December 17, 2019
It was a bolt from the blue, confirming apprehension in certain quarters, beforehand, though even the most casual fan didn’t expect it.
Yet, it did happen. Boom! A Teofimo Lopez right sent Richard Commey down on one knee in R2, last Saturday at the Madison Square Gardens in New York, a beginning of the end, bringing his reign as King of all IBF lightweights to its knees.
Startled, and I suspect, out of a combination of ego and overcompensation, Commey rose immediately from that position, and the momentum of that power-shot propelled him, forward, sprawling across the canvas, right by referee David Fields.
It was a shocking sight, seeing the newly-acquired aura of invincibility surrounding the knockout specialist get demystified in that manner, making for an incredulous spectatoring experience.
Yet, there he was, when he regained some control, walking it off while taking the mandatory count of the referee.
Commey beat the count but had not regained his bearings, for, he went straight into combat, again, and got punched onto the ropes, where Lopez went for the kill, chopping down the defenceless champion, effecting the referee’s merciful signal to end the pummelling.
It was so surreal, it seemed like make-believe. Yet, it was all over for Commey, who had relinquished his kingdom to the younger successor in the most unexpected fashion.
It would have helped, greatly, were Richard Commey educated about the history of grave threat laid to any Ghanaian boxer, by the ominous name, Lopez, a name that evokes nightmares among the older generation of the Ghanaian citizenry.
Commey would have deployed a different fight-plan perfected during training camp, not underrate, recklessly getting into a phone-booth fight with the ferocious Brooklyn-born Lopez, giving the Honduran descent easy access for him to fire his ammunitions.
The Ghanaian would still have been the IBF lightweight champion, today, with the prospect of fighting Ukraine’s Vasyl Lomachenko, the top-draw in the division and one of the biggest stars in the sport, for his biggest purse, to date!
As it turned out, though, Commey lived by the punch and ‘died’ by the punch. Yet, the hardest part of it all was that, it was totally avoidable!
If only he had learnt the lessons of history from two of his predecessors who fought Lopezs with different results, neither recording victory. Commey would have never underrated Lopez’s speed and firepower, and never resorted to trading shots at such close quarters, rather boxing more and mixing it up on occasion, when necessary.
The first lesson could be drawn from Ghana’s first world champion, David Kotei, aka Poison, who unseated Reuben Olivares after 15 rounds of action at The Forum, in Inglewood, California, on September 20, 1975 to begin his reign as the new king of all featherweights in the world.
After two title defences against Japanese duo, Flipper Uehara and Shig Fukuyama in Accra and Tokyo, respectively, Poison lost his world featherweight title, in Accra of all places, to one Danny “Little Red” Lopez, a knockout artist who lived and ‘died’ by the punch.
Lopez had been retired in R8 in only his second loss (having just suffered a R9 TKO by Bobby Chacon on May 24, 1974) in Los Angeles on Sept. 19, 1974 by Shig Fukuyama, whom Poison subsequently cut to size in only three rounds in Tokyo on July 16, 1976.
Yet, Lopez had fired a warning shot, stopping Reuben Olivares (whom Poison had decisioned over 15 rounds, only three months, earlier) in R7 on Dec. 4, 1975, at the same venue, The Forum, in Cali, where Poison had won his world title!
That was a statement-and-a-half! Danny Lopez had brutalized victims to amass a terrific record of 31-3-0 (30 KOs) going into that world title super-fight with Poison (34-2-2), in Ghana’s capital city.
Long story short, the American slugger withstood all the Ghanaian could muster, and overmastered him, roughing up and bloodying up Poison, whom he deposed over the course of 15 rounds, shocking the historic 122, 000+ spectators at the Accra Sports Stadium.
Poison claims Lopez was doped, given the American’s incredulous absorption of punishment from him for the first eight rounds, at least, a claim he said was confirmed when he saw Lopez had arrived at the ’37 Military Hospital for treatment ahead of him, right after the fight.
Though Poison got the rematch in the USA, Lopez TKO’d him in R6, on Feb. 15, 1978, and that was it for him! His world championship status only lasted 14 months, and the man who did the damage was a Lopez!
Fast forward 21 years to October 17, 1997, at the Foxwoods Casino, in Connecticut, USA, and another Lopez surfaced. ‘Beware of the Lopezs’ seemed to be the mantra of Ike Quartey, drawing lessons from the DK Poison nightmare.
The 24 year old Mexican warrior, Jose Luis Lopez, a former WBO welterweight champ stripped on doping charges, had been dodged by other popular welterweight champions, Oscar de La Hoya and Felix Trinidad, but not Ghana’s Ike Quartey, who ruled WBA welterweights with an iron hand and “fists that could shake a skyscraper”, as described by some New York boxing media.
So, how could Quartey (34-0-0) duck Lopez, inspite of the looming danger embodied by the name, Lopez, itself, as did the menacing record of the Mexican (40-3-1)?
In the run-up to that showdown, some wondered what might have take over Quartey, like an obsession.
“I tell you, Ekow, I fear for this fight,” shared his trainer, then, Oko Odamtten, as we walked from the Crown Plaza Hotel in Manhattan – thanks to our tardy Limo ride – past the Times Square to the nearby All Star Cafe for the pre-fight conference, two days before Fight-Day, October 17, 1997.
Now, Odamtten had masterminded Team Quartey’s conquest of the previous brutal ruler of WBA welterweights, Espana Crisanto, three years, earlier in Paris. So, that admission was surprising. As Quartey’s Publicist, that info quizzed me. So, I asked Odamtten, why.
“You see, Ike has been sick for about three weeks …,” he began to explain, while the message carted me to my shock a few hours earlier when I saw Quartey at what seemed like half his original size.
“… And everybody has been telling him to put it off,” he broke into my thoughts, continuing, “but he says, ‘no’, and that the American media would say he’s a coward, and he’s no coward”.
That fit the persona of the Ike Quartey I had known: he was no chicken, and no one or circumstance would make him so.
At the pre-fight, I could not get past the chutzpah and derring-do of Jose Luis Lopez, who promised to not only knock down Ike Quartey “on the seat of his pants”, but also knock him out and take his crown! Wow!
I’d just once seen Ike Quartey dropped – by a sparring partner – at the Sports Hall of the Accra Stadium – during training camp for the original opponent for that fight-date, Terry Norris, a fearsome puncher, who ducked Quartey.
And, given Quartey’s wild response – once he got up – landing four-five combinations on the poor sparring partner, leading to Odamtten calling a halt to the session, I couldn’t envisage the mainsprings of Lopez’s bravado.
Yet, it resonated in the room, full of journalists, promoters, managers, matchmakers, HBO execs, some gasping, particularly given the rather tame response of Ike Quartey when he took the podium, that he knew he would keep his title at the end of the fight.
Well, come fight-night, Quartey put on a boxing clinic – in sharp contrast to his trademark brawling style – landing a record number of head-snapping jabs that confounded the Mexican, increasingly looking to his corner for answers.
That fight-plan continued till about R8/ R9 when the MexIcan’s corner seemed to have mapped out an antidote, and Lopez started making inroads inside the guard of the hitherto elusive yet efficient Quartey.
Infact, halfway through R11, about the middle of the ring, Lopez managed to put together a straight left-right cross combo on the chin of the tiring Quartey, backing him up, before firing another left on his chin, dropping him in a corner, to my horror.
Long story short, Quartey managed to beat the count, displayed his prized survivor-kit, clinched, jabbed, mounted his bike and paddled along the ‘race-track’ around the ropes in the last round, surviving the aggressive yet ineffective Lopez.
The judges returned a score of a majority win for Ike Quartey, that night.
Yet, the following morning, I was approached by a Daily News reporter, who had noted I was ringside as part of Team Quartey, and apprised me the scoring had changed, following a just-ended meeting at which the judges’ cards were re-computed, citing an error of addition by one of the judges.
Therefore, the fight had been adjudged anew as a majority-draw, a record that stands as the official scoring.
Well, that was w-a-y back in 1997, a whole 21 years after the first Lopez victory over Ghana boxing, right here in Accra.
Fast forward: 22 years, later, enter Teofimo Lopez, into the Ghana Boxing v. The Lopezs narrative, handing Ghanaian boxing purists and adherents a shocking conquest of their only world champion, prior to December 14, a few days short of a fortnight before a spoilt Christmas mood.
It brings into sharp focus the continuing disturbing losses to the Lopezs – DK Poison’s and Richard Commey’s, five generations, apart – and two bitter memories of December-losses endured by Ghana’s other former world champions.
Only last year, on Dec. 8 – a date the great Azumah Nelson consecrated by winning the WBC featherweight title at the expense of Puerto Rico’s Wilfredo Gomez – an overrated Isaac Dogboe was cut to size, annihilated and humiliated with a thorough beatdown by Mexican toughman, Emanuel Navarrete at the same Madison Square Gardens, where Commey also just fell.
So, the Decembers have not helped Ghana boxing; likewise, the Madison Square Garden, where the great Azumah Nelson also fell (to the legendary Salvadore Sanchez in R15), but far more significantly, the Lopezs lead Ghana boxing 2-0-1, a lesson learnt the hardest way possible!
So, beware of the Lopezs! Let the lessons sink in, forever, and let the young prospects like Duke Micah, Wasiru Mohammed, aka Gyatabi, and other young prospects never forget the name, Lopez, and the destructive force it wields, cunningly.
Don’t be full of yourself and try to get ahead of yourself, shunning the priceless resource of all 10 former world champions while they are all alive.
Work on your defence, defence, defence, shed recklessness, and add to your repertoire the many secrets of the trade, readily available.
From who? Sign on technical advice from DK Poison, Azumah Nelson, Nana Yaw Konadu, Ike Quartey (the Technical Advisor of the Ghana Boxing Authority), Alfred Kotey, Joseph Agbeko, Joshua Clottey, Emmanuel Tagoe, Isaac Dogboe and Richard Commey.
Why? To the effect that you can carry the torch they have lit, much longer, much farther, and secure a brighter future for yourself, Ghana Boxing, and Mother Ghana.