Derek Bonnett speaks to Ghanaian super-middleweight contender Sena Agbeko ahead of his US TV introduction
As a child in the USA, I learned more about world geography by watching boxing than I did in attending public schools. Cities like Buenos Aires, Cologne, Culiacan, Cupey Alto, Lyon, Saint Petersburg and Soweto became real pinpoints on a map for me. Mention Brownsville to boxing fans and they will conjure the names Riddick Bowe, Shannon Briggs, Danny Jacobs, Zab Judah and, of course, Mike Tyson without you even saying the words “New York”. Similar can easily be said about “Distrito Federal” in Mexico City.
One such city and country, which I soon began associating with boxing as a hotbed, was Accra, Ghana. Azumah Nelson was the first fighter from this region that I became familiar with as he built an awesome Hall of Fame career with resilient rematch success at featherweight and junior-lightweight. Ike Quartey came later with his powerful jab and right hand amid a stacked welterweight division. The savvy work of Joseph Agbeko, who is somehow still active, came soon after at bantamweight. There have certainly been others. In 2020, Duke Micah failed to join Isaac Dogboe as one of the contemporary Ghanaian champions in the ring after a failed bantamweight title bid versus John Riel Casimero. However, as the new boxing year begins to bud, one of Micah’s amateur stablemates, super-middleweight contender Sena Agbeko, awaits a major opportunity.
During these long, COVID-restricted months, I had been in conversation with Edwin Reyes, a fighter local to the Nashville scene, who volunteered his support in helping me to transition into the boxing scene following my relocation from Connecticut. Accompanied by Reyes and Luis Galarza, who fought both Kell Brook and Austin Trout in his career, I was able to take in roughly six rounds of Agbeko’s sparring in preparation for his upcoming bout with Vladimir Shishkin to be broadcast on Showtime’s ShoBox on February 17. So as not to mistake the unrelated Agbekos, I will refer to my focus by his first name, Sena, which translates to “God’s gift”.
I’m never shocked by a boxer’s intellect or outside-the-ring demeanor, but it was clear that Sena is a man who took advantage of his time in the classroom. He also was a gentleman, who took care to introduce his lovely wife, Edwina, to me before anything too boxing-related was discussed. He spoke of his bride with great esteem. ‘Eddy’, as she prefers, has also stepped in between the ropes of a boxing ring.
Not only well-spoken, Sena, 28, demonstrated a reflective stance on his work and was refreshingly open to the feedback of his trainer, Kelvin Garcia. One could see Sena reasoning out the information and its applicable practicality in his training. I could not surmise an iota of excessive pride or ego during the workout.
Physically, Sena’s built like a 168-pound version of Deontay Wilder with muscle definition along his back that would have Timothy Bradley stealing envious glances. He stands tall at 6ft 1in atop a pair of sinewy stalks. He’s built for length, but in this particular showcase, the budding super-middleweight spent a lot of time working on the inside and countering under pressure. Hia breathing remained steady under what I saw as a rather intense workout, suggesting he’s spent early-morning time on the road.
Having watched Shishkin in action already, I am excited for this upcoming showdown, which just so happens to be in my native Connecticut. The Mohegan Sun will play host as the ShoBox series continues to showcase emerging fighters making their strides toward world championships. Agbeko-Shishkin is the 10-round main event of a six-bout card.
So, before enjoying the night’s action, please allow Seconds Out to introduce you to Sena Agbeko.
SecondsOut: Sena, tell me about your early career in Ghana. What were some of your ring accomplishments and what prompted your move to the USA?
Sena Agbeko: Boxing is huge in the capital city of Ghana, Accra, specifically [the region of] Bukom. It probably has the most boxing gyms per area of any place in the world. I was an outsider and didn’t come from Bukom. As an amateur I had to earn the respect of the boxers and coaches of the area and within a year, I was in the national team. I was brought on board on merit of my hard work and discipline. In 2011, I earned the right to go to the Olympic qualifiers, but was brushed aside for someone with more experience on the international stage. I was also considered ‘young’ and therefore had time to mature; however, I decided to go pro.
In June 2011 I turned pro. This was also in [my] second year of college. I juggled school, a part-time job and a professional boxing career and made it work. At 15-0 with 15 KOs, there was no one else to challenge as I’d already won the Ghanaian middleweight title and then the West African super-middleweight belt.
SO: How did you get involved in Boxcino with ESPN? What was your experience with defeat and how did you rebound?
SA: The next step was to come to the USA to work towards a world championship. My first experience in the USA was the Boxcino tournament on ESPN which my managers at the time secured a spot for me on. It was my first fight on American soil and [led to] my only loss [to Raymond Gatica]. I attribute [this] to a variety of factors. Key among them being working too hard the wrong way. My career became fraught with disagreements with a management that had become uninterested and pretty much just wanted to ‘cash out’. I moved to Las Vegas for a year to further hone my craft and later on to Nashville where I met a few excellent coaches [such as] Christy Halbert, who led the first women’s boxing team to the London 2012 games.
SO: How has your career progressed in the last several years? What gains have you made as a boxer in terms of skill? What would you say are your strengths?
SA: Being in the US, I’ve amassed a lot of experience just traveling and working with some of the best fighters from Las Vegas, Miami, New York, Houston, Los Angeles and other cities. I’ve come to better understand the sport, the politics of it as well as the scientific elements of performance. I would say my greatest strength right now is my ability to adapt in the ring.
SO: Brian Vera is a very experienced veteran. Tell me about that fight and what it was like for you?
SA: Brian Vera is the biggest name on my résumé. I fought him in Nashville in 2018 at a time when he was pushing for a great comeback so I know I fought a very determined and well-prepared version of him. It was a fight that I prepared for in Vegas. Like every fight, it had its lessons and I was happy to get the win in front of my now hometown crowd in Nashville.
SO: Who are some of your heroes in the sport? Being from Ghana, did you follow the names of Nelson and Quartey, etc?
SA: Growing up in Ghana, I remember we’d wake up at dawn due to the time difference between the US and Ghana to watch legends like Azumah Nelson and Ike Quartey and later on, Joshua Clottey and Joseph Agbeko. At the time, I didn’t know that I wanted to box. It was years later, when I decided to pursue a professional sports career, that I chose boxing. In the last three years, my career has progressed further than it had in the initial few years. I have fought eight times since my initial fight here on US soil and won them all.
SO: Describe the opportunity in front of you and why you are confident in facing unbeaten Vladimir Shishkin on ShoBox on February 17?
SA: Shishkin, for me, is just another fighter in my path to becoming world champion. I am truly grateful to his promoter and Showtime for the opportunity to put it all on the line and this opportunity couldn’t have come at a better time. I am ready.