Ghana’s Deadly Dark Horse

By Ted Spoon on May 31, 2012
Ghana’s Deadly Dark Horse
Ghanaian warrior Ike Quartey began a rampage which would bluntly knight him “Bazooka”

When the time was nigh double hooks and crunching rights came with old-school velocity; think Kid Gavilan or Artie Levine…

In 1988 Azumah Nelson finally came home to defend his WBC super featherweight title. In twenty-four championship fights it was the only time he would perform amongst his people.

Before three rounds were up Brazil’s Sidnei Dal Rovere was tranquilized with a single right and Accra’s Sports Stadium went delirious. During a feel-good evening Ghana’s idol was especially dominant. Once back stateside he would continue to dominate Ghanaian sporting columns for the next decade.

As gratified locals made their jaunts back to family life, invariably speaking highly of “The Professor,” another local named Ike Quartey was quietly anticipating his second pro fight. Just when Nelson started to find it more difficult to flatten his prey, Quartey began a rampage which would bluntly knight him “Bazooka.” 

Only recently did he run out of ammunition, and it’s evident that Ike’s legacy weighs in at a few ounces less than Nelson’s. What continues to intrigue is that the record books speak of an eminent talent, a champion, and yet he was almost certainly better than any statistics imply.

The glossy, by-the-book and altogether damaging welterweight did not quite make it to the top of the heap. On a momentous evening it was to be Oscar De La Hoya’s sternest test but Ike followed script a little too well. At times he was dominant and that split-decision remains open to flak. 

A second consecutive loss and Ghana’s latest hero vanished. The world of boxing had only just become acquainted with those shotgun blows, but few considered it was a story worth tracing from the start.

A bitter instance got things underway when young Ike was forced to wave goodbye to his Olympic dreams. Australia’s Grahame Cheney prevented him from reaching the quarterfinals, but, as is often the case, Cheney’s professional tenure was at an end while Quartey was torching ranked opponents. 

Due to Ghana’s semi-arid climate the cooler months are owner to more humid conditions so there is generally no let up, resulting in a consistently trying atmosphere. To train, let alone box, there would be hell for most Europeans. For Quartey it proved stage one in welding a boxer who would never require the third man as a crutch. 

Native and international titles were seized in two rounds or less before he moved to France having already made pit stops in Spain, America and Italy. His tender record was still unproven but wonderfully eclectic with early knockouts, late knockouts and a few lopsided decisions. In 1994 WBA champion Crisanto Espana geared up to see how many gusts it would take to create a tear.

Espana was a busy, tough fighter who had further defaced a pretty name in Meldrick Taylor. In the Palais Marcel Cerdan (an arena dedicated to the legendary Frenchman) Crisanto warmed up quickly and got to work with both arms, not that Quartey seemed to care.

Each fought their own fight undisturbed, but while neither assumed control Quartey’s piston-like contributions were making bigger dents. In the tenth those ferocious tendencies had Espana seeking shelter and in the eleventh he was thoroughly disposed of.

Each segment of the championship jigsaw was now in the possession of a very capable man. Having fulfilled the household dream Ike got to work on proving that he was the most hazardous to engage. 

The first four defenses barely constituted a full twelve-round, thirty-six minute fight; each one a clinical showing from a fighter who had hit full stride. 

Ike was something of a violent surgeon. The jab was far and away the key punch, though going one better than merely scoring points he tried his best to perforate the opponent with it. Tactically he was stubborn and enjoyed sampling the other man’s power. When they obliged, his clamshell defense did a mean impression of an Oaks trunk.

With the upmost faith in his guard an upright posture was maintained to mole crevices. When the time was nigh double hooks and crunching rights came with old-school velocity; think Kid Gavilan or Artie Levine. The finished product was slightly mechanical, but in a pleasing way where every decision made sense. ke was too fiery to be repetitious. 

“Cool” Vince Phillips was of that commendable breed which wreck pretenders and test champions. The gangly slugger who routinely pitched over 100 punches a round was getting his second chance at the gold against Quartey. With a smashing cross and healthy temper he was not the ideal candidate to have a shootout with, but then Ike did not like taking backward steps.

Fire was traded with fire when a short right sent vibrations down Phillips body; round three was a little early for the wobbles. Moments before his hurtful right had produced a grin, now his body was being thumped about the ring like a beach ball.

The wily cat who would go onto eat Kostya Tszyu’s venomous right could not suffer the Ghanaian’s thunder. So efficient was the performance that slow-mo replays brought out the analyst in HBO commentator Jim Lampley:

“Even as he had the various footwork while chasing he was still landing flush.”

It was the seventh technical knockout in a row. Ten-counts are often thought of as a more decisive method of victory but multiple stoppages are usually the hallmark of a fighter who specializes in finishing what he starts. As a finisher “Bazooka” was exactly that.   

An admirably honest man, Quartey wanted the best which meant calling out WBC title holder Pernell Whitaker. Sadly that contest would not come off but (criminally) neither would a bout with Felix Trinidad. 

The Puerto Rican blaster was just as volatile as his contemporary. It is the stuff of wet dreams to imagine Tito’s hook going against Ike’s heavy hands, but on they continued down their separate warpaths.   

Not a spectacular but decent opponent followed when Quartey took on Oba Carr, a former victim of Trinidad. None other than Arthur Mercante Sr. had the pleasure, or rather displeasure, of conducting the principals. A clean affair it wasn’t with two points being taken off Carr for low blows, one off Quartey for no apparent reason, plus a knockdown that never was.

Oba had some good spots and waged a spirited fight but Gonzalo Rivera had clearly gotten carried away with his scorecard of 112-112. The other two went the right way and left Ike with his belt.

Momentum wasn’t lost with a one-sided destruction of the untested Ralph Jones and then came Jose Luis Lopez.

The super-durable Mexican made it his duty to give everyone a tough fight and he didn’t disappoint when facing Ike. Despite absorbing that jab at a genuinely sickening rate the challenger was there at the final bell. In the second a flash knockdown was scored but in the eleventh he had Quartey on his ass. The champion did a good job of surviving, but even still, a majority draw was overkill for a fight he had controlled for most of the rounds.

It had often been pointed out that the WBA champion was the least popular of a star-studded clan. No doubt about it, in the crowd and scoring an ugly bias revealed itself.

With added weight on those powerful shoulders Quartey looked forward to bagging that superfight but he was to have an entirely unproductive 1998. 

A bout with Whitaker was pencilled in for April 25. Ike probably couldn’t have believed his luck when the slick southpaw began attending a drug rehabilitation clinic. The focus switched to Oscar and November 21st was made the day on which the restless Ghanaian would show everyone who was the best. Instead the “Golden Boy” received a little nick in training and promoter Bob Arum made sure his piggy bank healed up.

They eventually did meet in the ring on February 13, 1999.

Due to the minefield exercise of negotiating, Quartey had been out of the ring for nearly sixteen months during which time his opponent had managed to squeeze in three separate outings—not ideal preparation for the biggest fight of your career.

For boxing’s camera magnet this was to be his baptism. He wasn’t going to be trying to catch flies like he was against Whitaker or bully a has-been like Julio Cesar Chavez; Quartey had the strength and talent to give Oscar the kind of battle all his Mexican detractors wanted to see that “crossbred pin-up” endure.

Things started respectfully with a both men tentative. Steady footwork made that jab fall short though Ike was slightly the more positive force in there winning those last second flurries. Sharp but economic bursts by Oscar made it a fairly even fight come the sixth.

Each man tasted the canvas, first Ike, and then Oscar. When they came to Quartey was the confident one and closed out the remainder landing solid shots. The challenger who had relinquished his WBA belt to secure this bout began to win rounds cleanly, and when a couple of smashing rights found Oscar in the ninth even Las Vegas sceptics were forced to raise an eyebrow. 

The champion most certainly needed a big last round and he wasn’t too bad in the delivering department. The left hook got Ike off his feet again which propelled the “Golden Boy” into a desperate frenzy. Quartey was knocked nearly senseless in a corner but (as Larry Merchant astutely pointed out) he was punching back. It took a discerning referee in Mitch Halpern not to call things off.           

Moments later the champion’s arms were shot while Ike stalked him in his dazed state. There would be no knockout and the final bell orchestrated a noisy Mandalay Bay. 

Even with the last round Ike was convinced of victory. A score of 115-114 went his way but redirected scores of 113-116 and 112-116 put a stop to his jubilant mood. 

Ethically the fight sits okay because of Oscar’s gallant last round; technically is a different matter. After re-watching it feels like one man bagged more rounds than the other, and we’re not referring to the Latino with the million dollar smile. That two of the judges had Oscar ahead before the final round makes it an even harder pill to swallow. 

Ike could do little but voice his dissatisfaction while Oscar went onto lose (of course) controversially to Trinidad.

An unhealthy fourteen months transpired when Quartey was in the ring again at 152 lbs. against undefeated light-middleweight champion Fernando Vargas. Dismissive of his opponent, Ike fought a crude fight, marching in straight lines against the bigger man. That arrogant side of him ruined his boxing and he lost unanimously. 

He wouldn’t perform again; well, not for five years anyway. 

Talks of a comeback had been shrugged off but by 2004 it was a becoming reality. Azumah Nelson, a geriatric as well as a great champion knew the dangers of a delusional mind, but after watching thirty-five-year-old Ike hand Clint McNeil his first stoppage, the apprentice received the master’s blessing.     

A couple more useful wins and the unlikely Ghanaian found himself precariously located inside a ring with Vernon Forrest. The bane of Shane Mosley still had some of his finest victories to tally and looked much the more imposing figure in there. Reluctant to shake hands, Forrest was clearly eager but things were to play out differently for him.

Starting to the sound of that feverish Ghanaian cowbell, Quartey made his presence known. Aside from a crunching right in the third Ike made the more significant moves utilising a nifty leaping hook. The punches were landing crisp, and with that nasal exhale it accentuated their impact. That greedy smirk returned as he effectively walked his opponent down; it was almost like old times.           

As things were evening up the HBO team had their reservations about Ike’s stamina, and to make things worse he began to complain of a pain in his ribs. This he ignored and continued to land the better quality shots.

Vernon’s flurries were eye-catching but a superior judge could see that much was bouncing off that tight defense. In the ninth a point was taken from Forrest for going low and Ring magazine’s 2005 “Comeback Fighter of the Year” saw off the last stanza with some crunching jabs. 

Forrest was sure to make a nice addition but scores of 95-94, 95-94 and 96-93, even with the point deduction, unbelievably, went to Vernon. 

If you thought Quartey had made something of a victim of himself in the past, you couldn’t blame him now. One of boxing’s most ardent competitors was beside himself as the Madison Square Garden’s Theater let out an entirely appropriate chant of “Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit!”

“Quartey may wonder why he ever left Ghana to come back to fight in the United States,” reflected Jim Lampley.

Like an inadvertent reflex, one more losing fight was waged against Winky Wright. Now it really was home time for the luckless veteran. Head of a booming construction business, Quartey’s national celebrity was simultaneously pulling strings back in Accra to build hospitals and hotels. There never would be that unforgettable victory.

“He’s as tough as nails,” concluded Wright. Decked twice and soundly outpointed the once destructive Ghanaian willfully milled away during the last round.

That arrogant whim had not completely gone: “He didn’t really hurt me and I thought I did enough to win the fight, but he’s a good fighter.”

Granted, the man named after something which can demolish a tank wouldn’t want anything of the such, but he is scheduled to receive history’s sympathy. 

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Ike Quartey vs. Vince Phillips (part 1 of 2)

Ike Quartey vs. Vince Phillips (part 2 of 2)

Ike Quartey vs Jose Luis Lopez .

Oscar De La Hoya vs Ike Quartey (Full Fight)

Vernon Forrest vs Ike Quartey - 1/4

Vernon Forrest vs Ike Quartey - 2/4

Vernon Forrest vs Ike Quartey - 3/4

Vernon Forrest vs Ike Quartey - 4/4

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  1. The Thresher 06:43pm, 06/04/2012

    Roy Ankrah a.k.a “The Black Flash”
    “DK Poison”
    “The Professor”
    Steve Dotse
    Joshua Clottey
    Joseph “King Kong” Agbeko
    “The Crusader”
    “The Tornado”
    Kofi “The Pride of Ashanti” Jantuah
    Floyd “Klutei” Robertson

    Floyd “Klutei” Robertson had a deceptive record of 25-11-4 as he fought from 1958 to 1967. He was 8-3-1 while duking in Ghana, 16-5-2 while fighting in the U.K., and 1-3-1 elsewhere.  Among his opponents were Mexican great Vicente Saldivar (29-1 coming in), Mexican great Sugar Ramos (44-1-3 at the time), Ghanaian Joe Tetteh (28-4-1), Giordano Campari (66-7-4), Howard Winstone (23-0), Sergio Caprari (48-3-1), and Brian Cartwright (41-14-3). Cherry picking was an unknown concept to “Klutei” who would signal the toughness that would emerge from Accra

  2. Cheekay Atomic 08:04am, 06/02/2012

    Quickly let me say: FANTASTIC piece. I’ve been interested in Ghana’s boxing scene for some time….haven’t been able to do this much research.  And Quartey was always one of my favorites.

  3. The Thresher 05:53pm, 06/01/2012

    His primary weapon was his celebrated jab, considered one of the best in boxing at the time. He also used an effective “peek-a-boo” or “clam-shell” defense, which consisted of him deflecting punches off his arms, elbows and gloves which he kept held tightly to his cheeks and ribcage.

  4. The Thresher 02:59pm, 06/01/2012

    Boxing is the main subject over here [Bukom]
                        —Boxing manager Yoofi Boham

    You can see the trend, that each decade something unique comes out of Bukom…                                                 
                                —Sammy Okaitey, Sports Editor of Ghana’s Daily Graphic.

    You’ve got to give people hope in life, and for the people of Bukom, boxing is hope… 
                                        —Claude Abrams, editor of Britain’s Boxing News.

    This country of only 21 million produces a disproportionately large amount of fighters and most come from the southern coastal city of Accra. Breaking it down even further, most come from an oppressively hot shantytown on the outskirts called Bukom and are members of the Ga tribe. Because of the flagging fortunes of the sport in this country, many of the fighters toil elsewhere which, except for South Africa, seems to be the prevailing pattern. Still, Bukom is a fight town with few equals.

  5. The Thresher 10:03am, 06/01/2012

    Ghana has a rich tradition of boxing. Maybe the best in Africa after South Africa.

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