako, a Brit with family roots firmly embedded in the West African nation, has been the proprietor of the SW Pro Gym in Loughton, Essex, for four years. Commey has honed his boxing skills there with his trainer Carl Lokko and sparring sessions with Ricky Burns and Carl Frampton have helped him to an impressive 23-0 resume with 21 of those victories coming by KO. Richard is the current Commonwealth and IBF Inter-Continental lightweight champion and he boasts a top five world ranking with the aforementioned governing body.
When Boxing Monthly caught up with the happy go lucky 28-year-old he had just arrived at his home following another tough day at the gym and fresh off a KO victory in Germany at the DM Arena in mid-October for new promoters Sauerland Event.
“By the grace of god I was able to score a fifth round knockout over a late replacement opponent (Kakhaber Avetisian) by listening to my coach and working hard,” said Commey, who was recently awarded a 'Fighter of the year' award by the Ghanaian Sports Writers Association, a testament to his growing popularity at home.
Before Commey embarked on his European adventure, his home was Bukom, a small neighbourhood in the South Coastal Ghanaian capital of Accra, that is busy, noisy and somehow special having produced many of Africa's finest ever boxers, among them the great Azumah Nelson.
As to why Bukom has produced so many world champion boxers over the years cannot be defined by one single ingredient but like other poverty stricken areas of the world it provides the motivation to escape its clutches to those with the ability to do so and a culture that has historically encouraged fighting to settle differences amongst its people, the Ga.
'The Professor', as Nelson was known, burst onto the world scene when in 1982 he pushed the legendary Mexican champion Salvador Sanchez all the way into the fifteenth round at short notice in an epic battle for the WBC 126lbs title in Madison Square Garden, NYC, and the Ghanaian people worshipped him.
Azumah, who became the first African fighter to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2004, eventually won world titles in the featherweight and super-featherweight divisions and became an inspiration for future generations of Ghanaian boxing talent. And it was from inside the many gyms that are scattered across Bukom that stars such as Ike Quartey, David Kotey, Joshua Clottey and Joseph Agbeko rose to world championship status whilst thrilling fans on foreign soil.
Fighting out of the Bronze Gym in Accra, Commey was originally a kick boxer with a love of football. Boxing didn’t even come into the equation for the youngster growing up, although he was fully aware of the likes of Quartey and Nelson.
“When I was little I remember being dragged out of bed by my family to watch Azumah on TV. People would shout and cheer and say, “This is your countryman; he’s representing us in another country and fighting for the people.”
“I looked up to Ike, Ike Quartey, yeah; I watched his fight with Oscar. But when I was a kid boxing wasn’t my thing. I was a footballer, I was very good and I loved it. Boxing found me along the way; I never dreamt I would become a professional fighter but god gave me this talent.”
When his football career fizzled out and he was going through the motions as a kick boxer Commey, encouraged by those around him to leave the martial art behind, began throwing punches minus the leg kicks and his gym mates soon realised the youngster had pugilistic potential despite the fighter himself being the last to notice.
“When you are good at something it can take another person to point it out before you start believing it for yourself!” he said.
“Even though Bukom is only a small place the people are full of passion and they love boxing. We are born fighters and, if someone from Ghana gets a chance to show what they can do, they can become a world champion. I look up to Azumah but God has a different plan for everyone.”
Sat in an airport lounge with his three sons waiting to board a plane to Ghana for a family holiday, Mickey Amoo-Bediako received a phone call. It was a contact in Ghana asking if one of his son's, Mickey Moo Jnr. an amateur boxer (who later represented Ghana at the Baku World Championships in 2011), would like to appear on a show there.
“My son had his boxing kit because we were going out there for three weeks and he wanted to work out. When I received the phone call asking if my son wanted to box he said 'yes' and, when we arrived in Ghana, we walked into a gym and that's when I first laid eyes on Richard,” Amoo-Bediako told BM.
“He sparred my son and he looked fantastic, he really stood out from the other fighters in the gym despite the fact that he was still an amateur. When I came back to England I spoke to his coach, Carl Lokko, who had just left for America as we arrived back in the UK, and I kept on thinking that this boy could be something special.
“I had Carl return to Ghana and we decided to turn Richard over (to the pro ranks) and get him some fights to see how he got on. Well, we lined up fight after fight and Richard was knocking them all out! He looked fantastic so we made plans to bring him to the UK where he could mix it up in my gym with technically more gifted fighters.”
In July 2012, Commey scored his first victory on British soil, a third round stoppage of Simas Volosinas, a European journeyman on a show promoted by Stephen Goodwin. Richard's apperarence on Goodwin's show at the York Hall began a fruitful relationship between the fighter’s team and the London-based promoter as Goodwin's hospitality facilitated Commey's VISA application upon his arrival in the UK.
“Mickey Amoo-Bediako saw me fight as an amateur and we began by having a few fights in Ghana and then a few in the UK. I had just won the national title in Ghana [a sixth round TKO over Korley Collison] which was good for my Commonwealth rankings so Mickey decided that we should have more fights in Europe,” Richard told BM. “That was the goal when we came to the UK, to get a shot at the Commonwealth title.”
Commey scored a fourth round retirement victory over Kris 'Badger' Hughes at the York Hall in September, 2012, that propelled him up the Commonwealth lightweight rankings before a pair of seventh round knockout wins in Ghana took his tally to 15-0 with all his wins coming via the short route.
“We got Richard a Commonwealth title eliminator against the kid from Middlesbrough, Paul Truscott,” said Amoo-Bediako. “Everyone thought Truscott would beat Richard but he did a job on him and got an eighth round stoppage win.”
When a fighter boasts a record that is littered with knockout wins it immediately makes boxing fans suspicious. Who has he beaten? Is his power for real? Fighters from Ghana have been regular visitors to Britain over the years to challenge for, most often, the Commonwealth title with varying degrees of success but Amoo-Bediako refuses to accept those fighters represent the quality of boxing in Ghana
“A lot of Ghanaian fighters arriving in Britain have been ill-prepared and often without a trainer. I have seen it with my own eyes, most are journeyman given a weeks notice for the fight and they have no chance in reality and that makes the standard of boxing in Ghana seem poor,” he said.
In July 2014, Commey was presented with his toughest test on paper when he faced Welshman Gary Buckland for the vacant Commonwealth title. If Richard was a fraud, the Welsh punching machine would surely expose him, but after 12 hard rounds Commey scored a lopsided point's victory and was the new owner of the Commonwealth belt as he showed there was more to his game than power alone.
“Before my win over Buckland, fans in the UK were saying that I hadn't beaten anyone,” said Commey. “But after I beat him they started to believe! I was itching to fight but people didn't want to fight me. I trained hard and I wanted to come to the UK to learn my trade and to get more experience, which I think I have done, and now it is time to push on and win a world title.”
Tasked with propelling Commey to the next level and securing him a world title fight are Sauerland Event, the German-based promotional powerhouse headed up by brothers Kalle and Nisse Sauerland.
“They (Sauerland) saw what I had been doing in the ring so they spoke to my manager and the plan they have for me is the same plan we have as a team, to become a world champion,” said Commey.
“Richard has signed a four-year promotional deal and we are all happy,” added Amoo-Bediako. “But I have to thank Steve Goodwin, my best friend in boxing, for helping Richard when nobody wanted to early in his career.”
“Richard has fought all over; in Ghana, the UK, America, South Africa, Germany, he is doing his apprenticeship the hard way away from his family and friends. He has headlined a show on CBS coast-to -coast in America, which was big pressure for him, but he came through that and got another stoppage win. His goal is to become a world champion.”
Only a small percentage of the many young boys who dream of emulating Azumah Nelson's success in Ghana will make a living from the hardest game, let alone win a world title. One day, however, Richard Commey could return home to Bukom a hero.
“Only god knows what lies ahead of me,” said Commey. “I believe that god will make 2016 a good year for me and, hopefully, I will get my world title shot. I really can't wait for that!”