It’s a journey that has taken him from Ghana through the UK, Australia, Switzerland and the US, and while the US and a world championship belt appeared to be his destination, Isaac Dogboe has set himself on a new journey- to attempt a feat never achieved by an African boxer.
Africa has produced 52 individual world champions who have held 75 world titles. This list contains every WBC, WBA (regular and super), WBO, IBF & interim belt winners from Africa since the sanctioning bodies were founded, excluding the pre-WBA era, when it was called the NBA. Eight of these individuals have come from Ghana with notable names being Azumah Nelson and Ike Quartey. The eight Ghanaian world champions have held 13 world titles. Ghana only comes second to South Africa who have produced 29 world champions accounting for 40 world titles.
Isaac Dogboe is one of just four Africans holding a world title and the only man on the continent in possession of one outside of South Africa, but all of this doesn’t matter to the young champion. For him becoming a Pay Per view star puts him above anything seen in African boxing.
“I believe I can be a champion in five weight divisions. And be the first pay-per-view star from Africa”. he insists. The two ambitions may be linked because titles in five weight classes would almost guarantee him PPV status but Dogboe seems more focused on the latter. In his mind becoming a multi division champion is a means to pushing himself onto Pay Tv in the US and indeed globally.
What is Pay-per-view?
Commonly used to distribute combat sports events, such as boxing and mixed martial arts, Pay-per-view (PPV) is a type of pay television service where a subscriber can purchase an event to view via private broadcast. The “Thrilla in Manila” fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in September 1975 introduced pro boxing to the concept. The fight sold 500,000 pay-per-view buys on HBO. When Roberto Durán defeated Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980 about 155,000 customers paid to watch the fight.
In simple terms, Isaac Dogboe wants to be such a huge star attraction that boxing enthusiasts, largely non Ghanaian, will pay to watch his fights on TV.
What does it take?
In a November 2015 Sports Business Journal article former HBO PPV chief Mark Taffet identified seven factors that set apart PPV “megastars”:
1. In-ring style – this goes to being an action fighter with the intent to KO an opponent in every fight
2. Out-of-ring persona – Likable but also someone that sets themselves apart from the rest.
3. Natural rivalries – this refers to fighters in the same weight class, or in a division close to their own.
4. Demographics – this refers to the fighter being able to be identified with a particular group or audience.
5.Media/technology – the ability to use social media to build followers and then monetize the opportunity.
6.Intent – the desire to build a fan base as their career grows
7.“It” factor – An undefined intangible, that Taffet states usually takes the form a storyline that is “unique and memorable.”
Isaac Dogboe undoubtedly ticks categories 1,2 and 7. His all action style is exactly what boxing fans love to see and will be willing to pay for. Also his compelling story of grass to grace, recently telling the BBC of how he and his father had to sleep in the gym for four months in the US because they had no where to lay their heads is one that will surely endear him to people. He’s yet to establish a proper rivalry but that pales into insignificance compared to the controversy surrounding his identity. Dogboe was born in Ghana but left to join his father in the UK at the age of 7. He’s often spotted apparels with both the Ghanaian flag and British Union Jack. That Dogboe is Ghanaian is without question but there appears a certain reluctance to emphasise same. It makes commercial sense to align with Britain than Ghana for a boxer who holds PPV ambitions. For starters, his big fight won’t happen in Ghana. They will happen in the US or the UK, and if he needed an audience to buy his fights on pay Tv they’re likely to be British than Ghanaian. He doesn’t hide the fact that he’s a Ghanaian but also refuses to say he’s not British. He identifies with both Ghana and Britain, and this can be problematic.
The pound for pound ranking has been described as mythical but its importance cannot be overemphasised, especially where a boxer has PPV ambitions. The concept takes a fighter’s skill set and ability and distil it down to a per-single-pound measurement. It is used in combat sports to rate the very best fighters. It attempts to establish the best if you compare fighters without recourse to their weight classes. It is impossible to be a PPV star without a pound for pound rating. Becoming a pound for pound rated fighter requires an incredible amount of consistency against top opponents.
Pay-per-view is the gold standard for boxing as it generates the most revenue in this sport. There are several boxers that can attain this status. The question is how to build these boxers into superstars. Dogboe’s father and trainer Paul has made a world champion of his son. He may even make him a five division world champion but making a PPV star goes beyond training a fighter.
It requires people who understand the commercial side of the sport. One of such persons is Stephen Espinoza, Vice president of television network ShowTime.
“Personally, my theory is that the three biggest pay-per-view stars of my lifetime were all a direct result of demographic and societal shifts,” Espinoza said in an interview with Sports Business Daily. “Mike Tyson’s rise coincided with the birth and growth of hip-hop culture. Oscar [De la Hoya]’s rise coincided with the recognition of the economic power of the Latino demographic. Floyd’s coincided with social media.”
“Not that they didn’t play a role in it. Floyd, for example, took advantage of social media better than any athlete has.” Espinoza added.
Social media influence is a prerequisite for anybody who dreams of global recognition or stardom. Dogboe has a Facebook following of 23,944 as at this morning. Even more telling is the fact that the youngest Ghanaian boxing world champion has an unverified twitter account. His social media numbers do not look great-a major draw back in his quest for PPV stardom. How can he garner the numbers that allows him to headlines a major promotion if he cannot command a healthy number on social media? He may be a work in progress but the problem is the rate of that progress. It looks slow on social media at the moment and that has to change to give the PPV dream a boost.
Lack of star opposition
Dogboe’s opponent for tonight’s showdown is a decent boxer. Emmanuel Navarette is ranked number 2 by the WBO and is without ranking from the other sanctioning bodies. He has nothing over Isaac Dogboe except his reach and rich Mexican boxing heritage. They say styles make fights, and while he may not be the sort of name that grabs attention, he could make this fight exciting and throw a bit of light in Dogboe’s direction depending of his performance.
In all fairness to Dogboe however, it is through no fault of his that his appearance in the pound for pound ranking may take a bit of time and lead to a delay of his dream. The Super Bantamweight division doesn’t possess star quality. The few recognisable names come in the shape of former WBO champion Jesse Magdaleno, the undefeated Diego de la Hoya whose popularity owes more to his illustrious cousin Oscar than anything he’s shown in the ring and WBC title holder Rey Vargas. The only fight that would push Dogboe’s PPV agenda is a unification bout against Vargas. The remaining option is to make the jump to Featherweight and chase the likes of Leo Santa Cruz and Carl Frampton who have a bit more stardust. Further up to Super Featherweight and Lightweight would represent the ultimate risk, with success offering a guarantee for pound for pound rating and maybe the chance to headline a major promotion on a big television network. He must however go through guys like Gervonta Davis, Mickey Garcia and Vasyl Lomachenko. It’s a risk that could get him closer to his dream but it could also erase all the gains he’s made. Going down this route at this moment would be kissing his career goodbye.
What are the chances?
Isaac Dogboe’s chance of becoming the fist pay-per-view star from Africa look thin. He must play the waiting game, fighting boxers without the star quality to further his ambition, while he waits and prepares for the bigger fishes that will nourish his dreams. Like a gladiator of ancient Rome, he must fight his way out of the dark pits onto the shining sands of the Colosseum. Within the context of his stated ambition, these are truly dark times for Isaac Dogboe. But without the dark, would we ever see the stars at their brightest?