Putting Ghana on the Boxing Map

azumah nelson21.04.09 - By Ted Sares -- Back in 1982, a tough fighter out of Zambia named Charm “Shuffle” Chiteule, who did much of his work in Germany and the U.K., fought a Ghanaian by the name of Azumah Nelson. At stake were both the prestigious African Featherweight Title and the Commonwealth (British Empire) featherweight title the later of which Nelson had won in 1981 by knocking out Australian Brian Roberts in the fifth stanza in Accra, Ghana.

This fight was held at the Woodlands Stadium in Lusaka, Zambia. Nelson was 11-0 while the slick “Shuffle,” who became the number one contender to the Commonwealth title, came in at 19-1. Chiteule had won the Zambian Featherweight Title in 1979 while Nelson had taken the Ghanaian featherweight title in 1980. Nelson knocked out Chiteule in the tenth round and in so doing was able to get a shot at the world title just five months later. Still, only aficionados knew who he was and that his amateur record (50-1) was an outstanding one..

But Nelson made himself known throughout the global boxing landscape on July 21, 182 at Madison Square Garden when he gave the legendary Salvador Sanchez (42-1-1 coming in) all he could handle and then some before finally being stopped in the fifteenth round in a classic battle between two great fighters (one known; the other unknown). It was a war from the start, as both fighters let their hands go in brutal exchanges marked by the great champion’s jarring left hooks. Even though Nelson had been dropped, the phone booth was still up for grabs going into the championship rounds, thought the booth in this instance was a bit larger since both fighters were winging from range. Finally, in the last round, a rejuvenated Sánchez decked a still very dangerous but tiring Nelson with a malefic four-punch combo. The game warrior rose but was wobbly. Sánchez went right after him, landed five more blows that badly staggered Nelson across the ring just before referee Tony Perez, in one of his best career calls, jumped in to halt the action at the 1:47 mark. At the end, Nelson’s right jaw was badly swollen and likely broken and blood was coming from his mouth, but the Garden crowd stood and roared its approval for his sparkling effort. They knew what they had just witnessed; they knew greatness when they saw it.

Sadly, Salvador Sanchez died shortly after this fight in an automobile accident. As for Azumah Nelson, this fight signaled his future greatness. His come-from-behind knockout of Wilfredo Gomez in Puerto Rico in 1983 removed any lingering doubts as to his growing stature, but his attempt to become a three division world champion failed when he lost a decision to Pernell Whitaker in 1990. He then bounced back to beat rugged Juan Laporte. After fighting to a draw against Jeff Fenech, he iced the future Hall of Famer in their rematch. (In 2008, they inexplicitly fought again, but both were way beyond anything resembling a prime.) Nelson went 1-2-1 against Jesse James Leja, who seemed to have his number.

During his career, he won the WBC Super Featherweight Championship, the WBC Featherweight Championship, the Commonwealth Featherweight Championship, the African Featherweight Title, and the Featherweight Championship of Ghana. He beat such notables as Gomez, Leija, Calvin Grove, Gabriel Ruelas Fenech, La Porte, Mario Martinez, Marcos Villasana, Lupe Suarez, Sidnei Dal Rovere, Pat Cowdell (with one of the most chilling KOs ever witnessed), Juvenal Ordenes, Irving Mitchell, and the aforementioned Chiteule. Eventually, he would be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame with a record of 38-6-2

He gained national hero status in the coastal West African nation of Ghana as the greatest fighter ever to come out of that country (David Kotei became Ghana's first World boxing champion when he won the WBC featherweight title in 1975). Indeed, many regard “The Professor” as the greatest fighter ever to emerge from the African continent.

Today, Ghanaian fighters like the current IBF Bantam weight world champion Joseph Agbeko and top welterweight contender Joshua Clottey prepare for key battles. Like former champions Alfred Kotey, Ike "Bazooka" Quartey, and Nana Konadu, they too are looking to make their mark in Ghanaian boxing history. The somewhat unknown Konadu fought between 1985 and 2001 and ran up a marvelous record of 41-5-1 and a KO percentage of 68.09. This global road warrior fought everywhere and against everyone winning the WBC super flyweight title from Gilberto Roman (53-4-1) in Mexico City. Roman was decked five times over 12 rounds. In 1991, he beat Juan Polo Perez in Zaragoza, Spain to win the IBC Super Flyweight Title, and then in 1996, he won the WBA Ordinary World bantamweight title by stopping Veeraphol Sahaprom in Kanchanaburi, Thailand

These days, Kofi “Pride of Ashanti” Jantuah (32-3-1) is very much in the middleweight picture. Ossie Duran fights on, but it appears that teak tough Ben “Wonder” Tackie may be nearing the end of a career in which he showed total disdain for cherry picking and fought only at the highest level of his profession (and usually in his opponents home territory). Philip “Sweet Pea” Kotey last fought in 2007 and appears to be at the end with a fine 19-4-1 slate.

The aforementioned were all fine fighters, but when all is said and done, there was just one who stood out, and he was called “The Professor,” a name he was given for his propensity to teach boxing lessons to his opponents.

He also put his country on the boxing map in a losing effort. He was that good.

Article posted on 22.04.2009

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