Azumah Nelson turns 60
Today, arguably the greatest African boxer of all time, the legendary Azumah Nelson, turned 60 years old.
During a near-20-year career, Nelson won world titles at featherweight and junior lightweight and fought many of the best fighters of his generation, including Salvador Sanchez, Wilfredo Gomez and Pernell Whitaker.
“I feel blessed and favored because not all live to be 60,” Nelson told The Ring on Tuesday. “When I look back, it feels like 60 years have come very fast, because not long ago I was busy fighting in the ring in different parts of the world. I’m very thankful to God for always being there for me through the years.”
Nelson came from nowhere to almost shock Sanchez in 1982, giving the Mexican legend all he could handle before succumbing in the final round. He bounced back to surprise Gomez in 1984 for the WBC 126-pound strap, making six successful defenses.
“Zoom Zoom” abdicated his throne in 1988 and promptly won the WBC 130-pound title. He held it for six years, making 10 defenses before losing to Jesse James Leija. However, when most wrote him off, he showed he was far from done by rebounding to beat the man who bested Leija, Gabe Ruelas. Nelson fought at the highest level until retiring in 1998.
Fate intervened and prevented him facing one noted rival a second time.
“One person I really wish I had fought again was Salvador Sanchez, may his soul rest in peace,” Nelson said solemnly. “That was my first professional loss. The fight happened with a very short notice and there were a few challenges just before the fight.
“He was a really good boxer and I wish I could have had the chance to fight him again. He died in a car accident a few weeks after our bout at Madison Square Garden.”
In Ghana, Nelson is revered like Manny Pacquiao in the Philippines, Felix Trinidad in Puerto Rico and Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. in Mexico. Special celebrations are planned for the country’s favorite son.
“You know, Ghanaians love me and I love them so much for the role they played in my career, so this is a week-long celebration,” Nelson said. “I will be having media interactions, sharing memories of my early days and career and to encourage the young ones to work hard and be closer to God.
“The big celebration will be on July 21, where we will have the next Azumah Nelson Fight Night at the Bukom Boxing Arena. We have some exciting fights and awards by the WBC.”
Though Nelson (39-6-2, 28 knockouts) retired 20 years ago (though he came back a decade later for a one-off fight with Jeff Fenech to complete their trilogy), he has remained very much a part of the boxing scene in his homeland, as well as a few other endeavors.
The boxing-crazy country ended a near-seven-year hiatus without a world champion when one of Nelson’s protege’s, Isaac Dogboe, shocked Jessie Magdaleno to win the WBO junior featherweight title on April 28.
“I was very proud of Isaac Dogboe for preparing very well for that fight and winning against Magdaleno,” said the 2004 International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee. “I was particularly excited because it gave many Ghanaians the hope that boxing is regaining its position in Ghanaian sports.
“As a boxer, there’s nothing more exciting than spending time to train for a bout and winning it, especially when people don’t think you can do it. As a Ghanaian, I’m very proud of Dogboe and how he is growing. I am also always excited and proud to see young boxers from Ghana going out there with hard work and proving to the world we still have what it takes to be world champions.”
Nelson believes more titles will follow.
“Currently, I think boxing in Ghana is doing very well,” he said. “The presence of Bukom Boxing Arena is encouraging more promoters to invest in the sport.
“Also, more boxing gyms are still being opened in and around Bukom; that is also encouraging a lot more amateurs boxers to stay within the sport. The recent successes of boxers like Isaac Dogboe is also bringing more attention to boxing in Ghana now.”
Happy Birthday Azumah, from The Ring.
Here’s a Best I Faced with the great man: https://www.ringtv.com/405969-best-i-faced-azumah-nelson/
Yaw Sakyi Afari and Theophilus Mensah helped co-ordinate this feature. THE RING appreciated their assistance.