ROY ANKRAH (1923-1995)
First African Commonwealth Boxing Champion and First Ghanaian National Boxing Coach
On April 30, 1951, before a crowd of over 30,000 people at Empress Hall, Earls Court, London, a black man entered the ring to vie for the British Empire featherweight title.
For well over eleven rounds in which Clayton, the Champion, “essayed every hint and every tactic that the critics have suggested would stop the Gold Coast fighter”, the challenger still continued to fight gallantly. Then came the bell for the twelfth and last round and into the middle of the ring Roy Ankrah stepped with determination to end the fight. For well over two minutes the boxers fought toe to toe.
Then came a wicked right from the challenger and onto the canvass went the champion. He beat the count of nine and attempted to get up. Another right hook of Roy, however, sent him to sleep. The fight was over; Roy Ankrah had won and thus become the first African to win the British Empire featherweight belt, the first African to win a British Empire (Commonwealth) boxing championship belt.
The lightning non-stop attacks which characterized Roy’s fight earned him the name “Black Flash”. Others called him the “fighting Octopus” on account of his persistent moving that gave him the appearance of his having eight arms. Others called him the “Black Tornado” on account of his whirlwind success in Britain. But his real name was John Theophilus Otoo Ankrah (Junior), affectionately called Roy Ankrah.
He was born on Christmas day in 1923 to John Theophilus Otoo Ankrah and Mary Ayorkor Bruce Ankrah (Jnr). His mother died very early in life and so he was fostered by an aunt, Akuma Bruce. From the aunt’s house, he started schooling in 1931 at the Government Junior Boys’ School, James Town, Accra. From there he proceeded to the Government Senior Boys’ School (now at Kinbu) also in Accra. In school and his community, Ankrah became noted as a natural boxer and often emerged as a victor in street brawls.
This continued until one day a boy in his Bukom vicinity gave him a whipping of his life, leaving him a battered red face and mouth. He vowed to seek but later got to know that his conqueror used to take boxing lessons at Surpriser Sowah’s gym in Accra. He, therefore, decided to train as a boxer before seeking revenge. revenge
After one workout at the gym, he returned home with a battered face, to meet the scolding of his aunt: “My son, if you want to become a boxer you must learn the games well and become a first-class boxer and not allow people to be battering your face like that”. According to Roy Ankrah, this challenge spurred him on to take more seriously his training at the gym.
At the age of 12, he became the champion at the Eastern region inter-elementary School boxing competition held in Accra that year. In those days Greater Accra was part of the Eastern Region.
On obtaining the Standard Seven certificate after a year’s remedial course at the Methodist Senior Boys School at Adabraka, he entered the apprenticeship of his Uncle, Martey Armah, as an auto-mechanic. There he swapped spanners for gloves when the day’s work was done.
Roy turned professional in 1934. His first fight took place under the auspices of the Acam syndicate. His opponent was Jimmy Borland. The 17-year-old Ankrah won on points after six rounds. After he won a few other fights, the Gold Coast Boxing Board of Control, in appreciation of his progress in the game, matched him against Zulu Kid in a final elimination bout for the flyweight championship of the Gold Coast. The fight ended in utter confusion and so no verdict was announced.