When Ghana’s Richard Commey took on Russia’s Isa Chaniev in Texas on Saturday night (Feb. 2), many Ghanaians stayed up watching the bout into the wee hours of Sunday. But nowhere was it watched as keenly as in his hometown of Jamestown in Accra.
In Jamestown and its immediate surroundings, fisticuffs are not discouraged, it’s a way of life according to Azumah Nelson, three-time world champion and one of Africa’s most celebrated boxers. ‘The Professor’, as he is nicknamed is one of six world champions Ghana has produced, five of whom have come from the Jamestown district. They include Ike Quartey, who held the WBA welterweight title between 1994 and 1998 and Joshua Clottey, who in 2008 won the IBF Welterweight title.
Three out of the Ghana’s four Olympic medals have come from boxing. There has been some speculation that this relatively small part of Accra produces champions in the ring thanks to genetics. But it’s probably also because of the neighborhood’s active boxing culture.
In Jamestown, one is never far away from a boxing gym equipped with locally-made weights and dumbbells. “I remember hearing the sounds of the boxers training, the vibrations on the floor were very strong so I entered and I saw the boys of all ages training,” says Antoine Jonquière, the French photographer behind ‘Pride of Ussher’, a new photo exhibition that has opened in Jamestown. “It was very visually interesting for me as a photographer—the colors, the textures, the people, the faces, the work, it was extremely powerful,” he says.
For two months, Jonquière, whose work specializes in social documentary and portraiture, traversed over 20 gyms in Jamestown and nearby Ussher Town photographing training sessions. Pride of Ussher celebrates the proud boxing roots here and the future champions that will almost certainly come out of this part of Accra.
“I think what links all these images is the the complete love and respect the people show for the sport. It is a serious thing here, it is not just a game…they don’t do it just for fun, they do it out of complete passion,” says Jonquière.
But Jamestown is a paradox and boxing is more than a sport for the young boys that spend several hours a day sparring in the gyms. Situated next to high rise office complexes, Jamestown is one of the poorest communities in the city and evidence that the country’s economic gains and new wealth have not trickled down. Pugilism is the ticket out of Jamestown, away from the poverty, unemployment and absence of opportunity. It is also a way to redeploy the energies of the youth away from vices.
A new boxing arena built by the government in the community means more can make a living out of boxing locally even if they don’t reach the bright lights of Las Vegas. But for now, the goal of the subjects in Jonquière’s photos is the medal podium at the Tokyo 2020 Games.
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