Who says you can’t go home?
It’s not just the title of a Bon Jovi song, but a question that makes you wonder whether a crushing defeat far from home will change the way people perceive you back in the place where you were born and raised.
After Ghana’s Richard Commey lost his IBF lightweight title to Teofimo Lopez in December 2019, he found out that yes, you can go home.
“Oh man, they gave me the same love that I got when I first won the title,” he said. “People keep telling me, ‘Richard, you can get it back. Don’t worry about it, things happen in boxing. We believe in you and we know you’re a good guy.’ They showed me love, and that really motivated me. I feel like my people are still behind me. It’s all great.”
Any other response would make one question if there is any good left in the world, because if anyone deserves the love of his people, win, lose, or draw, it’s the gentleman from Accra, who knew where he had to go following the third loss of his 32-fight career.
It was a time for him to relax after a hectic year in which he fought three times, all the while living and training in New York City. Now he was home in the Bukom neighborhood that raised him into a world champion just like it had the likes of Azumah Nelson, Ike Quartey, David Kotey, Joshua Clottey and Isaac Dogboe. A pandemic was closing in on Ghana and the world, but before everything was shut down, Commey got a reminder of what he means to his neighbors.
“You feel disappointed because you let the whole country down,” he said. “But then everyone goes, ‘I believe in you.’ It (the Lopez fight) didn’t go the way they thought that it would, but the thing is, people didn’t really come out with a negative comment. They even wanted to give me a very, very big welcome, but I said, ‘No, that’s all right; I just want to be low-key.’”
Low-key turns into something different when you’re a former world champion who will draw a crowd everywhere he goes in his hometown, but Commey accepted the attention and made sure he was there for the young boxers who one day want to be where he is now.
“Even though I was helping out the young boxers as much as I can, because of COVID no one was working and most of the boxers back home in Ghana don’t work like people here, so fortunately I was able to help. I was able to show the kind of love for them by helping with food and stuff like that, so it’s always great to spend a lot of time back home.”
Soon, it was August, and with the COVID-19 pandemic closing borders around the globe, Commey took his opportunity to get back to the United States in the hopes of getting a fight. It wouldn’t happen in the late-summer or fall of last year, but as winter rages in the Big Apple, the 33-year-old got the call for a February 13 matchup with the Dominican Republic’s Jackson Marinez on the Joe Smith Jr.-Maxim Vlasov card in Las Vegas. It’s a co-main event bout to be televised on ESPN, and with Marinez coming off a highly controversial loss to Rolando Romero last summer, it’s the perfect opportunity for Commey to put himself right back in the mix for a world title shot.
“Definitely I believe I’m gonna get a title shot once my comeback is successful,” he said. “I want to be a world champion again, but first I have to win this fight, and then we’ll see what the future holds.”
That’s a wise mindset to have, because without a win over Marinez, talk of another title shot is just that – talk. And a veteran like Commey doesn’t let his mouth do the talking when it comes to the business of boxing. It’s his fists that got him to the top in the first place, and he’s going to stick to that game plan, especially since being on the sidelines for over a year can produce some doubts.
“I think it’s good,” he said of the break from the ring. “But sometimes, laying back for a year is not really that good. You need to get in there. But let’s see. Whatever happens is good – I got in and I’m coming back, that’s the most important thing.”
It is, but what’s also important is that Commey isn’t coming back as a middleweight or with any other baggage many fighters bring with them after a long layoff. One look at him makes it clear that even though he didn’t fight in 2020, he was fight-ready.
“One thing about me, even if I’m not doing anything and I don’t have a fight scheduled, I don’t party, I don’t drink, I don’t do all those things,” he said. “I’m a laid-back person. Regardless, I still do a little bit of training – I run, I play football (soccer). So I’m always in shape and I’ll always be all right when the time comes for me to fight. Sometimes the only thing that makes me happy is playing football with my guys and training, and spending time with my wife, and that is what is the most important thing for me. Growing up, I didn’t really have the time to go here and go there – I’m not that kind of a person. I’m always laid back.”
Until fight time. Then he becomes a tenacious, power punching prizefighter who doesn’t stop throwing until the battle is won. That’s the style that made him a champion and that he hopes will make him one again. But there’s still work to be done and sacrifices to be made. Neither idea scares him because he’s been doing it for most of his life. It’s why Ghana will never abandon him, and while Richard Commey will keep punching.
“When I started this, people always doubted me, and when people doubt me, that gives me motivation,” he said. “I’m the kind of person, I believe in God and I know this is what God has given me, so I got to put my all into it.”