In the shadow of the national soccer stadium in Ghana’s capital Accra, professional and amateur boxers congregate every morning to train and hone their skills for local and international boxing competitions.
Ghana is home to talent like Azumah Nelson, Ike Quartey and Joshua Clottey, all of whom have won international titles in their weight class.
Hoping to follow in their footsteps is Theophilus Tetteh. Every morning, he jogs to the gym and works out before heading to work as a carpenter. He does it all over again in the evening.
“In boxing, when I wake up in the morning, if I don’t train, I’m not, it’s like I’m not well. It’s like I have lost something," Tettah said. "I have to come to the gym and work. Every morning. Even Sunday I have to jog before I go to church you see...Because I know what I want. I want to be a world champion. That’s my dream.”
Kickboxers Isaac Aikins (left) and Isaac Commey Doku (center) ready for practice at the gym at a sport stadium near Accra, Ghana, Sept. 10. (Chris Stein/VOA)
While it is usually the soccer players who are idolized across Africa – teams from Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Nigeria rank among the best in the world – Ghana has a long history of boxing talent.
In the Bukom neighborhood, a few kilometers from the stadium, the streets are lined with boxing gyms.
Most of the people living in Bukom are from the Ga ethnic group, which inhabits the coastal regions around Accra. Fighting has long played a role in Ga culture.
But the boxers of Bukom concede that they often get less appreciation than Ghana’s footballers.
Joseph Adotey Mingle had no sponsor to pay for his 2010 trip to the World Kickboxing Championship in Scotland. But he managed to scrape together the money and head to the tournament, where he took bronze.
“I didn’t have any support from anywhere," Mingle said. "I have to pay my plane ticket, I have to pay my visa fee. I reached London. I have to pay my transport to London. Nobody supported me. I had to do it on my own.”
Ghana’s national soccer team, the Black Stars, is avidly watched by many Ghanaians, though the team’s reputation has recently taken a turn for the worse. The squad made headlines for high-profile disagreements among the team during this year’s World Cup.
Isaac Commey Doku, Ghana’s national light middleweight kickboxing champion, says he rarely sees the same enthusiasm from Ghanaians towards boxing and kickboxing as they show for soccer.
“But you can see, we are training here, no one is here," Doku said. "If now footballers, Black Stars, they are coming to train, you see a lot of people come here, so now see we are here, no one is here.”
But that doesn’t deter Doku. Like many of the Ghana’s boxers and kick boxers, he’s up at dawn every day, training to fight as well as he can in the ring - with or without an audience.