After Richard Commey overwhelmed Isa Chaniev to win the vacant IBF world lightweight title in 2019 it was the culmination of an eight-year career which featured the customary ups and downs of a well-travelled fighter.
From the Prison’s Canteen in Accra to the Tough Fight Gym in Moscow, Commey’s time served across the world turned him into a fighter that soon came with the usual tags of ‘who needs him’ and so on.
Two split decision losses to Robert Easter and Denis Shafikov increased the Ghanaian’s reputation before the vacant title opportunity came up. As Chaniev was punched to the point where his legs said no more, the infectious smile and celebratory dance of Commey’s became a moment where most, if not all, boxing fans united in their happiness for him.
“I trained so hard and I was expecting it to be a very, very long night for me,” Commey (29-3, 26 KOs) told Boxing Social when looking back at his greatest night to date.
“I remember he caught me with a one-two and then I caught him with a very strong left hook, right hand and that took him down and I thought this fight isn’t going to last. It was very quick, and I didn’t think it would end that way. I’m proud of myself.
“The road has never been easy; it’s been a tough road but [we] keep going. It’s always been in my head that I want to be a world champion. A lot of hard work on the way but my team and I never gave up. I didn’t give up myself as well. We achieved the ultimate goal by becoming the world champion.”
A fight against Vasiliy Lomachenko was on the horizon but an injury to Commey’s right hand saw another ultimate goal and sizeable payday fail to materialise. The smile never dwindled, his business face back on he took care of Ray Beltran in his first defence. The name beefed up Commey’s résumé. Then the IBF ordered Commey to defend his title against then 22-year-old Teófimó Lopez. Commey was still seeking respect for his career and achievements. A win against the betting favourite would be just one of a few rewards, a fight with Lomachenko being one of them, that would be waiting upon hearing the words, ‘And still…’
‘There is that short left hook by Lopez’ that sends Commey back…’ Forty seconds into the second round and the challenger was prising an opening observed by ESPN commentator Joe Tessitore.
Just a few seconds later…
‘Oh, what a big shot by Lopez and Commey is on spaghetti legs here in round two. The champion is hurt badly.’
Commey was down for the first time in his career. He soon told referee David Fields he was okay to continue. The inevitable Lopez bombardment was too much for the proud champ to withstand. Fields saw enough when Commey’s head was being rocked with nothing in return.
Two rounds to win a world title and two to lose it. His 10-month reign as champion was over. A new star was born. Commey hasn’t fought since that night at Madison Square Garden 14 months ago.
“I went home to [Ghana] clear my head,” Commey said.
“I stayed out of boxing and focused on what I needed to do and then came the outbreak of Covid. It has been really hard for everyone not only in boxing but in this world. Thankfully, I was home when the outbreak happened. Because of lockdown I still got a chance to keep fit, just doing a few things to keep fit.”
Commey then went on to tell Boxing Social about some of the help he has been giving fellow Ghanaian boxers thanks to the Streetwise Foundation. The Foundation was set up in 2018 by Commey’s manager Michael Amoo-Bediako.
“You know back home in Ghana most boxers don’t work; all they do is box,” Commey told us.
“It’s really hard for the boxers back home so with the Streetwise Foundation we were able to gather some food like rice and other things to distribute to the boxers. It’s always good to give back to where you come from and I feel like these days I can. Covid has really affected everyone. There’s no boxing going on so these guys are not fighting for any money so it’s always good to support them in any way you can and I’m looking forward to doing more with the Streetwise Foundation.”
While Commey is giving his all to become a two-time world champion, a quest that begins in his comeback fight against Jackson Marinez on Saturday night (a bout elevated to the main event after the late postponement of Joe Smith vs Maxim Vlasov), the 33-year-old’s outlook on life is that boxing is not everything.
“Life has always been bigger than boxing. You can be at the top for some time and then it changes. One day you’re up there and the next you’re down there. It’s all about life, treating people right, being respectful and being humble. People will remember you but not all of the time, soon they will focus on the up-and-coming ones. It’s about being good outside boxing and treating people as well as you can. Try to be a better person. I’m happy and I’m glad I’m in a position to help other people.”
Back in the boxing world, Commey has a job to do on Saturday. Rightly, he doesn’t underestimate the threat that Marinez carries. The Dominican’s only loss to date came against Rolando Romero last time out in an interim title fight and it was a disputed one for some. Stir it all together and the ingredients give us a make-or-break contest but it’s a description that Commey has had associated with his career before.
“This fight really means a lot to me if I want to be a two-time world champion which I want to be,” he says. “It’s a must-win for me. I ain’t taking Jackson Marinez lightly, he’s only had one loss in his career. This is no walkover. I respect every boxer; anything can happen in the ring. He has my full attention but I’m walking away with the win regardless of how it happens.
“I need to come back stronger and prove to the world I got better. I’ve got a lot in me to become a world champion again.”
Main photo and all images: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.