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BOXING : THE STORY OF AZUMAH NELSON, ONE OF AFRICA’S FINEST BOXERS

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Ghana’s legendary boxer Azumah Nelson grew up in the harsh environment of the Bokum province in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana. “The Professor” was born on September 19, 1958 in the newly independent Ghana. 

Fighting was a hobby it was a way of life for the children of the region.

In Bokum kids are allowed to fight on the streets as long as they are the same age and used no weapons. Outsiders knew about the kids from Bokum, and even if you were a talented fighter, you did not mess with the kids from Bokum even if you were older.

Like his father, Azumah wanted to box, and he truly believed he could beat anyone. He tried on several occasions in the streets, but was led into the gym to face the best boxer at the time.

The boy beat him, but that did not matter. Azumah kept coming back and eventually was able to take on the man with success. That was when he began to train as a boxer.

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After going 50-1 as an amateur and a Commonwealth championship as a featherweight, Nelson picked up gold in the featherweight division at the Edmonton games in 1978. He then made his professional boxing debut in 1979.

After this success, he turned professional and within 10 fights he was the holder of the Ghanaian, African and Commonwealth belts. He went 13-0 to start his pro-career. In 1981, he beat Bozzou Aziza in his first fight abroad in Togo. He went on to beat Miguel Ruiz in the city of California in USA which was his first fight in the North American country.

In his 14th fight as a pro, he showed the stuff that spawn legends as he stepped up against the legendary WBC featherweight champion, Salvador Sanchez.

NEW YORK – JULY 21,1982: Salvador Sanchez (R) looks to land a punch against Azumah Nelson during the fight at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York. Salvador Sanchez won the WBC featherweight title by TKO 15. Sanchez died in a car crash shortly after this fight.

In a rough and rugged fight, Nelson fought valiantly against Sanchez going toe to toe with the champion, but was stopped in the 15th round. It turned out that he was the greatest champions as Sanchez was killed in an automobile accident 22 days later.

World Champion

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He was 23-years-old and had earned a career record of 44-1-1 with 32 KOs. With Sanchez’s death, the boxing world was in shock.

The WBC title was won by Juan La Porte on September 15, 1982 and made two successful defenses before losing the title to Wilfredo Gomez on March 31, 1984. This set up Nelson’s second chance at the WBC crown.

Since his historic fight with Sanchez, Nelson went right back to his winning ways by winning six straight fights before facing Gomez. Nelson did not fail in his second attempt as he hammered Gomez eventually stopping him in the 11th round.

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Nelson ruled the featherweight division for three years, until he relinquished his crown to move up to super-featherweight.

Nelson began 1988 by defeating Mario Martinez  by a split decision over 12 rounds in Los Angeles to win the vacant WBC Spuer featherweight title. Nelson was dropped in the 10th round of their encounter and the decision was not well received. He defended the title with a knockout in round nine against former world champ Lupe Suarez, and with a knockout in three over Sydney Del Rovere.

He went on to beat Martinez in a rematch in 1989 by knockout in round 12, and then fighting Jim McDonnell, with exactly the same result. The fight with McDonnell, fought in London, was considered one of the fights of the year by many boxing magazines, and McDonnell was widely praised by critics for his stand against Nelson. McDonnell suffered four knockdowns before the fight was stopped by referee Joe Cortez.

In 1990, he made an attempt to move up to lightweight, but was easily out-pointed by Pernell Whitaker.

Since his super-feather belt was not at stake he moved back down and went on to face such competition as Jeff Fenech (twice), Gabriel Ruelas, and a draw to Jesse James Leija.

Four of Nelson’s final seven fights were against Leija.

“He was great,” Leija said of Nelson. “As long as he was a world champion – 10 years, something like that – he knew every trick in the book. It was always a constant battle with him, more of the mind than anything else because you were going to try to figure out what he’s going to do next. He would lure you into thinking he was hurt or slowing down and all of a sudden he’d throw a four-, five-punch combination, all of them with power.

“You never knew what to expect. You had to be on your toes every single second of every single round with Azumah.”

Nelson-Fenech II

 

Loss of Close Pals

he lost his first wife, Beatrice, to cancer when he was 32.

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As a result of his loss to Whitekar, the Boxing Professor later on admitted that the effect of his wife’s sickness “I received bad news about my sick wife ahead of the bout. I had a call from home that my wife’s situation was deteriorating.

It affected me so much. I lost focus, I wasn?t concentrating. I wanted to just enter the ring and come out, so I could rush to my sick wife, He added.

To him, Whitaker was not exceptional, but the loss of concentration on the night, cost him the title.

The boxing professor revealed that his wife eventually gave up the ghost but he hinted that he takes solace in a revelation he had just before the wife passed on to eternity, in which he was told she was going to prepare a place for him (Azumah).

In January 1998 Azumah’s longtime boxing trainer, Joe ‘Buffalo’ Martin, was killed in a car crash. He then trained with Joe Goossen. Unfortunately, despite several comeback attempts in the next 10 years, Nelson never won a bout again without Buffalo in his corner.

Retirement, Come back and Legendary

It looked as if time had finally caught up with Nelson as he lost a rematch with Leija in his next fight. Nelson lost his next two fights to Genaro Hernandez and a fourth meeting with Leija. He then called it quit having had a successful boxing career.

He ended with a record of 39-5-2 (28 KOs) and a championship record of 18-4-2.

Nelson lives on a farm with his wife, Peggy, and has six children. He has established his own foundation to help underprivileged kids and today.

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Sixteen years after their last meeting, Nelson fought a rematch with lifelong rival Jeff Fenech. Nelson, 49, and Fenech, 44, fought in Australia on 24 June 2008, with the Aussie winning a majority decision.

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Prof Azumah Nelson gained national hero status in Ghana. He is widely recognized by boxing fans and critics as the greatest fighter ever to come out of this coastal African nation. He was selected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame on 8 January 2004 on 13 June 2004. He is also a member of the World Boxing Hall of Fame

Nelson became national hero status in Ghana. He is widely recognized by boxing fans and critics as the greatest fighter ever to come out of this coastal African nation. He was selected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame on 8 January 2004 on 13 June 2004. He is also a member of the World Boxing Hall of Fame.

“The terrible terror”(one of Azumah’s nicknames) launched a book that chronicled his career from his early years of boxing through his 10-year reign as a world beater, his retirement and his new baby, the Azumah Nelson Foundation.

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