During Kwame Nkrumah’s ruling, Ghana’s former president and first Prime Minister, sports was viewed as an important tool in building a new nation and uniting the people. In fact, that was one of the reasons he invested greatly in sports. You will see many locals actively engaged in football, basketball, and other sports, but it is boxing in Ghana that has produced the most world boxing champions from Africa.
There is one particular suburb which is the heart of boxing in Ghana, and that is Bukom.
Bukom, the heart of Ghana’s boxing scene
Bukom is a neighborhood located in downtown Accra, near Jamestown. It is inhabited by the Ga people whose main occupation is fishing due to the proximity to the ocean. Here you will find one of the best local Accra markets to buy fresh fish; Slahaa market.
But Bukom doesn’t only have a big fishing community, it is also known for its boxing scene; full of local boxing gyms, posters plastered across the streets announcing upcoming local fights which also honor champions from the past including Ike Quartey, Azumah Nelson, Isaac Dogboe and Joshua Clottey. All serve as a great inspiration to many upcoming boxers because they also once started from the bottom and now made their way up the ladder to success.
Boxing is actually a way of life for many people in Bukon. Kids learn to fight in the street – often barefoot – as youngsters, with the promise of joining a larger gym, finding a professional coach and one day even fighting in the Olympics.
The history of bukon’s boxing success
Boxing emerged as an organized sport in Accra in the first half of the 20th century. Before then, the Ga would practice asafo atwele (group fighting) which was replaced with the Western style of boxing. At that time, fighting created an atmosphere of “esprit de corps”, which means, a feeling of pride and mutual loyalty shared by groups of youth.
By the early twentieth century, fight contests were introduced to strategically help shape their fighting skills and also develop courage, hardiness, swiftness in their art of “Asafo Atwele” (group fighting) and “Abotire” (wrestling).
Currently there are many famous athletes from Ghana, but the success of boxing began when Ghana was still part of the British Empire. Roy Ankrah was a fighter who during those times won many international bouts. The colonialists also played a small role in the development of bukon’s boxing scene by building gyms in the area and encouraging the locals to start training and fighting.
When Ghana gained its independence in 1957, the boom of boxing was still there. A 16 year old boy named David Kotei (known as DK Poison) became the first Ghanaian to win a world title, which he trained for two years.
After DK Poison came Azumah Nelson, widely considered one of the greatest African boxers, he had played a very essential role in Ghana sports – a two-weight world champion, having held the WBC featherweight title from 1984 to 1987 and the WBC super-featherweight title twice.
Thanks to the sport of boxing, and particularly to Ghanain boxer Clement Isaac Quartey (better known as “Isaac” or “Ike ”) Ghana won its first Olympic medal at the Summer Games after two appearances. He won the silver medal in the men’s Light Welterweight (63.5 kg) category at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy. Ike is one of the boxing icons that young fighters of bukon look up to when fighting.
Boxing in Ghana: Bukom today
Nowadays boxing is a sport which is still built into the culture of Bukom. To such a point that if two men or boys are arguing in the street, people tell them: “Don’t argue. Stop talking. Just fight it out.” This is because Bukom is like a survival of the fittest. Children need to struggle to get some money to be able to eat something. It makes them more tough. And sometimes they just fight, and actually fighting is not such a big deal to them.
Just as there are plenty of gyms around Accra, boxing gyms are still scattered across the neighborhood producing the next generation of boxing icons. Earlier this year, Emmanuel ‘Game Boy’ Tagoe, a Ghanaian boxer, who competes in the lightweight division, traveled all the way to the US to compete with Ryan Garcia. Unfortunately he did not win, but he still managed to return to Ghana with 200,000 USD in his pocket (thanks for boxing!).
City of Bukom: The Documentary
This boxing phenomenon still catches the attention of many, just like it did with Scilla Owusu, british-ghanain film-maker who decided to produce a whole documentary on Bukon called “The City of Bukom ” (2021).
It’s a 90-minute documentary which explores and dissects how this Ga-Mashie community made boxing their cornerstone. It features renewed boxers such as Azumah Nelson, Ike Quartey, Joshua Clottey and British-Ghanaian Olympian and light heavy-weight boxer Joshua Buatsi, Ghana’s first boxing champion D.K Poison and more.
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It also includes boxing promoters and enthusiasts to give a holistic view of the sport in the region. For many in Bukom, boxing is the ticket out of the town, away from poverty, unemployment, and lack of opportunity. This documentary aims to tell their stories. Check out the trailer below.
There is also a documentary produced by Joseph Haldeman (2015) called “Bukom Boys” which explores the impact boxing has on Bukom’s culture, legacy and people through the eyes of a young local contender, Mike Pappoe. Watch the trailer below: