Prince or Pretender, Mamah Mohammed Hopes to Rule the Ring
On June 4, when light-heavyweight Mamah, a 28-year-old African expatriate, squares off against James "Hard Rock" Williams in Reno, more than a $25,000 purse will be at stake. Princely pride, for one thing. The eldest son and heir apparent of Chief Issah Mohammed of Ghana's Dagomba tribe, Mamah left his African kingdom four years ago to pursue a crown in boxing. "I want to show my people that I didn't fail them," he says now, "even if I don't lead them."
Of course some boxing cynics figure Mamah's about as blue-blooded as the Prince who sings Purple Rain. In the fight game this wouldn't be the first time a boxer has hyped his background for the sake of box office. All the same no one questions Mamah's credentials. With a 32-1-1 record, the southpaw is ranked second among light heavies by the authoritative Ring magazine. And should he win next week's battle royal with Williams (22-22-2 as of last year), he may well get a shot at light-heavyweight champ Michael Spinks.
Mamah claims to be one of 35 children born to Chief Issah and his four wives. He grew up in Tamale (population 220,000) in northern Ghana and began boxing at age 9. By 15 he was winning amateur tournaments across the country. "I always had a real love for the game," he says. What's more, "I read a lot of books on how you could make money in boxing." That was no small consideration in a country with a 1983 per capita GNP of $320.
At 18 Mamah faced his abdication crisis. His pop the potentate (the country of Ghana has a military government) allegedly asked him to start assuming some of his kingly duties, which included marriage to at least one wife. The prince, who was in training—and who claims he's still "too busy" for women—refused. Instead he turned pro in 1979, fought sporadically in Europe, then signed with Nnamdi Moweta, an L.A.-based Nigerian boxing and music promoter.
In 1982 Mamah moved to the U.S. and into a two-bedroom apartment with Moweta in a lower-middle-class neighborhood of Hollywood. Moweta then delivered his fighter into the hands of Bill Slayton, who had trained ex-heavyweight champ Ken Norton. Slayton now works with Mamah three hours a day, trying to convert him from the plodding European style of boxing to the more aggressive and mobile American style. "He's crude and easy to hit with the right hand," says Michael Katz, the New York Times boxing writer. "But he's a legitimate Top 5 contender in a division that doesn't have but one fighter—Spinks." Boxing maven Bert Sugar, former editor of Ring, agrees. In the lackluster light-heavyweight division, "Spinks is clearly the class of the class."
Mamah meanwhile continues to look for opportunities. After his Williams fight, he says he will appear as an oil businessman in an upcoming Nigerian movie and do a boxing exhibition tour of London, Copenhagen, Lagos (Nigeria) and Accra, the capital of Ghana. In the end the debate over his nobility just may prove to be immaterial. "Mamah will never be champion with Spinks in there," predicts Bert Sugar. "So he might as well have some title."