The writer - Brig. Gen. Dan Frimpong (Rtd)
The writer - Brig. Gen. Dan Frimpong (Rtd)
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Pyrrhic victory?

In the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh on Sunday, May 19, 2024, Ukrainian heavyweight boxer Oleksandr Usyk beat Britain’s Tyson Fury to join the elite ranks of undisputed heavyweight champions. 

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By this victory, which brought him the World Boxing Council (WBC) crown, Usyk joins the likes of Floyd Patterson, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Mike Tyson and most recently Lennox Lewis in 2007, who have won all four classifications of the heavyweight division.

The other three are the International Boxing Federation (IBF), World Boxing Authority (WBA) and the World Boxing Organisation (WBO). Savouring Usyk’s victory, a happy colleague posted, “I really enjoy seeing underdogs defy the odds and prove sceptics wrong.”

However, from the massive injuries on Usyk’s face and the report that he was stretchered to the hospital with a broken jaw after the fight, it is obvious that victory did not come easily. Indeed, so hard was the 2-1 split decision from the judges that, Usyk will be the first to admit that his victory could quality for the description “Pyrrhic!”

So, what is a pyrrhic victory? Before that, the last time I boxed competitively was in the Ghana Military Academy in 1972 as an officer- cadet.

Novices boxing

As junior cadets, one of the early events we were required to undertake was the “Novices Boxing” Competition. The senior cadets warned/intimidated us that boxing was a test of one’s endurance and could contribute to determining one’s suitability to continue with the training.

We were told anecdotes of how boxing brilliantly had earned cadets tickets for further training abroad while others had been sacked for losing miserably. With these stories, we were all fired with the determination to win. Simply, boxing in the Academy was a “do-or-die” affair.

My opponent “Kobby” was far older than me. His hard punches rattled my teenage bones, violently shaking the marrow. After enduring sound beatings from him in the first round, thanks to the strong admonition/encouragement of the second in my red-corner, a fearsome Warrant-Officer Judo Black-Belt, I went on to win the remaining two rounds for a split points decision.

I must confess though that that victory was as bad as a defeat, the type called a “pyrrhic victory.” A Pyrrhic victory is a victory that inflicts such a devastating toll on the victor that it is tantamount to a defeat.

“Pyrrhic victory” originated from a quote from Greek King Pyrrhus, whose triumph against the Romans in the Battle of Asculum in 279 BC destroyed the bulk of his forces. Indeed, he lost 7,500 of his elite forces called Epirotes, today’s equivalent of special forces.

When congratulated after his victory over Rome in 276 BC, all Pyrrhus sombrely said was “another such victory and we shall be utterly ruined.” Such was my 2-1 split points victory over “Kobby!” I spent that weekend totally disorientated with pains all over, a contorted face, and wondering which part of the planet earth I was on.

Azumah

On June 28, 1991, WBC Super-featherweight champion Azumah Nelson defended his title against challenger Jeff Fenech of Australia in Las Vegas, USA. The match which ended in a draw was fiercely contested by the challenger who believed he won.

So angry was Fenech after the fight that, when Azumah in a sportsmanlike manner went to congratulate him, he rebuffed Azumah rudely. Unperturbed, Azumah quickly offered Fenech a return match in his native Australia in March 1992.

Indeed, for some boxing enthusiasts, Azumah victory was a pyrrhic one. Therefore, for many Ghanaians, his decision to go to Australia for the title defence amounted to going into the lion’s den to surrender the crown to Fenech.  Fenech was an undefeated national icon.

In the second fight on March 1, 1992, Fenech was stunned in Round One when for only the second time in his life, he was knocked-down to the canvas. Again in Round Two, Fenech went down. At the end of Round Three, living up to his reputation as a “street-fighter and brawler,” Fenech hit Azumah with his knee after the bell had gone.

Azumah finally brought proceedings to a close when he knocked out Fenech in Round Eight, to the total disbelief of Australians. Unlike what happened in their first fight when Fenech rebuffed Azumah, this time he went to salute Azumah whom he described as “a great champion.”

The post-match interview was interesting.  Azumah made his famous statement that, the fight was like one between “father-and-son,” concluding with, “People don’t call me Professor for nothing!”

Discussion

The very sportsmanly embrace by Usyk and Fury at the end of their fight showed the mutual respect they have for each other; a lesson Ghanaians can learn. In Australia, Fenech’s submission in saluting Azumah proved the age-old saying that, respect is earned, and not demanded. After being comprehensively beaten, Fenech gave his unconditional respect/surrender to Azumah, unlike the respect he demanded in the first fight.

As a Ghanaian, Azumah’s victory brought me great national pride in faraway Cambodia. I arrived in Cambodia in 1992 as part of the United Nations Transitional-Authority-in-Cambodia (UNTAC). During my in-processing, I went to the UN Vehicle-Park to sign for my vehicle.

The NCO checking me in was Australian. When he asked where I came from and I said Ghana, he immediate continued, “Azumah Nelson’s country? O My God! He demolished our hero Jeff Fenech! You come from a great country, Sir!”  

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The respect for Ghana was instant. I have had similar experiences elsewhere in the world. This should educate Ghanaians who demand recognition/respect with the question “do you know who I am?” that respect is earned.

 Where it is demanded, we were taught it is underpinned psychologically by a tacit knowledge of failure, probably based on a hidden complex which promotes undue anger and aggression.

So, how come despite the respect given us by foreigners, disrespect, corruption, intemperate language/rudeness at all levels has engulfed us. Where is leadership? Unlike some of his opponents who head-butted, knee-butted and fought dirty, Azumah was a clean and decent boxer.

Azumah’s decent life of humility, respect, selflessness and discipline should be a lesson to Ghanaians. So, why are we so busy helping foreigners destroy Ghana into an IMF-dependent fragile/failed state? We must fight galamsey and its resultant destruction of cocoa farms and vegetation, arrogance, disrespect, filth and massive corruption on all fronts. Ghana must not fail!

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Finally, a “pyrrhic victory” in fighting for the common good as postulated by the 17th century English Political Philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, is better than deliberate pretence in fighting, while tacitly endorsing “galamsey” benefitting only a few Ghanaians!

Leadership, lead by example! Fellow Ghanaians, wake up!

The writer is former CEO of African Peace Support Trainers Association, Nairobi, Kenya/Council Chair Family Health University College, Accra.  

E-mail: [email protected]

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