Ghana’s Richard Commey and Russia’s Isa Chaniev will meet for the vacant IBF lightweight title Saturday night at the Ford Center in Frisco, Texas, and Commey couldn’t be happier about it.
This is perhaps as neutral a setting as he could have asked for.
In the past, when Commey had title fights or bouts that would lead to title shots, he was forced to travel into foreign lands. If not for home-canvas advantage, Commey makes a strong argument that he is undefeated.
His first professional loss came in September 2016, when he faced Robert Easter for the vacant IBF lightweight title in Reading, Pennsylvania. Facing an American on U.S. soil, Commey came up short in what was a hard-fought affair by the scores of 114-113, 115-112 and 113-114.
“I’m coming all the way from Africa. It wasn’t to my advantage — everything is on his side,” Commey said of his razor-thin, split-decision loss. “So it is what it is, so for me, I fought my hardest — they didn’t give it to me. I have to take it as it is.”
In the wake of that defeat, Commey then ventured to face Russian Denis Shafikov in Moscow just a few months later. Once again, Commey dropped another split decision (116-112, 115-113 and 112-116) in a fight that some observers believe he won. But the reality is that it would have been very difficult, if not downright impossible, for him to have won a close decision in Russia.
“I thought I went in there and the same thing happened,” said Commey of the defeat against Shafikov. “You go into fights like that and you don’t have any advantages on your side and you’re facing world-class boxers. These are people you just can’t knock them out and they train so hard.
“So if you can’t get a knockout, they have the home advantage and they are the A-side. Sometimes you get very frustrated.”
But the hard road in boxing that Commey (27-2, 24 KOs) is forced to navigate is nothing new. He comes from a country that has a deep and proud boxing heritage led by the likes of the great Azumah Nelson and former welterweight champion Ike Quartey. Both men began their careers in their home country in the capital city of Accra, but they found that the path to fortune and fame in the sport was in America.
Nelson, who began his career in 1979, burst onto the worldwide scene in July 1982 when he faced the legendary Salvador Sanchez in just his 13th professional contest at the famed Madison Square Garden. While he was stopped in the 15th round, Nelson served noticed that he would be a formidable fighter for years to come. In what became a Hall of Fame career, Nelson captured featherweight and junior lightweight titles, and the bulk of his battles took place in the United States, with fights in Australia and Mexico sprinkled in. As he became an international star under Don King’s promotional banner, fights in Ghana were rare.
Quartey — who was nicknamed “The Bazooka” for his powerful jab — like Nelson before him, started off his career in Accra, but as he was signed to a promotional contract by AB Stars, he became a staple in France, where he developed into a welterweight contender. Quartey captured the WBA belt in 1994 by defeating Crisanto Espana in 11 rounds. Eventually, Main Events signed Quartey to a co-promotional deal and he made his way Stateside. He quickly became a staple at HBO and eventually battled the likes of Oscar De La Hoya and Fernando Vargas in high-stakes affairs in Las Vegas.
So like his famed predecessors, Commey is for all intents and purposes an “American” fighter, but he has yet to reach their heights.
And for boxers like him, winning titles is paramount to their careers, which is why this belt — vacated by Mikey Garcia — is so important to him. For Commey, it’s the difference between making six figures and being featured on the televised portion of major cards, or making less money and performing in the late afternoon before camera lights go on.
All he really wants this weekend is a fair fight with impartial judges.
“I hope everything is going to be fair. This is boxing, and I’ve trained so hard, and I’m going in there with a clear mind,” said Commey. “Things happen in boxing, and whatever happens, you just have to thank God and I pray that I go in there and everybody goes with no injuries and do what we have to do and give the entertainment to the crowd, and may the best man win.”
Should he defeat Chaniev (13-1, 6 KOs), Commey could be going straight into a unification bout with Vasiliy Lomachenko, who holds the WBA and WBO lightweight titles. So Commey-Chaniev has more than just the IBF title on the line on Saturday night.
“They have both signed for that, subject, of course, the winner not being banged up,” said Bob Arum, the head of Top Rank promotions.
The working date for this bout would be April 12 in Los Angeles, according to the veteran promoter.
“Honestly, at the moment, I’m not really focused on that. My main focus is thinking about winning this title first and then I’ll think about what follows next,” the 31-year-old Commey said. “I’m just worried about Saturday, not what is ahead of me, and just focus on the world title, which would mean a lot for me, for my family.
“Everybody is a part of this. I want to win it for Ghana, for anyone who’s connected with me.”