He’s short, just shy of five and a half feet, though powerfully built. His rowdy appearance intensified by an ill-fitting shirt and trousers. His lips crack a smile to reveal gapped teeth and fermented breath, yet he moves with remarkable grace for a drunkard.
He says his name is Kweku Abraham Jafar. He’s the son of a fisherman, a boxer and people once called him Adanko Deka. The moniker loosely translated means, Little Rabbit who owes, a nod to the Ga fables and an indication of his agility. He says, in his prime he wore title belts, became a symbol of national pride and earned every scar in the ring.
The seam of a stitched cut is still noticeable over his left eye despite the passage of time since it opened. This is one of many flaws marking the man’s forehead and brow line. His knuckles are scratched, misshapen and damaged, all traits of someone who earned a living with their fists.
“Tattoo man, cedis for a star?” he asks.
Probably not best to enable, I think. But my hand is already in my pocket pulling out some spare change.
“Medaase,” he says, counting the coins in his palm.
The pub is the closest place to my office to buy cigarettes. I was there on lunch break and running short of time. We part ways as he orders another bottle from the bartender.
Back at work, I ask one of the sports reporters, Afrane, if he had heard of the man. His answer is an emphatic yes. Little Rabbit, he says, is from his neighborhood. Bukom square in Jamestown, the heart of boxing in Ghana. Afrane tells me about the time Little Rabbit went to Lagos to fight for the West African Featherweight title.
In 1988, the champion is a Nigerian called Stone Punch, and the eyes of both nations are fixed on the ring. Afrane is just a boy watching his hero fight on the only television in Bukom. “It was a small black and white box in the back of a busy tailor’s shop. Everyone was crowded in the there. Even the old fish ladies came to watch,” he says.
Deka wasn’t much older than the reporter. He turned pro at 12, barely 17 as he enters the ring. His opponent has age, experience and a home town crowd behind him. But Little Rabbit is always hard to catch.
Afrane and I decide to hunt through drinking spots, dives and notorious hang-outs to find Deka. We hear he has been there but always arrive just a little too late. In each pub, we leave my business card and instructions to tell Little Rabbit we are looking for him.
Third round, Stone Punch lurches forward in an attempt to pin Little Rabbit in a corner. He clinches to neutralize the younger fighter’s speed. The two clash heads and a cut becomes visible over the Ghanaian’s left eye. The tailor’s shop goes silent. Everyone fears a stoppage as the referee inspects the wound. The ref asks Deka if he wishes to continue. Blood trickles to the canvas as he nods confirmation and the tailor’s shop become raucous once more.
“He was our fighter,” Afrane says, as we walk along the causeway in a neighborhood called Asylum Down. Nearly everywhere we hear myths about the mysterious figure but nothing solid we can use to track him. We seek guidance from Barmaids, Tenders and assorted Rummies. Some say they’ve seen him working a steel mill in Tema or pushing a rock kart on the shoreline of Lake Volta.
“His wife and daughter sell fish in Apam. Try there,” says a woman with a gold tooth.
“He died years ago in an Achimodo flophouse,” says a grey-haired man. Most know him, but none know his whereabouts.
Round five, little rabbits fight best when they are cornered. Perhaps the sight of his blood ignited survival instinct, for Deka has become ferocious. Stone Punch is on his heels trying to keep the challenger at a distance. Little Rabbit closes the gap with targeted straight punches. The attack climaxes with a right hook to the liver, left upper cut to the breadbasket and a right cross to the jaw. The combination almost propels the champion out of the ring, but the ropes keep him in bounds. He falls forward his face hits the mat and it is clear he is unconscious.
“Everybody screamed, danced, and went crazy,” recalls Afrane. “We were sure he’d be the next World Champ.”
March 6th, is the anniversary of Ghanaian independence and an otherwise slow news day. Afrane and I are standing in the parking lot killing time when Little Rabbit walks through the gate. He has a friend with him, a giant of a man who introduces himself as Shapiro.
“He stays with me,” says the giant. “I make sure he chops (eats) everyday, give him some clothes if I have them. Sometimes when he drinks he says he wants to die. I tell him not to drink.” Shapiro says they share a room in Accra Central. The pair were both orphaned in boyhood. Back then, they spent their time roaming around Jamestown. “He was always wanting to go to the ring (Bukom square). He’d watch the fighters, tell me he could beat them. Imagine that, even as a small boy he say he can beat men.”
“I need to fight again,” says Little Rabbit. He lunges forward steadies his balance then strikes, locked in battle with an invisible opponent. He says he is sober but his eyes remain clouded by a compound of head trauma and prolonged alcohol abuse. He smiles, removes his shirt and continues his combat dance through the parking lot.
“All those times, I’d stop four men a month but I could never get good money.” He says he was given 2 million cedis (old currency equivalent to $125.00 Canadian) for each match. Promoters promised more but he was black-listed after he came to collect. “They rob me, took my title even though I knocked him (the challenger Bilal Mohammed) down three times. People still ask me how the other man won.”
The man Deka says robbed him is Samir Captan. Once the country’s principle fight promoter, now the President of the Ghana Boxing Authority. Captan refused comment on the story but approved our request for access to the GBA’s archive. Officially, Kweku Abraham Jafar had 65 professional fights and holds a dismal record of 22-42-1 with 16 wins coming by way of knockout. This ratio fails to recognize a peculiar trend. His first lost cost him the West African Featherweight belt and left his record at a respectable 19-1. Nearly all the the matches after are against opponents much larger than him.
“I fought Bazooka,” says Deka. A reference to former World Welterweight Champion Ike “Bazooka” Quartey. “He was too big, the ref stopped it in the first round.” There were more fights like this. Deka sent in to be punished by opponents with notable size advantages. His last official bout was five years ago. It ended in the fourth round with Deka face down on the mat. He says in the time since, he’s competed in non-sanctioned bouts organized by a slew of Ghanaian promoters. “I needed to fight to eat. I still do.”
Afrane writes a piece called “Down but not out” it announces Deka’s plan to return to the ring. A few days pass before Little Rabbit comes in to get his copy. Now he’s in his forties, and his fighting prime has passed. A circumstance even the greats often fail to accept. Boxing and alcohol have left heavy imprints on his life. His career ended with him broke and he began to drink. His wife left him, taking their daughter and he began to drink more. He descended into alcoholism and despair, but his eyes twinkle as he shadowboxes in front of me. It may seem the ring was unkind to to him yet on any given day between the sun’s rise and set somewhere in Accra is Little Rabbit waiting for one more round.