The Boys from Bukom: Champions From the Birthplace of Ghanaian Boxingairport_transferbarbathtubbusiness_facilitieschild_activitieschildcareconnecting_roomcribsfree_wifigymhot_tubinternetkitchennon_smokingpetpoolresturantski_in_outski_shuttleski_storagesmoking_areaspastar
Bukom, Accra | © David Stanley / Flickr
Bukom, Accra | © David Stanley / Flickr

The Boys from Bukom: Champions From the Birthplace of Ghanaian Boxing

Sport is a cornerstone of Ghanaian society, with many of its youth actively engaged in football, basketball, athletics and volleyball. Ghana is internationally known for its many past winners across different competitions, but none more so than in boxing, where five world champions have emerged from Bukom, a small underprivileged fishing community in Accra.

The stories of their rise from obscurity to repeatedly shock the boxing world are the source of great inspiration to sportsmen worldwide, but one question lingers: what it is about Bukom that produces such great fighters?

Bukom is a community in the west of Accra near James Town that is inhabited by the Ga people, whose main occupation is fishing. Walking through the streets of Bukom, you can feel the breath of the nearby Atlantic Ocean in the air mixing with the aroma of smoked fish. The community is dense and space comes at a premium, but boxing venues always seem to find their place. Posters of local gyms advertising fights decorate the walls, with heroes from the past including DK Poison, Azumah Nelson and Joshua Clottey. All of these great men once walked the narrow streets of Bukom and fought their way to the upper echelons of boxing history.

Boxers training © GG / Flickr

Boxers being put through their paces | © GG / Flickr

The history of Bukom’s boxing success began with Roy Ankrah, a fighter who won many international bouts at a time when Ghana was still a member of the British Empire. Back then, the colonialists introduced boxing to communities along the coast, building gyms and encouraging the natives to fight. However, after Ghana gained its independence in 1957, the spirit of boxing continued to live on. David Kotei, known as DK Poison, was a local boy who turned professional in 1966 aged just 16 and became the first Ghanaian to win a world title, which he retained for two years.

This was just the first of many moments of Ghanaian boxing fame. Azumah Nelson, probably the greatest African boxer of all time, was the next to thrill the world with his strong jabs and quick feet in the ring. From his humble upbringing he fought to win three world titles, with victories over Wilfredo Gómez of Puerto Rico and Salvador Sánchez of Mexico in legendary bouts. Nelson’s professional record of just six defeats is still lauded by many boxing aficionados because of how he dominated the sport consistently during his career.

Amateur Boxing © U.S. Army / Flickr

The amateurs hit hard, too | © The U.S. Army / Flickr

Three out of the four medals that Ghana has won at the Olympics have come from boxing, with Clement Quartey, brother of another world champion, Ike Quartey, winning silver in the light welterweight division at the 1960 Games in Rome. Most boxing fans remember Ike for his controversial defeat at the hands of Oscar de la Hoya in 1999 after he had held the WBA title from 1994-1998, and on the streets of Bukom, he is one of the greats that young fighters look up to when training.

Today, boxing is still the preferred sport in Bukom, with the gyms that blooded these global stars still in operation and producing the next generation of icons. There have been attempts to understand why this small community is responsible for the manufacture of such boxing talent, but with little infrastructure, it may simply come down to nature versus nurture. No one can definitively point out why the boys from Bukom grow up to be such great fighters.

The Ohene Djan Sports Stadium © Ben Sutherland / Flickr

The Accra Sports Stadium has seen plenty of action | © Ben Sutherland / Flickr

Recent champions, such as Joshua Clottey and undefeated cult legend Bukom Banku, are also actively involved in training and providing the necessary platform for new fighters to make the step up to the big leagues. Bukom does not get as much recognition as it should for producing the nation’s best fighters, although in November 2016 President Mahama inaugurated the Trust Sports Emporium, a brand-new 4000-seater boxing arena that is long overdue in the community. Boxing still continues in Bukom, with the next generation of fighters sparring every day, waiting for their chance to be king of the ring.