Two punching bags hang from aluminum pipes of the unventilated former cellphone store. In the center of the room is a boxing ring, constructed from plywood. The words “no pain no gain” are sprawled across the tangerine colored wall. Men in their mid-twenties emerge from the dark changing room dressed in colorful athletic wear. Silent, they begin routinely swinging neutral colored jump ropes, their feet barely leaving the ground. Light pours in from the glassless windows exposing the sweat leaking from their temples.
This is Attoh Quarshie Boxing Gym. The gym is located in the heart of Jamestown in Accra, Ghana and boasts the production of national and world boxing champions, including Joshua Clottey, a world champion, Felix Williams, a World Boxing Federation and World Boxing League Featherweight champion, and Samuel Yaw Addo, a national champion. Their head coach, Vincent Nettui, leans against the wall surveying the twenty fighters. A schoolboy carries in a red, plastic bucket filled with refilled water bottles and places them in the corner.
Nettui and his staff manage the 14 by 28 feet gym themselves. Attoh Quarshie is open to all fighters, within a reasonable age.
“If they’re just starting in their early 30s it’s just too late.” Nettui said.
However, recruited fighters are given specialized training. Nettui labels coaching as voluntary work. Although boxing in Jamestown is not a lucrative profession, it gives fighters and coaches the opportunity of a lifetime: travel.
“Boxing is a sport in which you can see the world.” said Nettui after recounting his trips to England, Germany, Italy, and Brazil, which were made possible through coaching.
The opportunity doesn’t come easy. The fighters train at least two times a day. Equipment is limited as well as space. The small gym is packed with aspiring world champions.
“Everyone in Jamestown is tough,” said Attoh Quarshie’s Felix Williams, who moved from Nigeria to Jamestown for boxing. Williams holds an impressive record of 24-1. “The difference between a loser and a world champion is grit.”
As Williams speaks a boxer emerges from the changing room. His body is covered in black trash bags, secured with silver duct tape. His breaths are pained as begins to jump rope. A small pool of sweat builds beneath his gold sneakers. He stares at the peeling paint on the concrete wall, not daring to stop.