VICE World of Sports Episode Guide: The Boys of Bukom

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VICE World of Sports Episode Guide: The Boys of Bukom

The premiere episode of VICE World of Sports features the small neighborhood in Ghana that produces boxing champions. Our episode guide gives you some background on the story and has a Q&A with one of the featured boxers.
April 27, 2016, 9:25pm

"Of all the places I've been around the world to produce sports content, Bukom was easily the most inspiring. Every subject we filmed, from the kids to the legends, have a love for their community I haven't seen anywhere else, and a work ethic that is hard to comprehend. It's not an accident that many legends come from such a small place."

-Evan Rosenfeld, showrunner VICE World of Sports

Ghana By The Numbers

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Population: 26,327,649

Currency: Ghanaian Cedi 1= 0.26 USD

GDP per capita: 1,858.24 USD

Government: Constitutional Democracy

President: John Dramani Mahama (elected 2012)

Independence: On March 6, 1957, Ghana became the first Sub-Saharan country in Africa to declare its independence.

Sport and Society

Ghana—and in particular, the neighborhood of Bukom in its capital, Accra—has a long and proud boxing history. Here's a rundown of some of the greatest fighters to ever come out of Bukom:

Roy Ankrah may have been the first great Ghanaian boxer. Nicknamed "The Black Flash," Ankrah won titles in Africa and throughout the British Empire in multiple weight classes before Ghana even achieved independence in 1957, and later represented the country in the Olympics.

DK Poison, whose real name is David Kotei, turned pro at just 16 years old in 1966. Nearly a decade later, he became the first Ghanian to win a world title. He held onto his featherweight belt for two years. He became so successful, that in 1976, he personally loaned the Ghanaian government about $40,000 to buy food for a hungry population—a loan that was sadly never repaid.

Azumah Nelson is widely thought of as the greatest African boxer of all time. He rose from obscurity in 1982 when he took a fight with featherweight champion Salvador Sanchez on short notice and battled him for 15 punishing rounds. Nelson went on to a Hall of Fame career, in which he knocked out Wilfredo Gomez and won three world championship belts. He retired with a record of 39-6-2.

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Ike Quartey, sadly, is perhaps best known for a controversial defeat at the hands of Oscar de la Hoya in 1999. But Quartey, who held the WBA welterweight belt from 1994 through 1998, was a tremendous fighter with a memorable jab and a long list of memorable victories. He was also the youngest of 27 children. One of his brothers, Clement, won Ghana's first ever Olympic medal, a gold at the 1960 games in Rome (where a young Cassius Clay also won gold). Ike competed in the Olympics 28 years later in Seoul.

Joshua Clottey, who is featured in Boys of Bukom, was Ghana's last world champion. In 2008, Clottey defeated Zab Judah to win the IBF Welterweight title.

Besides boxing, Ghana's soccer team has qualified for the last three FIFA World Cups, and is currently ranked 38th in the world.

Catching Up With…

In "The Boys from Bukom," lightweight Richard Commey goes to Las Vegas for his first fight in the United States where—Spoiler Alert—he knocks out Bahodir Mamadjonov to grab the IBF Intercontinental title. In the time since the episode was filmed, he has fought and won two more times. Now 24-0, he has vacated his Intercontinental title and awaits his shot at the IBF World title against Cuban Rances Barthelemy, who seems to not be in any hurry to face Commey. We caught up with Commey who is training in London.

Why do you think guys are dodging you?

I don't really know the reason why. Sometimes when people are champions they don't want to fight. I don't know if it's because of my record. I don't have any clue about it. I can't say anything at the moment. I'm still waiting. IBF made me vacate my Intercontinental belt so I could get a world title shot…I can't wait anymore.

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What would it mean to you to bring a world title back to Bukom?

It means a whole lot. Ghana has been waiting for a very long time, since the last time Joshua Clottey won his title. Ghana is long waiting for something like that…and people think Ghana boxing can't get to that stage. People don't respect Ghana boxing. But we do. We believe Ghana boxing can be on the world stage.

If I'm going to bring a world title back home, it would be like—oh man—like the doors being open…Because the government is not supporting boxing.

Everyone loves boxing in Ghana, but the love and the passion in Ghana is dying. If I win, that would resurrect—that would revive the passion one more time. And personally, it would mean a lot because ever since I've been boxing people thought I could not make it. Winning, everybody in the country would be very proud, especially my mom and my friends and my brothers. I myself would be proud…my name written in the history of boxing as one of the world champions means a lot to me.

What was it like to go fight in Las Vegas?

It was a very big moment. I always watched back home in Ghana and saw on the television. I always said to myself, "I wish one day, or I believe one day I will get to Las Vegas and I will fight." For me, it came when I wasn't expecting it. I knew it would come later, but it came sooner than I thought. I was like "Wow, man, look at myself in Vegas." I was thinking, when I was coming there, "Wow, I thought I would get here. But it would be years later." Getting there to fight was so great. I wish I would get the chance to fight there again.

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But the next day you went home to Ghana. You didn't want to stay in Vegas and party?

I did want to. But I didn't know that the way they booked my flight, I had to be at the airport the next day at 4 a.m. So I didn't want to do anything. I just wanted to go back. I'd done it and I was so proud and I wanted to show myself to the people.

What does it feel like to go back to Ghana with a belt?

Like a warrior. Like a president. They treat you like a king. To go outside and win a title, it's like the…passion. You see the streets filled with people. It's amazing. Just to get into the airport and see the number of people in the airport just to welcome me. Oh my. Man. You need to see it for yourself. It's something else. It makes you feel very emotional.

At that moment you feel like a God.

What are your goals in boxing?

I want to win a world championship. Not only one title. After that, I'd like to live in the U.S. And then if I could help the people in my hood. Because it's always good to help the people in your community. I'd like to be there by teaching and by being there to give any support that I can. But I'd like to live in the U.S. with my family. The U.S. has been one of my dream countries. I want to come there and stay there for some time.

Are there more boxers now in Ghana who can win world titles?

There are quite good boxers back home in Ghana. They just need the support, they just need the right people to follow. In terms of boxing, there are very good boxers there. If they get the right people behind them, listen to their advice, and they pray, and they take their work seriously—absolutely, when they get the chance they can be world champions.

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If you had to describe the of boxing in Ghana, how would you do it?

You move forward. You aren't scared of punches. Ghanaian boxers are very tough. No matter how strong you are, they can stand in front of you and go toe to toe. They always have hope. No matter what happens, if the round is not over, they can still win.

Read More:

Bukom, Boxing and Beyond: An Evening Training Session in Accra, Ghana Fifteen Years After Africa's Deadliest Stadium Disaster, Not Much Has Changed

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Watch VICE World of Sports on Wednesdays at 11 PM on VICELAND. Watch the first three episodes now on viceland.com.