Ghana neigh­bour­hood where box­ing is a way of life

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Parkins Takyi-Ai­doo bobs and weaves around a ragged punch bag, danc­ing on con­crete in a re­hearsal for the knock­out blow that one day could se­cure him fame and glory. The Ghana­ian is just 13 years old but by train­ing in the Bukom neigh­bour­hood of Ac­cra-a hot­bed for fighters-he prob­a­bly has a bet­ter chance than most of be­com­ing a con­tender.

The teenager spends hours each day at an out­door gym close to the At­lantic Ocean’s crash­ing waves, aim­ing to make his dream of a world cham­pi­onship belt come true.

Painted yel­low cir­cles, to hone foot­work, adorn the ground of the small court­yard. Well-used punch bags hang in one cor­ner and old weights, rusted red by the salt and spray of the sea, are tes­ta­ment to the pun­ish­ing regime needed to hit hard and win. Ghana has pro­duced seven world cham­pi­ons and most came from Bukom, a poor area where crum­bling colo­nial-era houses stand be­side cor­ru­gated iron shacks. With­out a suit­able gym in his own town, Takyi-Ai­doo came to Bukom specif­i­cally for box­ing. “That is where cham­pi­ons are built,” he said, wip­ing sweat from his face.

“It’s about hard work and ded­i­ca­tion. That’s why I’m here.” But some places for learn­ing the no­ble art are get­ting a makeover, so big is the sport’s ap­peal, sec­ond only to football. A com­plex in­au­gu­rated nearby by Ghana­ian Pres­i­dent John Dra­mani Ma­hama in Novem­ber, leads the way. Equipped with an 800-seat au­di­to­rium, a two-storey aer­o­bic train­ing, phys­io­ther­apy and gym block, a 300-seat con­fer­ence hall and a 4,000-seat open air arena, it is de­signed to help young fighters.

Takyi-Ai­doo is one of hun­dreds of young men as­pir­ing to be the next Joshua Clottey, a born-and­bred Bukom hero who won the In­ter­na­tional Box­ing Fed­er­a­tion (IBA) wel­ter­weight ti­tle in 2008.

In his Fe­bru­ary 2016 State of the Na­tion ad­dress, Ma­hama said the new cen­tre would help box­ing hope­fuls from Bukom and sur­round­ing ar­eas to “re­alise their dreams”. Its moder­nity stands out among 20 gyms in the area. Bernard Armah, who trains nearby at the Will Power Box­ing Gym, a di­lap­i­dated shed with a box­ing ring in the mid­dle, has given him­self 10 years to achieve his dream.

“Peo­ple en­cour­age you to take up box­ing,” says the 18-year-old, whose fam­ily comes from Bukom and who grew up know­ing it as an area where cham­pi­ons are born. Ghana’s most fa­mous boxer-and one of Takyi-Ai­doo’s idols-is Azumah Nel­son, revered as a na­tional hero and be­yond as one of the African con­ti­nent’s best ever fighters.

Nel­son came out of Bukom to win three World Box­ing Coun­cil (WBC) belts at feath­er­weight and su­per feath­er­weight in the 1980s and 1990s. Takyi-Ai­doo also idolises US fighter Floyd May­weather. “My vi­sion is to be one of the greatest box­ers ever seen. I al­ways look at Floyd May­weather and he in­spires me,” he adds. The gym where the young hope­ful trains is part of Ike Quartey’s fam­ily home, an­other Bukom star who held the World Box­ing Association (WBA) wel­ter­weight belt from 1994 un­til 1997.

FISH OR FIGHT

Coach Prince Owusu said Bukom has be­come a breed­ing ground for box­ers, in the same way Kenyan Rift Val­ley towns such as Iten and El­doret are syn­ony­mous with cham­pion mid­dle- and longdis­tance run­ners. “Most of them, be­cause of poverty, they en­ter box­ing,” said the 37-year-old trainer, not­ing that Bukom of­fers a chance at some kind of ed­u­ca­tion in a coun­try where jobs and school­ing are scarce. The skills and dis­ci­pline of box­ing make the young ath­letes ex­cel­lent hires for po­lice and pri­vate se­cu­rity com­pa­nies, he said. “It’s a job op­por­tu­nity if you know how to fight.” In Ghana, a coun­try rich with oil and gold but with high un­em­ploy­ment and low house­hold in­comes, it’s of­ten the sons of fish­er­men who step into the ring to es­cape a hard life at sea.

“Most of them are il­lit­er­ate,” said the pres­i­dent of the Ghana Box­ing Author­ity, Peter Zwennes.

“A lot of them, when they can’t have ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion, they take to box­ing.” Whether the new sport­ing com­plex near Bukom will host Ghana’s next cham­pion box­ers re­mains to be seen, but the pres­i­dent re­cently ar­rived there dressed as a cham­pion, hop­ing to gather votes on the back of the changes. For Armah, the goals are mul­ti­ple-if he makes it, he en­vi­sions a life of travel and fame but in­sists home and rel­a­tives will al­ways be his pri­or­ity. “If I be­come suc­cess­ful in the fu­ture, I will help the fam­ily,” he said.

— AFP

AC­CRA: Ghana’s Sher­iff Quaye (L) fights with Ghana’s Ben­jamin Lamptey for the Na­tional Light­weight belt dur­ing the open­ing of the Bukom Box­ing Arena, Ac­cra, Novem­ber 15, 2016. Parkins Takyi-Ai­doo bobs and weaves around a ragged punch bag, danc­ing on con­crete in a re­hearsal for the knock­out blow that one day could se­cure him fame and glory.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.