“It belongs to the Ghana Prison Service and it’s their canteen area hence why it’s called Prison’s Canteen,” opens former IBF world lightweight champion, Richard Commey, discussing the venue for his first three professional fights. “It’s your typical Ghana venue: no roof, just a ring in the middle of a courtyard.”
In just a month’s time, the fighter who walked through the lunch hall of an Accra prison to reach the ring will stride through Madison Square Garden for the second time in his remarkable career, squaring off against boxing’s recently solved Rubik’s cube, Vasiliy Lomachenko. That task doesn’t hold any fear for the underdog, who believes that he is the division’s true bogeyman.
“I would say that I’m the most avoided fighter in the lightweight division. Everyone calls out Lomachenko, but no one calls me out, it’s not been easy getting fights and my team have worked hard in getting me this opportunity. I first heard rumours about the fight around July, I believe. A lot has been said about Lomachenko, and rightly so. He had a stellar amateur career and since turning pro, has won world titles in three different weights, so yes, he can be classed as one of the pound-for-pound greats of this generation. Styles makes fights, so I think this will be an intriguing battle.”
Commey, speaking to Boxing Social with the assistance of his long-time manager, Michael Amoo-Bediako, views New York City as his temporary home after training with Andre Rozier and his Team Havoc gym for the peak years of his career. And since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, he has continued working towards reclaiming a portion of the world title, knocking out Jackson Marinez back in February 2021. That bout was tough, and the Ghanaian remains his own harshest critic.
“I have been in New York all the time, just ticking over, as I didn’t want to travel anywhere in case restrictions came into place and I got stuck somewhere due to the pandemic.Obviously it was difficult for everyone [at the time] and even the headline bout fell over at the weigh-in [for my last fight] as I think it was Joe Smith Jr. who tested positive. Training was very much disrupted as gyms were closed and training was restricted but we managed to get some kind of schedule going.”
“My performance was 6 out of 10, to be honest. I’d been out of the ring for nearly 14 months, so there was a bit of ring rust but once I got a few rounds under my belt it all started to come back to me. I made a few mistakes early [in the fight] but I adjusted, and got the job done. I was most happy with the end result really, as Marinez was unfortunate not to be a 20-0 fighter instead of a 19-1 fighter going into the fight as everyone had him winning the fight against Rolando Romero.”
That bout with the tricky Marinez is neither here nor there when the lights fade on December 11th, and Commey knows that. For a man with so many professional responsibilities, he seems relaxed at the thought of the task at hand, joking that before considering his next step, he has “a Matrix to figure out.” He jokes about his new look; bleach blonde twists, spiked up on top of his head, impossible to ignore: “I just wanted a change of look, really. I’m a New York guy now, and for sure you will see it come fight night on December 11th,” laughed the warm, humble former champion of the world.
You wonder, is Commey’s humility inbuilt after establishing himself at the top level of a gruelling sport when many would have left him punching in the dust of an Accra summer? Maybe. However, his refusal to change, and his sparkling, constant smile are wonderful reminders that boxing doesn’t have to be all snarling and bad blood. Discussing the progress he’d made with his charity endeavours, he even remembers to pay homage to London small hall promoter, Steve Goodwin.
“Well, my manager [Michael Amoo-Bediako] and good friend, professional photographer Jim Fenwick set the ‘Streetwise Foundation’ up to help the boxing fraternity back home in Ghana. It’s very difficult to get certain things there, the gyms struggle to get decent equipment such as: gloves, boots, punch bags, etc. We also want to help raise the profile of Ghana boxing as there are some talented fighters out there who, through the foundation, we hope to get them the same opportunities I had. When Michael first came to Ghana in 2010 and discovered me, I did not have what I have now, and it was tough. But through him and his support I realise how very fortunate I am to be where I am today, and he has always reminded me to always give back to my people which I am so proud to do, and through my achievements I can inspire the next generation coming through.”
“The journey has been long and very, very hard,” continued Commey, now aged 34-years old. “My first few fights in Ghana were battles, really tough fights then Michael bought me over to the UK to gain valuable experience fighting abroad. I never really felt I was given a chance to show my worth in the UK, and if it wasn’t for Steve Goodwin I doubt I would have even gotten a fight there, I have a lot to thank him for. Then, when my Michael got me a promotional deal with Lou DiBella, that’s when things really started to happen. But to have headlined in Vegas twice, and to co-headline and now headline at the most iconic venue in the world – Madison Square Garden – which not too many boxers can say they have done, is just a dream come true and I’m grateful to everyone who has helped me along the way.”
There are no more prison canteens to walk through, no City engineers’ yard (Ghana) or wonderfully named Tough Boxing Gym (Russia). It is Madison Square Garden and, again, the opportunity of a lifetime. Not many people will be giving Richard Commey a chance when he’s standing opposite one of the best amateur boxers that’s ever lived – but that’s life. And it’s the life he’s worked hard to build. Commey has never been scared to answer the call, and on December 11th, he hopes to prove the boxing community wrong once again.