Ghana’s Isaac ‘Royal Storm’ Dogboe (18-0, 12 KOs) takes on Jessie Magdaleno (25-0, 18 KOs) for the WBO Super Bantamweight title in the USA this weekend.
The fight, which will be live on ESPN to a global audience, will be Dogboe’s first attempt at a world title, but 26-year old Magdaleno’s second title defense. The stakes couldn’t be higher for Ghana boxing.
On April 28, Dogboe takes a step into the unknown; a step that could herald the beginning of a career that has so far seen him rack up 18 victories from as many fights. He takes on Magdaleno, who used to be his former sparring partner, at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia.
Big PPV dreams
Thirty-six years ago at the Madison Square Garden, Azumah Nelson made a name for himself, despite being defeated. He was beaten by Salvador Sanchez, but he left that arena with his reputation flying.
Dogboe harbors an ambition to become a Pay-Per-View star. In simple terms, he wants to be such a huge star attraction that enthusiasts will pay to watch his fights on TV. The last bonafide PPV star was Floyd Mayweather, whose fights regularly earned him hundreds of millions of dollars. For instance, his May 2015 bout with Pacquaio raked in 4.6 million PPV buys, and revenue of over $400 million.
According to Leornard Ellerbe, CEO of Mayweather Promotions, “you don’t become a PPV attraction overnight. It takes years of making things happen. There are many factors, and few have succeeded. If it was easy, anybody could do it. Most have no clue how difficult it is. [There’s a] big difference [in] being a star in boxing and having star power.”
Being a PPV star requires people who understand the commercial side of the sport. One of such persons is Stephen Espinoza, Vice president of television network ShowTime.
“Personally, my theory is that the three biggest pay-per-view stars of my lifetime were all a direct result of demographic and societal shifts,” Espinoza said in an interview with Sports Business Daily. “Mike Tyson’s rise coincided with the birth and growth of hip-hop culture. Oscar [De la Hoya]’s rise coincided with the recognition of the economic power of the Latino demographic. Floyd’s coincided with social media.”
“Not that they didn’t play a role in it. Floyd, for example, took advantage of social media better than any athlete has. But in each case, these huge stars were boosted by societal and cultural changes that gave the additional wind to their sails in terms of making them megastars. As much as people like to make it look like science and take credit for it, there is a significant amount of luck in the star-building process,” Espinoza added.
Dogboe’s PPV ambition may sound unrealistic, going by these insights.
But maybe, just maybe, beating Magdaleno and/or putting up a spectacular performance will be the beginning of turning this pipe dream into a beautiful reality. It’s possible he can lose, but Azumah’s story tells us that how he loses could be key.
The run up to this fight has also seen Paul Dogboe, father and trainer of the Ghanaian boxer, make some incendiary racially-tinged remarks. “We are focused and our only mission is to devour him, eat the crazy chicken, throw him over the wall of Mexico and present the title to Donald Trump!”
Trash talking is deeply rooted in the sport of boxing, but this was over the top. Reference to the Mexican wall and President Trump will irk the huge Mexican population who will surely turn up in their numbers to see the fight and rally against the 23-year old Ghanaian.
The atmosphere will be hostile for team Dogboe, and even though Paul has apologised for the remark, there’s no denying that those comments will fire up Magdaleno, who would want to ‘defend the honor’ of his compatriots. At this politically sensitive time of a Trump administration that’s pushing for radical immigration reform, the Latino community could do with a statement in the ring by Magdaleno.
No fighter from these parts has ever had to fight the very soul of Mexican pride like Dogboe would.
There’s also the small matter of what happened when Dogboe sparred Magdaleno in 2014. The Mexican southpaw’s corner pulled their man out after four rounds, despite scheduling a 10 round session, if the story from the Dogboe camp is anything to go by. Magdaleno has since won six fights, including an impressive unanimous decision over former multiple world champion Nonito Donaire.
The Mexican’s camp have never disputed the claims regarding the two boxers’ sparring session, but whatever ensued four years ago will be of little relevance this weekend. Fighters evolve, and four years is a very long time. Forget the past, team Dogboe must walk in the now.
Dogboe ain’t Zoom Zoom
Over the years, comparisons to Azumah Nelson are many – and often misplaced.
Isaac Dogboe has managed to strike a bond with Ghanaians in a manner that evokes memories of the former great. But he is not Azumah, not by a long shot.
Not in style, not in skill, and not in heart.
“Azumah became a world champion during a very trying moment in Ghana’s history; a period when the fortunes of our country had declined to dangerous levels and drastic measures had to be taken to turn the tide and bring Ghana back to its rightful position on the continent.” according to former President Jerry John Rawlings.
But there certainly are similarities in the way Dogboe carries Ghana with him wherever he goes. That, perhaps, is the only trait the two men share. Nelson’s impact transcended the sport of boxing. He restored a sense of belief in a nation that was reeling from the effects of years of political instability; helped a people trying to pick the pieces, and was an emotionally ladder as they charted a new social, economic and political course.
Dogboe’s immediate challenge in his quest to attain the status of a national hero begins with redeeming Ghana boxing.
Carrying the weight of a failed boxing nation
Ghana’s standing as a global boxing powerhouse, built on the back of world titles won by the likes of D.K.Poison, Nana Yaw Konadu, Ike Quartey, Joshua Clottey and, of course, Azumah, has plummeted in recent years. This is partly due to the failure of Ghanaian boxers to find themselves in world title match ups.
The most recent examples are Maxwell Awuku, who lost to Miguel Berchelt in a WBC super featherweight title and Habib Ahmed, who was stopped by Gilberto Ramirez in round 6 of their WBO super middleweight contest.
Richard Commey lost out to Robert Easter Jnr in his bid to annex the IBF lightweight title, and although he’s managed to earn himself a rematch there’s no denying Ghana boxing needs redemption. In Dogboe, Ghanaians see a messiah who will bring back the glory days.
Such is the belief in the rising star to salvage what remains of the country’s boxing credentials. Losing is not an option, and whether he can carry that burden will mark him out as a great.
This fight forms the foundations upon which Dogboe will build his career. The strength of those foundations depend as much on the performance as the outcome.
The odds will be heavily against him, but the Royal Storm must believe that he can win…even in defeat.