The Ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in times of comfort and convenience but where he stands in times of conflict and controversy. – Dr Martin Luther King Jr. This quote by the legendary Dr King aligns well with the toughness of mind, focus and perseverance of undefeated Ghanaian world title contender Habib Ahmed who challenges Gilberto Ramirez Sanchez for the WBO super middleweight title on Saturday, February 3. His Olympic dreams were quashed some seven years ago ahead of the London 2012 Games after a freak accident. He lifted himself from that low moment and today stands a few days away from ultimate sporting glory.
However, the seeming non-existent buzz about what could be a great day in Ghanaian sports history just reminds me about the day in September 2007 when Joseph Agbeko, quietly shocked the world by defeating the then champion Luis Alberto Perez to win the IBF bantamweight title. There was not much buzz about Agbeko’s involvement in that fight yet he rose to the occasion.
The same could be said about Ghanaian Habib Ahmed and his almost silent build up to his challenge of the WBO super middleweight champion, Gilberto Ramirez Sanchez on February 3. This comes at a time when the sport is locally seeing a rebirth with certain fight nights and the boxers involved taking centre stage in major conversations. Isaac ‘Royal Storm’ Dogboe’s ‘win over Caesar Juarez at the Bukom Boxing Arena is still fresh in minds. Added to that is Emmanuel Tagoe’s successful defence of his IBO lightweight title which ended controversially.
But all said and done, the assignment is cut out and must be executed well. Boxers who have risen to this pedestal in world boxing always have stories to tell and the rather reserved Habib has his as well.
The near tragedy
Habib Ahmed has travelled an arduous journey towards this big day in his career and this brings significant memories. Habib’s career was almost cut short in 2011 as he was preparing for the 2012 London Olympic Games but for an intervention by Joy FM. Habib had closed from morning training and was walking from the Accra Stadium to his home in Jamestown which is at least three kilometres far.
Unfortunately, a car knocked him down – his Olympic dream was to be shattered forever. He was ruled out due to a broken hip and was rendered a surgical emergency.
The hip surgery was successful but there were hospital bills that needed to be paid in excess of GHS 1000. So together with the then head of Joy Sports Ernest Koranteng articulated the predicament to our boss at the time, Mr Ekyi Quarm, the Chief Operating Officer Radio and Interactive Media at the Multimedia Group.
Photo: Nathaniel Attoh presented cash from Joy Sports and Joy FM to Habib, after his surgery. Looking on are his younger brother and his father (in the background).
He only needed to listen to the story to the point where the need for clearing accumulated hospital bills was articulated. “We will pay the bills,” he said. I immediately followed up on the administrative processes and sent the cash to ease the troubles of the young boxer. He lost his place at the London Olympics but had his career saved.
Turning Pro and the journey through opponents
Following the disappointment of missing the Olympic Games, Habib turned professional and fought on the Africa Golden Gloves Warriors promotion put together by the late Gideon Quartey, a former amateur boxing President in Ghana. Steadily he overcame opponent after opponent most of whom were of his pedigree – novices.
But clearly, Habib was poles above his peers due to his solid experience at amateur level with the national team. He displayed good jabbing skill and a sharp right which always helped his assault on his opponents.
Bout after bout Habib’s skill, a strong punch made a big case for him and where he should be on the boxing ladder. So when he met George Banson for the Ghanaian middleweight title in 2012, he dominated to clinch the belt.
The wins continued and in March of 2017, Habib once again rose to the occasion and outclassed journeyman Philip ‘Sweet’ Pea Kotey to win the WBO Africa Super Middleweight title at the Bukom Boxing Arena.
Unique relationship with Trainer Ofori Asare
Habib has only known Coach Ofori Asare as a main trainer from his childhood through his draft into the national team of Ghana (Black Bombers) to the professional ranks. So the little boy Habib followed his brother to the Wisdom Gym in Central Accra and used to carry the bags. He was so interested that he observed every bit of the activities of his brother and other boxers in the gym.
Photo: Habib(second from left) with Coach Asare (second from right) and other training members.
One day Coach Asare asked him to stand like boxers do in the ring and he did. That was to start a big bond which we have seen between many boxers and their trainers. Ike ‘Bazooka’ Quartey and Oko Odamtten, Manny Pacquaio and Freddy Roach and Bernard ‘Executioner’ Hopkins and Nazeem Richardson.
Coach Asare took interest in him and bought him all the goodies from clothes to food. Coach Ofori Asare is also highly respected in Ghana because of his role in churning out many boxers through his work as the longest-serving national boxing team coach. He is the same Ofori Asare who masterminded the defeat of former world light heavyweight contender, Brimah Kamoko, a.k.a Bukom Banku earlier this year. It will make boxing sense eventually when a win comes for Habib in this destiny-defining bout.
The training Camp
Habib Ahmed has been training for months under the strict supervision of his trainer Ofori Asare. The telepathy between the two is already established as is the case between many boxers and their main trainers. A lot of the gym work has been done from the DG Hathiramani Hall of the Accra Stadium with focus on technique corrections and fine tuning of skill. Considering that the Accra Stadium is within close proximity of the Atlantic Ocean a great amount of conditioning work is done there on the sandy beaches in addition to intensive jogs in the early hours of each training day.
Habib wraps up every day with family time. He joins his wife father and siblings for long hearty conversations. He seems to enjoy this daily ritual which brings him a lot of positive energy. The corner is very much aware of the pacey punching and aggressiveness of the champion and has put in extra work to ensure Ramirez is neutralized as much as possible on Saturday night.
His opponent –The Champion
Gilberto Ramirez who is a southpaw plays in a big league and has to be given his credit. I fact the odds will be against the Ghanaian boxer considering that Ramirez has seen more ring action and bigger opponents.
Ramirez will lift his guard, bend into his opponents, step forward and launch his attack with “rocket speed” hooks and uppercuts, which are actively supported by his piercing right.
The Mexican also has a good reach advantage which he compliments well with his speed. He effectively saw off many crack opponents including Arthur Abraham, Jesse Hart, Richard Gutierez, Maksim Vlasov and Rogelio Medina. The Mexican will look forward to another good night when he will make a victim of his Ghanaian opponent.
The coincidence – Most Ghanaian world champions won their titles outside Ghana
Habib has fought 99% of his career before his home fans in Ghana. Some think the lack of variety in physical audiences, could have a psychological effect. But his predecessors have set great examples in this regard.
They displayed incredible mental toughness to absorb the jeers of partisan crowds and rose to the occasion in each scenario. When Africa’s most celebrated boxer Prof Azumah Nelson won the WBC featherweight title for the first time in 1984, it was in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
When Ike ‘Bazooka’ Quartey won the WBA welterweight title in June 1994, it was in France. When Joshua ’The Heater’ Clottey defeated Zabdiel Judah to win the IBF welterweight title, it was in Nevava, USA. A year before this feat, Clottey’s compatriot Joseph King Kong Agbeko had caused an upset by defeating then champion, Luis Perez to win IBF bantamweight title.
And it was staged in California. So Texas is the venue for this bout of destiny for Habib Ahmed. Texas may not bring the best memories to Ghanaians because Joshua Clottey lost an opportunity to snatch Manny Pacquiao’s WBO welterweight belt before a record crowd (over 50,000 fans) at the Cowboy Stadium in Arlington Texas. But Habib’s strong will, good conditioning, discipline and punch power can help him rewrite the history.
One of Habib Ahmed’s training sessions ahead of the bout.