Recalling The Azumah Nelson-Jeff Fenech Rematch

Talk about a return to form. Talk about leaving no doubt about who is the better man. 28 years ago today, 130 pound rivals Azumah Nelson and Jeff Fenech met in a rematch of a great fight, a rematch that was demanded by all fight fans; those in Australia in particular.

Back in June of 1991, Fenech, making his U.S debut, battled African great Nelson for all 12 rounds in a fierce fight that took place in Las Vegas (on the under-card of Mike Tyson’s rematch with Razor Ruddock). Fenech was frightening on this night; relentless, crammed full of energy, wanting the win so, so bad. It looked like “The Thunder From Down Under” was assured the victory at the conclusion of the 36 minutes of intense warfare.

Indeed, only Nelson’s toughness, experience and incredible chin kept him in the fight. But Fenech had gotten the better of it, to the extent that he would in no way be denied by the three judges. Wrong. Fenech was in tears as he heard the fight ruled a draw. “put the gloves on and let’s fight right now,” the almost inconsolable Fenech cried. And he meant it. Nelson had been beaten and he knew it.

So to the rematch.

A few things had changed. First of all, the sequel saw Nelson have to make the long trip to Australia. Secondly, Azumah was in full health this time round. Having battled a debilitating case of malaria ahead of fight-one (not too many people, least of all Fenech, accepting this excuse), Nelson felt his energy sap in the later rounds of the first war – to the extent that “The Terrible Warrior” was very nearly taken out in the final round in Vegas.

This time it was Fenech who was beaten up. Before a huge partisan crowd of 40,000, Fenech got the shock of a career as he was outclassed and overpowered by Nelson. The first fight saw Fenech bully Nelson into the ropes, long spells of the terrific action taking place in a corner, with Fenech getting the better of it. This time, Nelson was able to take his time, dominate the ring and dictate the fight from the off.

Fenech, tasting the full venom and strength of Nelson for the first time, dug in as best he could, but he was facing a totally different fighter. It was a totally different fight. Nelson cracked Fenech with a flush right hand to the chin in the very first round, dropping the home country hero hard. Nelson was in charge yet he hadn’t even started fighting his hardest yet.

Fenech was on the floor in the second, yet it looked to all to be a slip and a bad call by referee Arthur Mercante, who scored a knockdown. It was going from bad to worse for Fenech. Cut in the fourth, Fenech was soon reduced to using his knee as a weapon. Nothing fazed Nelson, however. To his enormous credit, Fenech roared back in rounds five and six, at last having some success. It was great action, a six-minute flashback to the first classic fight.

Nelson took some shots in the seventh, Fenech’s heart and sheer drive serving him well, but “The Professor,” another of Nelson’s nicknames, closed the show in the eighth A sweet left hand to the jaw froze Fenech, Nelson whipping in three follow-up, finishing blows to the head the dropped the Australian warrior. Somehow, Fenech got back up. Quickly. But Nelson now had in front of him a target upon which to practice. More left hooks to the head and a sickening uppercut and a right forced Mercante to dive in.

What a fight. What a performance from Nelson. Fans witnessed true greatness on March 1, 1992.

These two, however, were not quite done yet. Well, they were, but as old dudes, Fenech and Nelson fought again, this time in Accra, Ghana. The 2008 fight saw Fenech win a slow-mo ten round decision over Nelson. So, on paper at least, these two superb fighters are 1-1-1. But Nelson, when at his best, when he was close to his prime (Nelson was 33 in the second fight, to Fenech’s 28) showed who was boss.

Nelson was the epitome of an almost flawless fighting machine on this day 28 years ago.