On this day 1 March 1992 (Exactly 27 years ago) Ghana’s Azumah Nelson TKOs Jeff Fenech of Australia in round 8 at Princes Park Football Ground, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia and retained his WBC super featherweight title. It was the second meeting of their trilogy. Their first fight was nine months earlier and ended in a split decision draw.
The 1st fight at the Mirage, Las Vegas was an absolute classic barn burner! Azumah retained his title that night with a controversial draw against three-weight world champion Jeff Fenech. Many ringside observers and boxing writers felt Fenech had deserved to win that night, and an immediate rematch was signed and set for 1 March 1992. The rematch was held in Australia, Nelson adopted a much more controlled approach to his work in the rematch and knocked Fenech out in the eighth round to retain his WBC Title.
Over the previous nine years, Azumah Nelson had won two world titles and established himself as a legit Hall of Famer, while Australia’s Jeff Fenech was an undefeated three-time world champ, gunning now for a fourth world title.
Fenech had been poised for a stardom.
According to “The Marrickville Mauler” himself, the outcome of the first fight changed him and not for the better. Outraged by the decision, he returned to Australia and was back in action just some few months later, but something was gone for good.
“I can’t put my finger on it and tell you exactly what it done to me but I can tell you I was never the same fighter afterwards,” he told Daniel Attias in 2015. “After the [first Nelson] fight I came back home, obviously heartbroken and disappointed [and] I was never the same. I was never the same fighter and we never really seen [again] the guy that fought Azumah Nelson in Vegas.”
But perhaps the Nelson vs Fenech rematch should be less about the abrupt decline of one of the best boxers to ever come out of Australia, and more about the greatness of Azumah. For if Fenech insists that he was something less than his best in the return, Nelson in fact claimed to have been recovering from malaria prior to the first tilt. It’s difficult to be certain if that accounts for the contrast in performances, but what is undeniable is that when they met the second time, it was Nelson who looked every inch an all-time great.
Some forty thousand proud Australians endured a rainstorm to fill the Princes Park in Melbourne, all there to see a wrong righted, but it was not to be. From the opening bell it was clear this was a different version of the Azumah Nelson who had been so passive the previous June. Nelson’s moniker was “The Professor” and the man from Ghana was intent on teaching the younger Fenech a painful lesson as from the outset he held his ground and let fly with powerful blows from either hand. A flush right to the jaw caused the challenger’s legs to collapse in the opening round and right then and there the crowd’s hopes for a continuation of the first match were dashed.
In Las Vegas Fenech had attacked almost with impunity, pinning Azumah to the ropes and dictating the terms and in the process robbing the champion of punching room. He had fought with such confidence and ferocity that Nelson’s advantages in experience, power and accuracy were largely nullified, but now, in front of a huge crowd of his fellow Australians, Fenech appeared uncomfortable and hesitant. In round two he found himself off balance after taking a right hand and lost his footing. It appeared a slip, but the referee gave him the count. In the third Fenech pinned the man from Ghana in his own corner but failed to land any significant blows, and in the fourth, as if anything else could go wrong, he sustained a cut on his right eye.
Rounds five and six saw almost non-stop toe-to-toe warfare with both men landing powerful shots. It had become a contest of wills with the champion working to stay away from the ropes while Fenech continually pressed forward. Near the end of the sixth the challenger got what he wanted when he again forced Nelson into his own corner, but the hunted became the hunter when the champion unleashed a counter barrage of heavy blows that had Fenech reeling and grateful to hear the bell.
And yet, “The Thunder From Down Under” enjoyed perhaps his best round of the match in the seventh as he consistently beat Azumah to the punch. While Nelson’s advantage in sheer power had largely defined the proceedings, the fight was still up for grabs. Until, abruptly, it was not. Round eight was a return to phone booth warfare with the challenger again forcing Nelson to his own corner and keeping him there, but if it appeared Fenech was in charge, then appearances were deceiving. A thudding left hook found the sweet spot on the Australian’s chin and froze him before another left and two rights put him down hard.
Fenech made the mistake of rising too fast from the knockdown and the hometown hero was virtually out on his feet as Nelson moved in for the finish. Flush left hooks and then an uppercut and a finishing right hand had the Australian’s head snapping around like a speed bag before the referee halted the match. The shocked crowd of Fenech fans looked on in silence as a small contingent of Ghanaians gleefully danced about and waved aloft their red, green and yellow flags.
Fenech had nothing to be ashamed of; it had been a violent slugfest all the way and he had given his all, but his mistake was in expecting the same Nelson who had been, comparatively, so weak and defensive back in June. This time a Nelson primed for combat had answered the bell. And “The Professor,” who already held big wins over Wilfredo Gomez and Mario Martinez and Juan LaPorte, confirmed again a most important and lasting lesson, namely that Azumah Nelson was a truly great champion, a Hall of Famer, and the best of all African boxers.
On this day 1 March 2009 (Exactly 10 years ago) Ghana finally came good at the African Nations Championship in Ivory Coast to outclass Democratic Republic of Congo 3-0 and qualify for the semi-finals.
The joint top seeds in the maiden edition of a tournament for local-based players finished top of Group B with five points followed by DR Congo (four), Zimbabwe (three) and Libya (two).
Forced to come from behind against Zimbabwe and Libya to snatch draws, Ghana knew nothing less than victory over DR Congo would assure them of a place in the knockout phase.
The West Africans also wanted to enhance an image spoilt by the sending off of defender Ofusu Appiah against Zimbabwe and Serb coach Milovan Rajevac against Libya.
Charles Taylor broke the deadlock on the stroke of half-time, beating experienced Congolese goalkeeper Muteba Kidiaba with a long-range free kick.
Yaw Antwi added a second through a shot from inside the penalty area and Edmund Owusu Ansah connected with a Ibrahim Ayew cross in the closing stages to claim his second goal of the tournament.
On this day 1 March 2007 (Exactly 12 years ago) Didier Drogba changed his attire midway through the Confederation of African Football awards, almost as to if to symbolise his elevation to a new-found status as the continent’s top player.
Drogba received the 2006 African Footballer of the Year award in traditional robes as he narrowly edged Samuel Eto’o to the highly sought-after individual prize.
In the 2005 poll, Eto’o had beaten off the Ivorian striker by just two votes; this time the tables were turned as Drogba managed a narrow five point margin over the Cameroonian.
Under a shower of shimmering paper, Drogba strode on stage at Accra’s Convention Centre with a multi coloured headscarf and an imperious walking staff, resplendent with a carved elephant at the head of the stick to symbolise his Ivorian roots.
It was as captain of Cote d’Ivoire’s Elephants that he enjoyed among his best moments in 2006, taking the side to the final of the African Nations Cup in Egypt and helping them to make a marked impression at the FIFA World Cup finals in Germany.
Earlier in the night, Drogba had arrived with his Chelsea team mate Michel Essien in a dark formal suit as both went on stage to accept a certificate as members of the best African XI announced earlier at the gala ceremony.
Essien finished third in the voting for the African Footballer of the Year award for a second successive year to the disappointment of a parochial Ghanaian audience.
Another tight race He received 36 votes from the 35 African national team coaches who participated in the poll. It was just under half of the 79 votes for Drogba and the 75 that Eto’o received in a tight contest that mirrored the tussle between the two strikers for the 2005 award.
On that occasion, in Abuja, Nigeria, Eto’o won by just two votes. The two then crossed paths again at the Nations Cup in Egypt where Drogba’s side beat Eto’o’s Indomitable Lions after then Barcelona striker missed the decisive kick in the post-match shootout.
Drogba and Eto’o both made it to the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League with their clubs towards the end of the previous season but while Chelsea lost out on a place in the final, Eto’o went on to score a goal as Barcelona beat Arsenal in the final at the Stade de France in Paris.
Just days earlier, both had again won league honours; Drogba with Chelsea for a second successive year as was the case with Eto’o in Spain.
But while Drogba then went off to the FIFA World Cup finals and another sterling showing, Eto’o had to be content with watching from the sidelines, Cameroon having failed to qualify.
And in the second half of the year, Eto’o battled with a knee injury while Drogba set off on a scoring spree in the English league and early stages of the UEFA Champions League.
It was a spell of hot form that proved decisive for the voters in making a tough choice between two sound candidates.
Drogba, who arrived with Essien from London on a private jet for a stay of under 24 hours, denied Eto’o a chance to make it a record fourth successive award win.
By George ‘Alan Green’ Mahamah