Together they gave the 130 pound division two quite incredible fights, both of them certainly Fight of The Year material. Azumah Nelson, one of the greatest African fighters of all time, and Jeff Fenech, one of the greatest Australian fighters of all time, went to war in thrilling fashion in the summer of 1991 and again in the early spring of 1992.
The first fight, a feature on the under-card of Mike Tyson’s return rumble with Donovan “Razor” Ruddock in Las Vegas, wound up being a controversial draw. Fenech was shooting for a history-making fourth world title win at new weight super-feather, but Nelson, the defending WBC champion at 130, denied “The Thunder From Down Under” by hanging on under the blistering heat and seeing out the 12 brutal rounds.
The draw infuriated Fenech and the majority of fight fans the word over demanded a return fight. This came, in Fenech’s home country, and this time Fenech Vs. Nelson was no under-card feature. It was big. Nelson, having entered the ring for the first fight having lost a good deal of his strength due to a recent battle with malaria, proved to be way too clever, way too powerful and way too masterful for Fenech; stopping him in the eighth-round of another sizzling fight.
It was, Nelson has revealed all these years later, this performance that saw him pick up his famous “Professor” nickname (having previously been known as “The Terrible Warrior.” Nelson has an autobiography out (and what a fascinating read it really does promise to be) and he recently recalled the two Fenech fights (they actually fought a third fight, when both greats were years removed from the primes; Fenech winning a majority decision in Australia) for GTV.
“It was after I fought Jeff Fenech and knocked him out in 1992,” Nelson said with regards to getting his nickname. “I first fought him in 1991 where I felt they cheated as they decided a split decision which ended in a draw as we went the distance in Las Vegas. I then planned to knock him out the next time we fought. After months of negotiations, he decided to take the fight to his hometown in Australia. I told him he can take the fight to his country to allow his brother sister and his entire family be the referee and judges – I will still beat him. I did say I will knock him out in the seventh round and I told my brother to remind me before the sixth round to remind me that the next will be in the seventh round where I knock him out. In his excitement, he forgot to do so and then prompted me at the end of the sixth round that we are going into the seventh round. I then told him that he was supposed to tell me the round before. However in the seventh round I could not knock him out because I had to prepare him for the kill to knock him out in the next round. I happened to knock him out in the eighth round and it was there I got the name “professor.”
Interesting stuff indeed, even if it is quite amazing that Nelson says HE was cheated in the first fight. In fact, Fenech, having his US debut, almost scored a 12th round stoppage, or it sure looked that way as a tired and hurt Nelson hung on.
But Nelson proved his greatness in the return, of that there is no doubt. As for that third fight, well, reading Azumah’s new book will undoubtedly prove far more entertaining. An interesting question: who was the overall greater fighter – former feather and super-featherweight king Nelson, 39-6-2(28), or former bantamweight, super-bantamweight and featherweight ruler Fenech, 29-3-1(21)?