20-20 vision – The greatest fighter from Ghana: Azumah Nelson
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: July 19, 1958 / Accra
Years active: 1979-98; 2008
Record: 38-6-2 (27 KOs)
Major titles: WBC featherweight (1984-88), WBC junior lightweight (1988-94; 1995-97)
Greatest victories: Jeff Fenech, Wilfredo Gomez, Juan Laporte, Mario Martinez, Marcos Villasana
Background: “The Professor” might’ve made the biggest impression of his career in defeat and shortly before tragedy. Nelson, both clever (hence the nickname) and powerful, was only 13-0 as a pro and unknown when he was asked to fight the great Salvador Sanchez of Mexico for the world featherweight title on last-minute notice in 1982 at Madison Square Garden. He accepted. The stout little Ghanaian didn’t win – he was stopped in the 15th and final round – but he shocked the boxing world by pushing Sanchez to his limit in a back-and-forth brawl. “He was a very strong fighter with a lot of heart,” Sanchez said of Nelson. “He came to take my title. I wanted to finish him off earlier but he was too strong.” Sanchez was killed in a car accident shortly after the fight, which left Nelson in emotional tatters, but he used the classic battle as a launching point for his own remarkable career. Two years later, he proved his performance against Sanchez was only the beginning when he stopped fellow Hall of Famer Wilfredo Gomez to win the WBC 126-pound title in Gomez’s home nation of Puerto Rico. Nelson would end up holding a featherweight or junior lightweight title almost continuously from 1984 to 1997, a mindboggling stretch. And he certainly didn’t fight many stiffs. For example, his first two bouts with Hall of Famer Jeff Fenech are considered classics, the second (won by Nelson in Fenech’s native Australia) being named 1992 Ring Upset of the Year. He finished with a record of 18-4-2 in world title fights and 9-6-2 against opponents who would at some time wear a world title belt. In the end, after a one-fight comeback against Fenech when he was 49, Nelson settled permanently into retirement as arguably the greatest African fighter ever and a hero in his native land.
Quote: “He was full of confidence in the ring, so humble outside of it that he’s forever endeared himself to the people of Ghana. He is to Ghana what Manny Pacquiao is to the Phillipines: A national treasure,” said Kenneth Bouhairie, Founder and Media Director of BoxingAfrica.com.
Five more from Ghana (in alphabetical order): Joseph Agbeko, Joshua Clottey, Nana Yaw Konadu, David Kotei, Ike Quartey
Next up: Ireland
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