Thursday, May 29, 2003 | 10:33 a.m.
For a man who owns victories over two of his division's better fighters, Kofi Jantuah remains surprisingly obscure.
Despite his 23-1 record and wins against Daniel Santos and Santiago Samaniego, Jantuah is absent from the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation junior middleweight rankings. The World Boxing Association has him at No. 9.
Inactivity is at the root of Jantuah's visibility problems, and his one-round knockout victory over Jose Luis Rodriguez last Saturday in Reno was of little assistance.
"It was too easy," he said Wednesday, back in the Top Rank gym after what amounted to a brief workout at the Reno Hilton.
Jantuah, a native of Ghana who lives and trains in Las Vegas, is something of a hidden treasure. He's 28 and in his athletic prime, yet fights have been hard to come by.
"I fought once in 1999, once in 2000, once in 2001," he said, tracing his career and a disappointing (and since dissolved) relationship with promoter Don King.
"King has too many fighters," Jantuah said of his lack of exposure. "All of his fighters complain of inactivity."
He hopes to fight again next month and would like to fight fellow Las Vegan Julio Garcia later this year. That fight is in the discussion stage.
"I want to step up and prove I've still got it," Jantuah said. "I've been overshadowed by circumstances and I need to prove I'm still there."
Oscar De La Hoya rules the 154-pound division, of course, and Shane Mosley, Fernando Vargas and Winky Wright are on his coattails. But, as trainer Jeff Mayweather points out, beyond the men at the top the junior middleweights are evenly balanced as a group and lacking dominant figures.
"Once you take Oscar and Winky out of there, you could throw the rest of the guys in a barrel," he said. "Kofi has a chance to beat any of those guys."
Mayweather looks at Jantuah and feels he's "a year away" from something big.
"He was hurt by that contract with King and he was set back by having traces of Hepatitis B for a while," Mayweather said. "Now he's ready to get his feet wet again."
Jantuah says he's trying to stay patient.
"The people in boxing all think I deserve more," he said. "But it hasn't been happening and it's kind of frustrating.
"But the past is the past. I want to move forward and show what I've got."
To his credit, however, there was a time when Jantuah was reluctant to show everything in his arsenal and it was the afternoon last September when Floyd Mayweather Sr. made the ridiculous decision of allowing Jantuah to spar with De La Hoya just three days before the latter's fight with Vargas at Mandalay Bay.
"I was furious in a way, but I went along with it," Jantuah said. "I knew I had to hold back, because we were jeopardizing Oscar's fight with Vargas. Millions of dollars were at stake.
"So I had no intention of hurting him. I just moved around and let him get his work."
Now Jantuah is the one looking for some work.
"I think it's just a matter of time," he said. "The division's wide open and I'm ready for a challenge."