In Ghana’s capital city, Accra, on its outskirts, lies a small town called Bukom. Bukom is known for two things, fishing and fighting. Children at a very early age learn to fight. As they mature, fighting turns into boxing and ultimately dreams of escaping poverty by boxing in the “White man’s land.” These dreams for some former Bukom residents have indeed become reality on a worldwide scale. Bukom boasts some of the world’s best boxers, including World Champions like DK Poison and Azumah Nelson.
It is against this backdrop that critically acclaimed British-Ghanian Producer and Director George Amponsah films what is nothing short of a beautiful and clever documentary “The Fighting Spirit” which tells the stories of a new generation of Bukom boxers looking to make their town, country and continent proud, and most importantly get out of poverty.
At 22years, George ‘Red Tiger’ Ashie is the youngest of the four boxers in documentary. Ashie is at once driven, witty, funny, egotistical and both mature and immature. Like any young man, he wants the fame, the money, power and respect. Amponsah builds up excitement in “The Fighting Spirit” showing Ashie’s compassion and cockiness by way of his interactions with his girlfriend and his coach, coach Alloway-a central character in the documentary. Ashie fights his way to the United Kingdom (UK) and prepares to fight Britain’s Kevin Mitchell (ranked in the world top ten) for the Commonwealth title. We discover the UK through Ashie’s eyes, his inspirations and of course see him in the ring. Does he win? Does he eventually change once in the limelight? How does his experience in the white man’s land affect his relationships with Coach Alloway? His girlfriend?
Transitioning smoothly from Ashie, Amponsah introduces yet to another intriguing personality in the ‘Fighting Spirit.” Her name is Yako ‘Chavez, Ghana’s 1st lady of boxing-dubbed ‘Chavez’ by her fans after the legendary Mexican fighter Julio Cesar Chavez. Chavez is the only female boxer training in the all boys squad. Her motivation beyond being wealthy and escaping poverty for training is to protect herself from domestic violence and rape, especially in a “you are on your own” place like Bukom. Unlike her male colleagus fighting, Chavez has been unable to make money from boxing. Determined to follow her passion for fighting, Chavez supplements her income through selling clothing and accessories and hair styling.
Chavez is always ready for a fight but is that what it will take for her to be successful. She also needs a manager and an opportunity to fight in the USA and Europe. Does she get there?
Captivating his audience with these three characters, Amponsah introduces two more, the Clottey brothers. Both are world championship contenders. They have made enemies in England where they fought for a year before relocating to the USA. Amponsah focuses on Joshua Clottey. According to Joshua, in the USA, there is simply no respect for African boxers. It is an issue of discrimination not racism because Black boxers are highly respected and valued. Joshua is managed by Vinnie Scolpino a rather interesting character and prepares for a world title that he hopes to bring home to Ghana. What happens? Does Joshua win his title?
The “Fighting Spirit” documentary is fun as much as it is philosophical. It’s cultural value and experience to the viewer is delightful and engaging. It is real, raw and beautifully juxtaposes the African traditional religious beliefs with that of Western traditions. It is a story of pursuing your dreams i.e. ‘husting,’ getting there and realizing, “maybe it is not exactly how I thought it would be after all.” It is a story of wanting all the things money can buy, sampling it and realizing maybe the simple things in life aren’t so bad.