Ike Quartey: He who laughs last laughs best

BY Robert Mladinich ON November 17, 2005
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Although the press conference to announce former WBA welterweight champion Ike “Bazooka” Quartey’s December 3 battle against Carlos “El Elegante” Bojorquez of Mexico on the televised pay-per-view undercard of Jermain Taylor-Bernard Hopkins II in Las Vegas was held at New York City’s World Famous Laugh Factory comedy club on November 15, Quartey and his promoter Lou DiBella insist that the fight is no laughing matter.

At the media event, where in deference to Quartey’s unique nickname all the scribes were given several pieces of Bazooka bubble gum, Quartey, who will turn 36 on November 27, made clear that his comeback after a five-year hiatus was not to fight the Bojorquez’s of the boxing world.

Although Bojorquez boasts a respectable record of 25-7-6 (21 KOs) that includes a victory over Pernell Whitaker, he is being viewed by the Quartey camp as nothing more than a tune-up for more lucrative rematches against Oscar De La Hoya, Fernando Vargas, both of whom hold decision victories over Quartey, Winky Wright and Shane Mosley.

“No disrespect to Bojorquez, who would be a legitimate test against anybody, but Ike didn’t come back to beat guys like him,” said DiBella. “He wants to fight only the elite of the division. He will make a statement by knocking Bojorquez out, and then calling out all the big names in the division.”

DiBella explained that Quartey, 36-2-1 (30 KOs), who just five months ago beat the always tough and resilient former IBF junior middleweight champion Verno Philips by unanimous decision on HBO, is looking to place himself in the center of the junior middleweight sweepstakes by staying busy against somewhat formidable opposition.

“If anyone drops out of the upcoming Vargas-Mosley fight, Ike would be ready to jump in as a replacement on a moment’s notice—or he would be happy to fight the winner,” said DiBella. “And De La Hoya is scheduled to fight Mayorga. With Mayorga’s history of getting in trouble and disappearing, Ike would be ready to step in there too. Of course, he would be happy to fight the winner of that bout as well.

“Ike’s goal is to get one last shot at De La Hoya, Vargas or Mosley, the guys who are perceived to be the stars at 154 [pounds],” continued DiBella. “We had even looked at Winky Wright but were only offered $150,000, which we laughed at. That was an insult. If the right money is on the table, Ike will fight anybody.”

ShoBox television analyst Steve Farhood sees no reason why Quartey can’t pick up where he left off at the time of his initial 2000 retirement, after controversial back-to-back losses to De La Hoya and Vargas.

“Ike is a respectable name in boxing, and a respectable name will always get you somewhere,” said Farhood. “People talk about his inactivity during his five-year retirement, but he was relatively inactive even when he was still active.

“Does he deserve a big fight? Why not? At this time an argument could be made that Mosley and Vargas are past their primes. And you can’t help but wonder if Oscar really wants to fight anymore. [Former IBF junior middleweight titlist]  Kassim Ouma turned out to not be as good as we thought he was, so there is really no dominant force at 154 pounds. Ike could step in and become that dominant force. He has as good a shot as anyone right now.”

“My comeback is to prove to the world that I am for real,” said Quartey. “I am not doing this for the money. I am doing this because I love boxing and still have a lot to offer.

More than anything, I want to beat De La Hoya and cement my legacy. That is my ultimate goal.”

In February 1999, Quartey lost a close split decision to De La Hoya in a bout that saw both fighters on the canvas. A year later he lost a unanimous decision to Vargas, and hung up the gloves, presumably for good, at the relatively young age of 29.

He returned to his native Accra, Ghana, where he is a member of the Ga tribe of warriors, which also includes such boxing luminaries as Azumah Nelson, Alfred Kotey and Ben Tackie. He promoted local boxing events and utilized his vast fortune to invest in real estate and build a hospital and a hotel. He also got to spend invaluable time with his wife Barbara and two children.

However, after a few years he grew restless and approached DiBella, with whom he always had a good relationship when DiBella was an HBO executive, about embarking on a return to the ring. His first comeback bout was held in January 2005, when Quartey knocked out American Clint McNeil, who was 15-7 (9 KOs) going into the fight, in the eighth round in front of thousands of hometown fans in Accra.

“That fight was a national event in Ghana,” said DiBella. “I had kept in touch with Ike for years, and he said he would never fight again unless his hunger returned. He called me in 2004 and said he got his desire back, but he wanted to begin his comeback at home.

“This guy doesn’t do anything half-[way],” continued DiBella. “He is a very intelligent and thoughtful young man who is not doing it for the money. He genuinely wants to finish up a career that he walked away from the first time because he was disappointed and disillusioned. He is a very young 35, and has come back for all the right reasons.”

Quartey is currently training in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, at a gym run by former boxer, and Lennox Lewis protégé, Harold “Shadow” Knight. He looks to be in superb physical condition—and gives off an aura of a man genuinely at peace with himself. The Quartey of old was much more surly, abrasive and impatient with reporters.

“Everything is falling into place, and next year will be a very good year for Ike,” said his longtime trainer Danny Odamatten. “This is Ike’s time, and by this time next year he will be world champion. Of that, I, nor he, have no doubt.”

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