Habib Ahmed Ghana’s ‘lonely Spartan’ on the brink of greatness

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“I have an important message for Gilberto Ramirez. I am coming to America to take your title. I am going for the knockout. All of Ghana and all of my fans are going to be so proud, so happy. This is the opportunity I always wanted. I am taking Ramirez’s title with me to my homeland” Habib Mohammed declared boldely in an interview with Boxnation ahead of his showdown against WBO Super middleweight champion Gilberto Ramirez.

Ahmed’s cryptic talk of victory against Ramirez merely underlines a confidence which is second nature for fighters. Admitting defeat before a fight is considered sacrilegious in the world of pugilists. His status as an underdog is however not in doubt. Bookies believe Habib has “a better chance of becoming Ghana’s next president than winning this fight”. With a decent fight record of 25 victories out of 26 fights and a solitary draw, one would have given Ahmed more of a chance against his Mexican opponent. A closer look at the names on his list of victims and it becomes clear why the bookies think a political party should consider make him its flag bearer for the next elections.

His last five opponents have a combined record of 85-72-3. That’s an average of 17 wins, 14 losses per boxer.  Four of his 26 opponents had lost their last six fights before facing him. Numbers like that hardly inspire confidence. Also counting against him is his lack of international action. The only foreigner Ahmed has fought since joining the professional ranks is Nigerian Alani Sulaimon whose record currently stands at an unimpressive 13W-16L-4D(2KO’s). One wonders how Ahmed will cope under the bright lights at Corpus Christi in front of a massive, largely Mexican crowd.

play Ghana’s ‘lonely Spartan’ on the brink of greatness

 

Gilberto Ramirez is yet to fight the very best in the super middleweight division. Arthur Abraham and Jesse Hart are some of the notable names he’s shared the ring with. Victories against Giovanni Lorenzo and Fulgencio Zuniga prior to facing two-division champion Abraham for the world title cannot be overlooked. The Mexican has an impressive 36-0 (24 KO’s) record. His 10 fights in the US since 2013 and the huge Hispanic population should give him a respectable following too. The Super middleweight division has some of the toughest guys the sport has to offer. James Degale holds the IBF strap. George Groves has the WBC belt with Chris Eubank Junior in possession of the less regarded IBO title.

Which brings me to why Top Rank will bypass the big names in the 168 lbs division for an unknown Ghanaian who comes into this fight with very little beyond the hope of an unlikely upset? They deserve commendation however for choosing Ahmed who is ranked 4th on the WBO ranking. It is worth noting that this fight is a voluntary defense for Ramirez and the quality of opponent could have been worse given how voluntary challenges have in recent times been used as a tool to avoid tricky mandatory opponents. As a Ghanaian I’m thrilled that Habib Ahmed has this fantastic opportunity but boxing fans would rather see a showdown between Ramirez and either one of Groves, Degale and Eubank.

On paper this fight is a mismatch but Ghanaian fighters have been underestimated before. Joshua Clottey was the underdog against Zab Judah despite all analysis pointing to Judah not having the endurance to see through a 12 rounder. Joseph Agbeko’s shock victory against then champion Luis Alberto Perez to win the IBF bantamweight title in 2007 is another example of how Ghanaian boxers regularly rise to the occasion when the odds are against them. But we’ve also seen fighters with no experience on an international level unable to swim to safety when taken into eep waters in fights against a boxer of Ramirez’s caliber.

If Habib wants a blueprint to stun the Mexican and write his name into Ghanaian boxing folklore it was provided by Jesse Hart in the Mexican’s last fight. Victory will not surprise me unless it comes on the score cards for Ahmed. At 6′ 2½″ Ramirez is an expert at fighting from a distance, aided by his superior 191cm reach. Ahmed’s best shot will be to take the fight to the Mexican and fight up-close on the inside considering his 5′ 8″ height. He can ill afford to maintain a distance for too long. Ramirez has not made the mistake of underestimating his opponent noting that the Ghanaian“is an undefeated fighter with a good knockout record. He is fighting outside of his home country for the first time and that makes him a very dangerous fighter. He knows that he has a great opportunity in front of him”. It could make things a little difficult for Ahmed if the Mexican means what he’s said. Favorite or underdog however, a boxer always has a punchers chance in the ring. That fact cannot be ignored.

 

In a couple of weeks where boxing has dominated the Ghanaian media space, the silence around this fight been disappointingly deafening despite its magnitude. Ghana will have a proper world champion if Habib achieves the unlikely but it doesn’t seem to tickle the fantasy of a country that prides itself on the achievement of its boxers. Support has been non-existent for Habib but maybe his spartan confidence can get him into the global picture even if he comes up short.

The odds are against him in every department of this fight. But the odds were against him in 2012 when he was knocked down by a car while walking home after training from the Accra Sports stadium. It put to bed his Olympic dream. He sustained a broken hip, underwent surgery and has risen to the threshold of greatness.

His ring walk for this world title match up will no doubt be a long, lonely affair but unlike Spartan king Leonidis, who had 300 hundred men when he marched to war against the Persian “god-King” Xerxes and his invading army of more than 300,000 soldiers, Habib Ahmed is likely to see only his corner men when he looks outside the ring for inspiration. The odds may be stuck against him but you can never tell the depths of a man’s heart, can you?

 

By Hans Mensah Andoh

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