He said the champion took him through “hell” in their June 4, 1994 clash in Paris as the Ghanaian announced himself to the works as boxing’s next big warrior.
In his heyday, Quartey went through battles and faced some of the sport’s biggest names during his illustrious career of 42 professional bouts. He lost a split points decision to legend Oscar de La Hoya over 12 gruelling rounds, drew with Jose Luis Lopez and clubbered American Ralph ‘Tiger’ Jones but maintains that his 11th round knockout win over Espana was the biggest night of his career as he dethroned the Venezuelan to win the WBA title.
Toughest night in boxing
On the occasion of the 26 anniversary of his coronation at a world champion, 50-year-old Quartey looked back at his night of triumph at the Palais de Sports Marcel Cerdan at Levallois-Perret, admitting he had to give his all to make that moment of history possible. He said, he had to train harder to meet the fitness of Espana who at the time had twice participated in the famous New York Marathon.
Recounting events in the lead up to the fight, Quartey noted that their game plan was to catch Espana with a power punch due to the champion’s longer reach and height advantage.
“It was the toughest fight of my career. I had to go through hell during training sessions just to win that bout.
“I had a solid game plan to trouble him with powerful punches because he had a reach and height advantage,” Quartey admitted.
In the end, the Ghanaian fighter, then 25, dominated most of the rounds but was caught on the chin in the seventh round when he attempted the right hook.
“That was the only round that Espana won in our bout. I made a mistake in the seventh round and he caught me with a clean shot on my chin.”
Brutal 11th round
Undefeated but largely unheralded, Quartey seized his moment in Paris. A thundering left-right combination in a frenzied and brutal 11th round, forced a standing count before another right hand through the guard sent a weary Espana tumbling to the canvas.
“It was a hard night. I was winning all the fight, but then I didn’t have the power in my hands. I had never been knocked down in my career before… I don’t know what happened,” Espana told the Belfast Telegraph in a 2008 interview.
In fact, the Venezuelan suffered an eye problem in the defeat to Quartey and was advised by doctors to call it a day. He fought just once more before retiring in 1995 at just 31.
After his big win, Quartey went on to make seven successful defences of his WBA belt before meeting with the legendary Oscar de la Hoya in 1999.
Many still value Quartey’s 1999 12-rounder with de la Hoya as the biggest and toughest of his career, but the Ghanaian thinks otherwise.
“I never saw that fight with Oscar as my biggest because he never troubled me. He doesn’t have what it takes to beat me any day and anywhere but the politics in boxing gave him the win when we fought,” he lamented.
Quartey revealed also that the bout was seen as an Azumah Nelson-Barry McGuigan fight that never took place at the time because Espana had the same management as McGuigan.
“One of the reasons why the bout was fierce was that I had the same managers as Azumah and Espana was with Mickey Duff who handled McGuigan.
“And because Azumah and McGuigan’s much anticipated fight couldn’t materialise, the managers saw ours as the bout to settle the scores,” Quartey narrated.