Roy Ankrah – First African Commonwealth Boxing Champion and First Ghanaian National Boxing Coach
In October 1941, he was enlisted in the Gold Coast Regiment, but before leaving for Burma, he met Tiger Mumuni, the bantamweight Champion, and beat him for his title.
In Burma, Roy Ankrah was first a driver’s mate. He later became a driver mechanic. He went with the Gold Coast Expeditionary force to Calcutta, India. The ample time provided in India enables him to pick up his hobby -boxing. He participated in a junior boxing exhibition to entertain the troops.
Ankrah’s fistic achievement in the exhibition bout won praise from many, including Admiral Mountbatten, Commander-in-charge of Allied forces in the South-East Asian Command (SEAC).
When the tension reduced and fear of attacks from the Japanese Imperial Army abated, Admiral Mountbatten who was a boxing enthusiast gave orders for a championship competition to be organized among the troops. Ankrah topped the African group and at the final Champion of Champions held in Calcutta where the American, British, Indian and Chinese champions met, he emerged the Bantamweight champion. For his finesse in the ring, he was given the “Best Boxer of the Competition” award. Later he captured the SEAC bantam and featherweight titles in Burma. When the contingent finally returned home, he had to take on Kid Hesse, who in his absence had been wearing his featherweight belt.
The two boxers met at the old Polo the ground in July 1946. The terrific display of fistic work put up by both champion and challenger made the judges declared the fight a draw. In a rematch, the same year, Roy pummelled Kid Hesse into submission in the seventh round. He thus became the new y featherweight champion. He proceeded to Nigeria the following year and met Stoker Kid Parry for the West African featherweight title. He knocked Stoker out in the fourth round.
After that, he successfully defended his West Africa title against Billy Kotey, Young Panther, Battling Boyle, and Kid Hesse. With no contestant in the four (Fly, Bantam, Feather, Lightweight) titles he held, he decided to go to the United Kingdom. In his own words:
When I arrived in the UK, I was an unknown boxer. This was in spite of my great exploits in West Africa. Almost every manager I met showed great reluctance in taking me. After a great effort, George Quarshie, a friend who worked with a company engineering in Glasgow, got me in touch with Joe McKean, a man who had trained many lads and striven to produce a champion to no avail. McKean was not very keen on taking me at first but after trying me in the gym and extracting from me a firm s promise to produce my best, to which I assured him, “I will be your first champion”, he took me.
According to Ankrah, after he had spent a few weeks in Glasgow, McKean made good his promise by getting him a fight with George Lamont, a leading featherweight.
Though he was a last-minute substitute for that February 8, 1950 fight, he scored a technical knockout (TKO) victory. Zeke Brown, featherweight champion of Jamaica, was his next opponent. He fought him six days after his first fight and won on points. After that Le Show, Peter Morrison, Joe King, Danny Nangle, Louis Romero, and Tony Lombard came and fell one after the other. By November 7, 1950,
Roy Ankrah had had fifteen fights, ten of which he won by TKO, four on points, and disqualified in one.
The reason for which I was disqualified in that fight still beats my imagination. I had gone into the ring with Jim Morray, the Ireland Champion, for the first three rounds, I out-pointed and out-classed him.
Thirteen times I floored him and on each occasion, he got up. It was, however, obvious in the third round that Morray needed help. I approached the referee to stop the fight but he ignored me. When, thereafter, Morray went down the fourteenth time I decided to deliver a decisive and final blow.
Thus as he rose from the floor I hit him. The referee immediately stopped the fight and disqualified me. This absurd decision was fortunately criticized by the British Boxing Board of Control which also suspended the referee’s license.
The year 1951 started for Roy Ankrah with the successful demolition of three opponents. On March 4, he took on Johnny Molloy, the next contender to the British Empire Featherweight Champion. A unanimous points victory over Molloy put him in line to challenge Ronnie Clayton, the Commonwealth Featherweight champion, for his belt. This championship belt he captured on April 30, 1951.
Crowds of people lined the streets of Accra to welcome him when he came to show the title belt to the Prime Minister, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.
Determined to go beyond the Commonwealth title, Roy Ankrah continued. He fought six boxers in his bid to qualify to meet the World Featherweight Champion, Sandy Sadler. His final elimination contest was against Ray Famechon. Before a crowd of 30,000 at Nottingham, England, Roy fought hard, but he lost on points. This defeat had a telling effect on him and he wisely took Prime Minister Nkrumah’s advice to return home.
On his return home, in July 1955 he retired from boxing. Thereafter, he worked briefly with the Worker’s Brigade as a Coach and then with the Central Organisation of Sports (COS), assisting the then national boxing coach, a Briton by the name of Jack Roy. In 1960 Roy Ankrah was appointed to Parliament as the first Ghanaian boxing coach.
In that same year, he took the Black Bombers to the won a silver medal in the welterweight division. To date that medal remains the highest medal won by the country at an Olympic tournament.
Roy Ankrah also led the Black Bombers to the All Africa Games in Cairo, Egypt, in 1962. There the national boxing team won silver and three bronze medals. At the Peru Commonwealth Games, that same year, the superb skills of the Black Bombers won Ghana two bronze and the honor of being “the best boxing nation in the Commonwealth”. At the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964, Eddie Blay won a bronze medal. At the Commonwealth Games in Kingston in 1966, the Bombers again won three gold and two silver medals.
There is no doubt that in all these achievements by the Black Bombers, the skills taught by Roy Ankrah played a decisive role in the victories. His own boxing exploits had inspired such African boxers as Dick Tiger of Nigeria, David Kotei Poison, and Azumah Nelson of Ghana to strive for a place in the world boxing hall of fame.
In 1980, Roy finally retired from full-time coaching and got a post at the Greater-Accra Regional Sports Council as one of the Senior Boxing Coach. He also continued to handle and judge in international fights albeit, occasionally. For a long time, he was the only Ghanaian, ABC, Commonwealth, and WBC Referee/Judge. He was also an active member of the Ghana Boxing Association and the Dansoman Keep-fit Club.
Roy Ankrah died on May 26, 1995, at the age of 73. He was survived by his wife, Adelaide Adwoa Solomon, and five children: Veronica Amaney, Richard Nii Otoo, Naa Kwadwa, Amaney Dede, and Richard. Though it was his lifelong wish that one of his children follow his footsteps and exploits, none of his kids, however, has taken after him.