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Azumah Nelson turns 60 – remembering “The Terrible Warrior”

The great Azumah Nelson celebrates his 60th birthday today. One of the finest fighters ever to have conme out of Africa and to have fought at 126 and 130 pounds, Nelson had a storied career. Nelson achieved many fine wins over fellow greats, and he scored some memorable KO’s. Not so chilling as his total destruction of Britain’s Pat Cowdell.

Entering the Cowdell fight of 1985, Nelson was making the second defence of his WBC featherweight boxing championship. He had won the title just short of a year ago, with an eleventh round stoppage of the great Puerto Rican, Wilfredo Gomez. Now, in October of 1985, in the challenger’s backyard, “The Terrible Warrior” was about to make one of the most memorable defences of his long and distinguished career.
The man in the opposing corner was the former undefeated British featherweight champion, former European featherweight boxing champion, and reigning European super featherweight champion, Pat Cowdell. Despite this wealth of experience, however, Cowdell would be no match for the superb fighting machine from Accra, Ghana.


Both men had tasted defeat in their careers, though. The pair had actually lost to the very same man in the late, great, Salvador Sanchez. Somewhat ironically, however, was the fact that Cowdell had done better in his fight with the legendary Mexican than had Nelson. Cowdell had gone the full fifteen rounds, losing a split decision, while Azumah had been stopped in the very last round when he’d fought Sanchez. This had a lot to do with the fact that the young and virtually unknown Nelson had accepted the fight on a mere six days notice though. Despite this, the African acquitted himself extremely well. So much so that he was avoided for some time afterwards. The win was to be Salvador’s final fight, for he was tragically killed in a road accident shortly thereafter.

Both boxers bounced back well after their loss to Sanchez, Cowdell collected his aforementioned European feather and super featherweight belts, and Nelson wrested the world title from Gomez. Now they would meet one another. Entering the ring on that October day, the pro records of both fighters contained boxing stats that showed their respective qualities. Aside from the loss to Sanchez, Cowdell had only been beaten on two other occasions. He had been stopped in the second round, due to a cut eye, by one Alan Robertson back in 1978, and he had lost on points over fifteen rounds to Dave Needham the following year. As for Nelson, his solitary defeat was the one to the late Mexican.

The hugely pro-Cowdell audience sat back in anticipation of what they felt would be a long and engrossing boxing match. Before they had barely settled into their seats, however, the fight was over with. Nelson, walking forwards with his customary high guard, caught Pat cold with an absolutely wicked left uppercut to the jaw in the very first round. The challenger fell to the canvas, utterly frozen, and remained prostrate there for quite some time. Never given a chance to even get into the fight, Cowdell had been nailed with one helluva cruel and sickening punch. British fans would never forget Nelson.

Nelson went on to solidify his greatness with another four defences of his world title, before successfully moving up to challenge for the super featherweight championship. After retaining this title ten times, including a hard fought win over another British fighter in Jim McDonnell, Azumah was finally beaten by Jesse James Leija in 1993. Only to regain his title two years later with a win over Gabriel Ruelas. Nelson, his place in the history books firmly secure, retired after a points defeat to Leija – in what was the fourth encounter of their series – in 1998. The TKO he suffered at the hands of Sanchez marked the only time this special fighter was ever stopped in almost fifty bouts.

Happy Birthday, champ!