YEAR OF THE DOG?
Dog boe meets up with us ahead of his WBO super-bantamweight title tilt
Globe-trotting Ghanian Isaac Dogboe tells John
Dennen why you have to be a monster to tame a monster ahead of his challenge for the WBO super-bantamweight title
HE’S come a long way. Isaac Dogboe had the talent to become a world title challenger. But the route he’s taken is remarkable. The dapper superbantamweight, holding the WBO Interim title in a suitcase, has returned for a brief stop at Miguel’s gym in south London, his hometown. The route he’s taken to pick up this particular strap saw him make a professional debut in Berne, Switzerland, compete in California, catch the eye of Top Rank in New Zealand, then agitate with the WBO to get that Interim title contest. Of Ghanaian heritage, he brought Cesar Juarez to a stadium in Accrah, battered him to a fifth round defeat and guaranteed his shot at WBO super-bantamweight world champion Jessie Magdaleno.
These were extraordinary battles for a 23-year-old, who smiles broadly as he recalls them, his strangely cherubic face still unscarred despite the winding path that took him through these fights. “We’ve been on the road for four years. Fighting everywhere, fighting everyone. Wherever there’s a title when they call us we say yes. We’ve never pulled out of a fight and said no we’re not really sure about this or sure about that. Whenever the opportunity presents itself you see us there,” he tells Boxing News. “The best part of boxing is also the travelling. Going to new places. So it’s all exciting.”
He’s not, yet, well known to a British audience. The last time he fought in England, he was an amateur, beating Ryan Fillingham in a drafty, shed-like construction on the outskirts of Houghton-le-spring to win the 2013 ABA lightweight title. Then he turned professional and with his father as his trainer began this particular Odyssey. “My first fight was in Switzerland, it was in Berne. My second one was in Ireland. Then went to California, had about six fights, went to Arizona, then Ghana, then New Zealand, the Joseph Parker show. That was for the WBO International title,” he said.
“Super-bantamweight, that vacant title presented itself,” Dogboe continued. “Why not? Love to fight. I didn’t have no problem making that weight. All the fights I’d had were at featherweight but naturally I registered as a super-bantamweight. Since I was in Los Angeles, I wasn’t getting any fights, we automatically started fighting in the featherweight division just to get the fights. Sometimes people would come in much heavier than I but we’d just say you know what, I’ve trained for this fight, why not? Let’s get it on.”
That bravery led Dogboe to establish himself in Ghana, no easy feat. “It was crazy,” he said. “It was enemy territory.”
“That was how bad it was,” Paul, his father, added.
“You had to man up. The boxing scene in Ghana has changed rapidly in a positive way,” Isaac noted. “When we first got to Ghana, boxing was not how it is now, it was in a bad state.”
Isaac had to prove himself. But he has done that before. When he was just 17 Dogboe travelled out there to fight for a place on their Olympic team, then qualify for London 2012. “Going to Ghana to qualify for the team, to make the team, same as in the pros, it was: ‘This British guy is coming here and he wants to take our place’. It was really political, the boxers and everything. We had to fight our way through. But I had all the bases, all the foundations. Going back there the people were strong physically, but most of them were not technically sound, skilful. So it was more or less like using the skills to beat their strength. That’s how I was able to go to Morocco [to box in the Africa Olympic qualification event for Ghana]. It was alright. I was the only person to win a silver medal for Ghana. In the finals, it went on countback with someone [Aboubakr Lbida] from the host nation. Him winning on countback it was like, ‘yeah okay. Everybody knows what that is.’ The ultimate goal was the Olympic Games, but everybody knows what happened there. I don’t need to say anything about it,” Dogboe said.
WHEN HE WON IT WAS LIKE, ‘YEAH OKAY, EVERYBODY KNOWS WHAT THAT IS.’ EVERYBODY KNOWS WHAT HAPPENED AT THE OLYMPICS TOO”
IT WAS CRAZY, IT WAS ENEMY TERRITORY. YOU HAD TO MAN UP”
Suffice to say, he didn’t agree with the scoring that saw him lose his first Olympic contest to Japan’s Satoshi Shimizu. But the main thing was being at that glorious tournament in his hometown. “The Olympics was happening right here, in London, my hometown. I just had to be part of it. It’s always great to be part of something. My father was telling me that it’s good to break records and set records. Coming from Lambeth and having all my education here, it was just great to actually inspire my peers and everyone. Seventeen, [one of] the youngest [boxers] in the Olympics. So it was a proud moment for myself and the community. I remember, I think I was in Cardiff in camp, I was seeing articles on the internet about South London boy Isaac Dogboe has qualified for the Olympics,” he beamed. “It was great.”
“Right now,” he adds, “the important thing is focusing on the pros and actually putting my print in the game.”
He’s made his mark in Ghana now. His victory over Cesar Juarez at the Bukom Boxing Arena was an intense event. “It was electric. The stadium was small, I came out of the changing room, because it’s an open place I could see people on top of the roof,” Dogboe recalled. “There were still more people outside than inside, it was crazy. They had to call reinforcements, a combination of the police and the military to actually control the crowd. More people were trying to get in so they had to call reinforcements to come and maintain order. We had the British ambassador, the American ambassador, Australia, Mexico, Israel’s ambassador… Many dignitaries and many people in the country.”
“I came out and the arena was packed,” he continued. “As soon as they called my name, the crowd was shouting. Oh my days, that was the biggest stage. It felt special, really, really special. It was amazing. It’s always great to have all those memories. Now you have to build upon it.”
Isaac had to deliver in the ring against Juarez. “I was the underdog in that fight. Everyone was doubting my ability, saying I’m still too young. Juarez, this guy he fights with his heart, he fights with passion. The guy’s got too much experience. He’s too strong. He’s too tenacious,” Dogboe said. “I can only thank God for that victory. The passion was there. The adrenalin was there. The emotion was there. My father had to go back to basics, he had me sitting down, working on all sorts of training. The camp really prepared me for that fight and when the time came, we knew we were going to take him out. It was a matter of time. He kept coming forward every time. He just keeps coming forward. I’m sure he didn’t expect me to put him down in round two.”
He finished him in round five. “The fiercest person in the division was Cesar Juarez. Everyone knows him as a durable fighter. This guy, regardless of what you throw at him, he keeps coming forward. To be able to take out the fiercest person in the division, it takes a monster to tame another monster. You have to be able to tame the beast,” Dogboe grinned again.
Now, Isaac assures us, he is famous in Ghana. “On the night of the fight, the whole town is quiet. The whole town is quiet. Everywhere is just silent. Everyone, either they’re glued to a TV or they’re in a bar, those that could not make it to the arena. The arena generally is always packed. Military personnel and police and all sorts. It gets really crazy. The atmosphere is awesome. You have to be there to see it, to actually witness it. To feel it,” he said.
“Right now my name is a household name in Ghana,” he laughed. “When I walk with you in Ghana I wouldn’t have to do anything. You wouldn’t have to spend anything.” “The plan is to become a global megastar!” He plans in fact to return to the UK and remain settled here while he attends university. But a final overseas venture comes first. On Saturday (April 28) he fights Jessie Magdaleno for the WBO super-bantamweight world title at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia. Dogboe revealed, “We’ve had our encounters before. May-pac, that was when I sparred Magdaleno in Vegas. We went for the fight and we found ourselves at his gym. We were supposed to do 10 rounds sparring. This got heated up really quick. The sparring got hot. The spar was really hot, so his people were like, you know what that’s enough. Five rounds is enough. Because of how intense the sparring was. I think he’s a good boxer. We know he’s quick, he’s a southpaw, all the basic stuff. He’s good. I just think we have the antidote to everything that he’s bringing to the table.”
That sparring session informs Dogboe’s view on how the fight is going to go. “I think that he’s going to try to match me strength for strength. We know that he’s going to run anyway because that’s what he does all the time. He’s going to try and prove something,” Isaac said. “We know in the first instance he’s going to stand there, we’re going to trade… He’ll try to test the waters to see how strong I am and how strong he is and stuff like that. That’s what we think anyway. But like I said whatever he brings to the table we’ve got the antidote.”
Crucially, Dogboe is sure the hard road he has taken to reach this moment means he will outlast Magdaleno. “I know he’s a good boxer, he’s good, he’s got everything going on for him. But like I said this is our time now. We think that he’s just been pampered for too long. If you look at the people that he’s fought, of course he deserves to be a champion, he’s worked hard for it. You cannot underestimate anyone they put in front of you,” Isaac said, but he adds, “We are a different calibre of fighters that he’s fought. He hasn’t fought anyone like me.”
IN GHANA I AM A HOUSEHOLD NAME. IT GETS CRAZY AND THE ATMOSPHERE IS AWESOME. YOU HAVE TO BE THERE TO SEE IT, TO WITNESS IT, TO FEEL IT.”
THE WINNER: Dogboe continues to thrive in every new environment he encounters and, even at just 23, he’s encountered plenty