By Thomas Gerbasi
The first “Oh my God” said enough. Two more following in succession truly let Richard Commey’s feelings known about the reaction to his success back home in Ghana.
“I wish maybe after the fight, when I win it, you will have time to follow me to Ghana and then you will see what the reaction is gonna be like,” said Commey, who challenges Isa Chaniev for the vacant IBF lightweight title this Saturday in Frisco, Texas.
He’s living and training in Brooklyn, far from Bukom, but he’s excited when he discusses the place that gave him life and a purpose.
“Everyone is crazy about this, especially with all the champions from Bukom, that’s where all the boxing champions come from,” he said. “Everyone has a passion for boxing and everyone knows me. Everyone is calling and they want to know how I’m feeling, they’re wishing me well, they’re talking about it to my mom and it’s crazy. It’s unbelievable.
“Honestly,” Commey continues, “That is what motivates me. I get emotional because all these people they’re so talented and they’re doing this and they know that if he’s done it, then I can also do it. They say, ‘How can I follow in his footsteps?’ All the kids, they look at me and they want to be like me. So it’s good to do it, go back and then show them the way. And they can also become a good person and a good boxer in the future and get to where I am.”
The motivation of most world title challengers doesn’t stray from the man in the mirror, and there’s nothing wrong with that, given the sacrifices necessary to succeed in the loneliest of sports. But when fighters like Commey talk of the impact a world championship will have on his people, it’s inspiring.
It’s also real, not just because Commey says it, but because he’s been the kid in the gym in Bukom, hearing the stories of Ghanaian legends like Azumah Nelson and Ike Quartey, and watching as Joshua Clottey made his own journey from the neighborhood to a world championship. There are no organic juice bars in the gym there. It’s as real as it gets, and it doesn’t just make fighters; it makes hard men.
“Almost every guy is a strong guy,” Commey said. “And every day is a risk for them, so in their mind, they are tough. They know they are tougher. They’re coming at you. And if you can’t kill them, than that’s it. The raw talent’s there.”
He pauses, then adds for emphasis, “Yeah, we’re tough.”
Tough might be an understatement. Anytime you see a fighter from Ghana on a card, you know that fighter will walk through fire to get a win. He may not get it, but his opponent will know he’s been in a fight.
In the case of the 31-year-old Commey, he’s both tough and good. It’s why he’s won 27 of his 29 pro bouts and is on the verge of putting a world championship belt around his waist this weekend. He’s been close before, so close that a one-point swing on one judge’s scorecard in his September 2016 bout against Robert Easter Jr. would have netted him that belt, but he’s not dwelling on the past, only what he’s learned since then.
“I learned a lot,” he said. “It started with what we have from Ghana and with what I’ve learned from (current trainer) Andre (Rozier), it’s totally different,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot and it’s been a long couple of years. I know I’ve learned a lot. I can’t say much, but you’ll see what I put up on 2nd February and they can judge it for themselves. But I believe I’ve come a long way and I’ve learned a lot.”
Since the Easter fight, Commey has gone 3-1, with that three-fight winning streak putting him in position to win the belt he thought was his in 2016. It’s a second chance he promises that he will make the most of.
“It’s hard from where I’m from to get an opportunity,” Commey admits. Two of them are even rarer. It’s why he made the move to Brooklyn, to make sure that he is hitting all his marks. And with Rozier, best known for his work with Daniel Jacobs, he believes he’s done that.
“Sometimes you’ve got to put your career first,” Commey said. “I prayed that the decision I’d make is gonna be worth it. And it’s hard when you don’t have your family around, but this is boxing and boxing is tough and you’ve got to be a tough person as well and live with it.”
Tough. It’s the Bukom way. Now Richard Commey has the chance to go back there as a champion.
“This means the whole world for me,” he said, his excitement level rising again. “I’m doing it for myself, I’m doing it for my mom, I’m doing it for my family, my girlfriend, my country, Africa and the people who have helped me throughout this career, those who have gone through the thin and thick with me. It’s everything and I look forward to getting the belt.”