By: Oliver McManus
Tottenham’s Jeff Ofori is set for a career-defining twelve months with MTK’s Golden Contract hotting up nicely. The format will crown a winner, in three weight divisions, before the end of the year and, with it, a lucrative multi-fight contract with “a world leading promoter”. Ahead of the semi-finals, on the 21st at York Hall, Ofori began by reflecting on the year just gone:
“It was a slopey up and down year. The first half was frustrating because I was meant to defend my [Southern Area] title twice (against Lucas Ballingall) and then that got put off twice. A lot of people told me that it wasn’t going to happen but I was sticking to it. I think I learned a lot in that year so I’ve decided to just let things be.
“I (look back and) see it as things working out for a reason. If I did fight Lucas Ballingall then perhaps I’d never be in the situation I am now. I’ve just got to go with the flow and everything will happen if it’s supposed to: the opportunities will still be there if it’s meant to be.”
When the 29 year old was able to defend his belt, held at lightweight, his opponent was a distinguished amateur in the form of Alfie Price. On the night Price, snapped up by Queensbury Promotions, executed his game-plan from the off. It wasn’t to be for the defending Champion but Ofori was able to reflect on the bout with real pragmatism.
“It wasn’t the sort of fight I was expecting it to be because I was thinking it would be a rough, tough bout. In the end it was more hype than the fight turned out to be and I learned that is sometimes how it is in boxing: not everything will be the best fight of your life. I feel as though I was too nice in that fight and didn’t take things into my own hands when I should have done. Sometimes you’re going to have to box in ways that won’t be pretty.”
Seven weeks later and Ofori was refusing to sit and mope. “I wasn’t going to cry”, he told me, and was eager to return at a similar level: no more six rounders against Aleksandrs Birkenbergs. This was the start of an MTK Global love-affair with the Londoner brought to Liverpool for a fight with, unbeaten, Ged Carroll.
“After the title fight it didn’t take much out of me. It was my second ten rounder and, to be honest, I just didn’t feel as though it had happened. In my first one (against Jumaane Camero) I knew I’d be in a ten rounder for a good couple days after but I was back in the gym on Monday this time. I was feeling ready and I got the call “do you want to fight in Liverpool?” and I was thinking ‘I get to go away, I get another, I get the TV experience, of course I’m saying yes’.”
Ofori found himself billed in the away corner for the first time in his career but boxed as he always has done. “Rough, ready, and raring to go”, Jeffy picked up a 79-75 win over eight rounds to return to winning rounds. A well-earned victory that served as the highlight of a thoroughly enjoyable weekend for the Londoner.
“It was beautiful (Liverpool) and I’d never been to Liverpool before but everything was there. Everything I’d ever want was right there. We were bang in the city centre and all the people were lovely and I just felt calm and relaxed. I definitely plan on going back up there, in my own time, it was a great place. I got a good four, five days out of it.”
“I was pushing for the stoppage but the guy was tough” he continued, “even though I felt, after six rounds, I was winning this I really wanted to stop him. When they gave me the decision I was thinking “okay, what’s next?”
Luckily for Ofori he didn’t have to think for too long. Just five days later and his phone was ringing again. Once more it was MTK Global on the other end after Lewis Benson was forced to withdraw from the opening Golden Contract quarter-finals. Having been caught up in the bubble of Liverpool, Ofori confessed to “not really knowing” what the format was but he was keen to put ink to paper once hearing of his fellow competitors.
“Again I got a call telling me what was next and I’m saying “for real, hell yeah.” If they thought I was going to go in there as a soft touch then I don’t know what was on their mind. When they called me I thought they were pulling my leg: they rang me on the Wednesday night after my manager had offered me a slot on the undercard. At that point I wasn’t really going for it because I’d obviously only just had a fight but as soon as they mentioned a tournament there was no need to think about it.”
Ofori stepped up to super lightweight for the competition and fought to a split draw with, Welshman, Kieran Gething over ten rounds; Ofori progressed in the tournament courtesy of the referee’s scorecard. The former super featherweight highlighted the strains of making weight in those early days as standing him in good stead for the 140lbs division.
“Getting down to super feather was good for me mentally because it made me aware of the diet. I’ve learned all these things about nutrition because I had to make those weights in the past so now, even when I’m fighting at super lightweight, I’m aware of the process and it makes it so much easier. Mentally it’s made me stronger, too.
That’s where I feel things clicked with the (Gething) fight. In my mind because it was all last minute I didn’t have time to think about things and overthink what I was going to do. I got in there and I fought the fight, largely, on instinct.”
With that win, the always likeable, Ofori continued his run of feel-good results. A semi-final awaits and, for a fighter who was never meant to be in the competition, every opportunity really is a golden one. Last year Ofori did a sponsored sky-dive in aid of Ringside Rest and Care and it was noticeable his first thoughts were with that charity when discussing the ramifications of winning the competition. “There’s a lot riding on it because I want to win big for the guys at the care home”, he revealed.
When poked to talk about himself Ofori began to open up on his experiences as a perennial underdog. Five years ago his goal was to become a professional boxer and people were sceptical; two years he wanted the Southern Area title but had to remain patient. This most recent opportunity may have arrived in part to good fortune but Ofori is determined to show the world just why it was him that got the call.
“Winning this competition would be a big statement for me. If you do win it then obviously there’s a contract waiting and things can sort of take care of themselves, you don’t have to force opportunities any more. I need to prove (that I deserve to be there) and I want to keep proving it.
When we first spoke I was all about being Southern Area champion and I’ve done that but I’m now hungry for the next goal. There will always be someone that’s there to give you a challenge and that keeps me going. Even when you’ve set yourself a goal and achieved you don’t sit back and say “job done”, you set yourself a new goal.”