Sports Features of Mon, 30 Apr 201815

Why does Ghana not recognize its own IBO world champ, GameBoy Tagoe?

On December 2, 2016, Ghana's Emmanuel 'Game Boy' Tagoe beat South Africa's Mzonke Fana in Accra to become the IBO lightweight world champion.

In theory, this victory made Tagoe the eighth boxing world champion from Ghana - emphasis on 'in theory'.

But, two years on, Isaac Dogboe's knockout of Jesse Magdaleno this weekend is rather being hailed unanimously as Ghana's eighth global triumph.

This begs the question: why is the unbeaten Tagoe (28-0) being not recognized by Ghanaians as a world champion despite being, well, a world champion?

The answer lies in the politics of the world's sanctioning bodies, leading to some being seen as more legitimate than others. Another key reason is the personality of the fighter himself. Gary Al-Smith explains.

The history

At the beginning of the 1960s, boxing - with Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier being poster boys, together with Ron Lyle, Earnie Shavers, Ken Norton, Jerry Quarry, Jimmy Young, Roy Williams and others - was enjoying its true golden age.

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It was important to establish credibility, and so all other titles evolved into two main sanctioning bodies - the World Boxing Association (WBA), and the World Boxing Council (WBC). These have come to be known as the 'originals'.

By the 1980s, the International Boxing Federation (IBF) and the World Boxing Organization (WBO) had joined the fray and were respected. The world now had four recognized title bodies.

But the sport, as it has always been, continued having disputes stemming from power, money and influence. These factors, just like in the early 1920s when so many bodies existed to crown different champions, led to more sanctioning groups springing up.

Key among them were the International Boxing Organization (IBO), the World Boxing Federation (WBF), the World Boxing Union (WBU) and others.

Legitimacy

The IBO, which is well-known, has constantly had to fight for its champions to be legitimized by the global boxing family since its founding in 1988.

Major broadcasters are reticent to bankroll fights under the US-based IBO, because hard-core boxing fans are always reluctant to pay to watch.

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It's the reason why Ghana's Tagoe is not receiving the recognition he probably feels he deserves. In fact, the Ghana Boxing Association (GBA) was forced to speak to the issue in January.

At a press conferene in Accra after Dogboe beat Cesar Juarez to become WBO interim super bantamweight champion, the GBA second vice president was asked how many world champions Ghana has currently.

Abraham Kotey Neequaye (pictured above, right) said: "We have one world champion, and that's Game Boy. This whole problem that we are having is that the title that Gameboy has is a lower sanctioning body, but it is also a world title. Yes, it is a world title. We have the WBC being the first [in order of rankings], then other titles follow."

In his position as a GBA official, it was no surprise that Neequaye recognized Tagoe as a title holder, but even he would admit that when Ghanaians are counting their true world champions, an IBO holder will not be one of them.

The IBO itself knows this, which is why they sometimes attach their belt to a very big fight. Last year, when Anthony Joshua defeated Wladimir Klitschko, the IBO gave the Brit their title in addition the IBF and WBC straps he won - even though Joshua did not really fight for that.

The personality

Another reason why Tagoe is not getting as much recognition is that in boxing, sometimes the belt one holds does not matter. But always, the man holding the belt does.

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In other words, if Dogboe were the holder of the IBO world championship, it is possible that despite the lower status of the belt as explained in this piece, Ghanaians would still have celebrated him.

As veteran broadcaster Joe Lartey famously said, "the man makes the belt, the belt does not make the man".

Tagoe, sadly, has a history of dubious boxing victories. His recent win against Fernando Saucedo was slammed by many enthusiats as a distasteful performance, where he spent more time showboating than concentrating.

His last five fights have also been against journeymen, which has made his quest to gain credibility among true boxing fans difficult. And finally, his frequent erratic behaviour and utterances do not help his image.

In February, he went as far as saying "I, Tagoe, I believe I am bigger than Azumah Nelson." That statement drew widespread condemnation, but he did not stop there.

After being urged to take his craft more seriously by GBA president Peter Zwennes, Tagoe accused the official of not "knowing anything about boxing".

Game Boy has been his own enemy, and he will do well to remember that the man makes the belt, if he really wants to feel the love of his countryfolk.

Ghana's eight champions

On Sunday morning, Dogboe's gutsy win in Philadelphia put him in exalted company of Ghana's greats. At 23, he's just become the youngest world boxing champion in the country's history.

The other recognized world champions of the soil are David 'DK Poison' Kotei, Alfred Kotey, Nana Yaw Konadu, Azumah Nelson, Ike Quartey, Joshua Clottey and Joseph Agbeko.

So, yes, Tagoe is indeed a world champion in theory. The reality is another matter.

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