20-20 vision – The greatest fighter from Australia: Jeff Fenech
Most countries have produced at least one or two special boxers whose ring exploits have been etched permanently in our collective memory. That includes tiny nations like Puerto Rico and behemoths like the U.S. and Mexico, as well many in between.
In this feature, The Ring looks closely at 20 countries with strong boxing traditions and selects the best fighter from each.
The process wasn’t easy. First, we had to select the 20 countries, which proved to be painstaking. Some nations that have produced memorable fighters didn’t make the list. And, second, choosing a single boxer from the countries that did make the cut was easy in some cases – Panama, for example – but excruciating in others.
The countries will be rolled out in alphabetical order one day at a time at The Ring.
Notes: The “five more” listed at the bottom of each capsule were among other fighters in the discussion for each nation. … Some boxers lived in more than one country. We assigned each to the country where they spent their formative years. For example, a fighter who left one country as a small child was assigned to his second country.
Birthdate / place: May 28, 1964 / St Peters, New South Wales
Years active: 1984-96; 2008
Record: 29-3-1 (21 KOs)
Major titles: IBF bantamweight (1985-87); WBC junior featherweight (1987-88); WBC featherweight (1988-89)
Greatest victories: Daniel Zaragoza, Carlos Zarate, Marcos Villasana, Mario Martinez
Background: Fenech was a violent storm that swept across the boxing landscape for a decade-plus and left many victims in its wake. The “Marrickville Mauler” was a late starter, taking up boxing at 17, but also a natural whose inhuman conditioning and swarming style resulted in a Hall of Fame career. The 1984 Olympian won his first pro title in only his seventh fight (stopping Satoshi Shingaki as a bantamweight in 1985) and would add titles in two more divisions (knockouts of Samart Payakaroon and Victor Callejas) inside his first 20 fights. And he almost won a fourth belt in a classic for which he might be best remembered. Fenech traveled to Las Vegas to challenge junior lightweight titleholder and future Hall of Famer Azumah Nelson on the Mike Tyson-Donovan Ruddock II card in 1991, Fenech’s first fight outside of Australia. The challenger, attacking fiercely from beginning to end, seemed to do enough to claim a decision and his defining victory but had to settle for a dubious draw. The decision was booed and an angry Fenech stormed out of the ring. That was Fenech’s last great performance, as Nelson stopped him in the rematch in Melbourne and he lost to Philip Holiday in his final title shot. However, Fenech had already made an indelible mark as one of the toughest little men of all time.
Quote: “I never boxed until 17 and a half, I was in the Olympics at 19, and I was world champion when I was 20,” Fenech said. “I never watched a boxing match life in my life. The only boxer I had ever heard of was Muhammad Ali.”
Five more from Australia (in alphabetical order): Les Darcy, Johnny Famechon, Young Griffo, Peter Jackson, Lionel Rose
Next up: Canada
Ones you missed:
Argentina: Carlos Monzon