An Interview With Unbeaten Welterweight Ekow Essuman
By Chris Akers
Interviewing Ekow Essuman at a cafe in his hometown of Nottingham, it is immediately apparent how driven he is regarding his boxing career and how he regards the sport in a cerebral way. This does not come as a surprise.
As focused as he is on his career in the ring, he has also completed a degree in Marketing, ran a business and is involved with other ventures outside the sport that utilise boxing.
Coming to the UK from Botswana from the age of 11, a passion for sport started before ‘The Engine’ came to the UK.
“Growing up I was a bit of a chubby child. I was on the bigger side and it pushed me towards sports. I started in the swimming team for my school, as I used to live in Botswana. That actually helped me lose a lot of weight. It helped me trim down a bit. I got into sports like rugby and cricket whilst out there.
“When I eventually moved to the UK, I got into football and then basketball and I was doing really well at basketball. One season I went to some try-outs for a big team locally and I didn’t get in because I wasn’t fit enough. They wanted me to be more ambidextrous. It really got to me and I wanted to better myself, get fitter and come back stronger for the next season. One of my mates at the time suggested I go boxing. So I gave it a go and my first session, I had two left feet and struggled with the bag. I slowly got into it and it got to the point where I thought ‘I’ll have one bout’ and I just caught the bug.”
Before Essuman knew it, he was boxing in the ABAs, reaching the final twice (losing to Conor Loftus and Ben Fail) and was beating GB internationals while he was still a relative novice. This is what ultimately got him noticed and got him trials on the Team GB squad.
“Competing in the ABAs got me the trials onto Team GB which took about six months. Out of 40 boxers, I was the only one left, so I got their podium potential slot. I enjoyed travelling the world and boxing at various tournaments. I got various medals for GB.”
Alongside boxing for Team GB, Essuman did a Marketing, Design and Communications degree. Coping with doing the two side by side by his own admission was something else.
“Whilst I was on GB, I was at university and it was initially just juggling the two. I’d take my uni work with me to camp and do it while between the training sessions and at night when we were meant to be resting. Shortly after uni, I became a junior web developer for the A.G.A group. I was working on up to 40 websites for them at the time, in different countries, in different languages as well. I was doing that whilst at GB. But eventually when I got offered the podium spot, I had to put that to one side, as I was spending a lot of time with GB on camp, so I wouldn’t have been able to work from home in regards to web design.”
During his amateur career, he fought in the World Series of Boxing (WSB), an international tournament that allows amateur boxers to compete professionally while maintaining amateur status. Even as an amateur, Essuman’s style of boxing has, according to some, been more suited to the professional game.
“As an amateur, coaches always regarded my style as more of a professional style than an amateur point scoring style. They always used to mention how I started off weird for a boxer. By that I mean the first few rounds I wouldn’t be as fast as everyone else, but then later on in the fight I’d get my speed and my power, backwards to what everyone else does.
“The WSB did help prime me for the pros, but as much as it did, the WSB will always be amateur style boxing. Even though it’s five rounds, the amateurs still come out hell for leather and come out at a fast pace. So they will tire towards the end of the competitions. But within that, it did help me have a rough gauge of what it was like boxing extended rounds.
“But as a professional, it’s obviously different. you learn how to slow down the pace and to go through the gears when you need to.”
After losing out to the Olympic qualifying spot to Josh Kelly, Essuman decided that he did not want to stay on for another Olympic cycle and instead turned pro. Things were on the up at this point. Initially he signed with Frank Warren, though has now split with the Hall of Fame promoter.
“There wasn’t any harsh feelings on both sides. It was just for me and my manager a case of inactivity over a prolonged time and we needed to move on and keep active. As I always say, I’m not in boxing to mess around and just be a number. I want to make statements.”
One such statement was when he fought Andy Keates for the English title back in October 2018. It was a fight which, although he won his first title by TKO, he would grade his performance as a C.
“Not that I think I boxed crap. I came out and I was a bit too gung ho. I know I could have boxed him better, despite stopping him. The first few rounds, came out and because of our words before the fight we both wanted to go for it. So we were exchanging quite a bit. It actually worked in my favour. I’m called The Engine for a reason, so I started fast and he started to fade after round three. He didn’t have as much pup in his punches. He started to slow down and that’s when I enacted what I’d been working on with my coach, our strategy and tactics and got him out of there with a body shot.”
His next title defence was a voluntary against Tyrone Nurse and once again, his choice of opponent was all about making a statement.
“I wanted to send out a statement to people that I wasn’t really messing around and I defended it against a former British champion as I’m knocking on the door of the British. I defended my title again against my mandatory, which was Curtis Felix at the time. I stopped him last November in the eighth round. Since then, we have been pushing with the boxing board for a British eliminator or myself to be made mandatory, as I’ve already defended it against someone who was a British champion and I’ve defended it again to the mandatory. I’ve still not been given an eliminator yet. Obviously due to the way that things have happened with the current champion’s cut and healing from it and been given leeway to do that.
“However, it is making my progress stagnant. So we have pressed for something to be done with that and are currently waiting. I’m ranked number eight in the UK on Box Rec, number six or seven in Boxing News. I just got to keep my ranking up there and wait for my chance.”
While waiting for that chance, Essuman is willing to fight anyone in the British top ten.
“Also in the next few months, now that we are looking to be made mandatory for the British, I do have to look at all the other boxers in the top ten rankings and think about matches with them. There are various fighters. You have Chris Kongo vs Luther Clay in March. Obviously Josh Kelly I would love to fight him. Conner Benn’s in the mix as well.
“We’ve met before. We’ve touched the subject of fighting and he’s said he’s willing to fight everyone. I’d be right up for that chance. If we eve got made for a British eliminator of sorts, I would jump at that chance. Just in general, any boxers in the top ten ranking, I’m ready to give them smoke.”
In the meantime, he has other interests that keep him busy. Though him and his business partner had to put an end to a photo booth business, they are working on a scheme which demonstrates the way in which boxing can change lives outside of the ring.
“Right now, I am working in an intervention scheme with children in schools, who are on the brink of being expelled or being taken out of schools and into SEN (Special Educational Needs) schools. Myself and my business partner will work with those kids doing a six week boxing scheme, in which they get taken out of lesson once a week, when they do their directed studies as a prize for having done well during lessons during the week. We’ve ran that at one school and had very positive results. So we are looking to streamline it and take it to other schools.”
This is not the first time that Essuman has done work like this.
“Whilst I was on GB, I used to come to a local school here in Nottingham, the Bulwell Academy and I used to work with some of the students there, doing boxing with them and more mentoring as well.”
Having studied marketing is useful in a sport in which the most popular and more celebrated fighters are more likely to get a title shot. Boxers over the last few years have become much more savvy in how they promote, manage and in effect, commodify themselves. Lightweight Devin Haney having a promoter’s licence and cruiserweight Isaac Chamberlain starting his own promotional company after an endorsement deal are examples of this. Essuman has some interesting thoughts on how much better boxers can promoted themselves.
“Coming into professional boxing I was always told it’s a business. that you have to treat yourself as a business. Within all businesses you have to market yourself. As someone who’s done a graduate course in marketing I can tell you, it’s easy to market a product or something that’s already there.
“But to think about yourself as a product and to market yourself that way is harder than it seems. But saying that, in the current climate of boxing and the state of social media and how people can go viral, it is something that more people should look into because it’s a popularity contest so to speak. If you’re popular enough and you’re that much of a big draw, them promoters will more than likely be enticed to pick you up and put you on their shows.”
This leads onto his thoughts on the fights between YouTube personalities, which have garnered plenty of attention, yet seen as blasphemy by some within the sport, yet by Essuman can be used as events to learn from.
“Kudos to them. As the end of the day that is what boxing’s about. Two people fighting for prize money and you bring in your followers and they are willing to pay to watch it. We can take away from them in respect of doing more to push ourselves out there to different audiences, be it on social media, You Tube. It just about getting ourselves out there.”
Getting himself out there is one aspect of inspiration that Essuman looks at when inspired by other boxers.
“I just take from most boxers. As you said, Isaac Chamberlain went and sourced a sponsor from South Africa. Mayweather went and created his own promotions. You just have to take from most boxers and see what’s working and replicate it. Like myself, I always thought I try and use boxing to work as a platform for me to go into other things. I’ll always be in or there abouts in boxing, but use it to my advantage as well.”
As the interview ends, a group of students at the next table apologise for listening in, yet show a genuine interest, asking questions about Essuman’s time as an amateur with Team GB and his career as a professional. If he shows the same attitude and drive that has got him this far, it will not be long before more people will be interested in Ekow Essuman’s career.