Legends of our time, Springboard celebrates Azumah Nelson

BY: Emmanuel Bruce
Azumah Nelson
Azumah Nelson

Azumah Nelson is a Ghanaian former professional boxer who is widely considered as the greatest African boxer of all time.

He was born on July 19, 1958 and his career began in 1979.

He went on to win the WBC Featherweight title once and the WBC super featherweight title twice.

In 1981, Nelson beat Bozzou Aziza in Togo; it was his first fight abroad. He then beat Miguel Ruiz in his first United States fight, held in California. He added the Commonwealth of Nations' Featherweight title with a fifth-round knockout of Brian Roberts.

Despite all his early achievements and being undefeated in 13 fights, Nelson was virtually unknown outside Ghana. That, however, changed when he made his first global appearance in a world title fight when he challenged WBC Featherweight champion, Salvador Sánchez, in 1982, a fight he lost by a technical knockout in round 15.

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This week, the Springboard, ‘Your Virtual University’, a radio programme on Joy FM, used the edition to celebrate Azumah Nelson, popularly referred to as the ‘Champ’.

Explaining how he lost his first world title fight, Nelson said he was put at a significant disadvantage when his custom mouthpiece was stolen and he had to make do with a makeshift one purchased from a store and cut to his mouth with a knife, leaving him in pain for the whole fight.

He also indicated that he had just two weeks to train for the fight as the one who had to fight Sanchez pulled out at the last minute and he had to replace the person.

He said although he lost that fight, he was not disappointed because he came to the attention of the world as a future champion.

Shot at the world title

Nelson did not disappoint when he got a second shot at the world title, following the death of Salvador Sánchez in a car accident, knocking out Wilfredo Gómez in round 11 to win the WBC Featherweight title.

“This time round, I ensured the title came to Ghana,” he said.

He then went on to defeat Mario Martinez by a split decision over 12 rounds in Los Angeles to win the vacant WBC super featherweight title.

When asked on how long it took him before he got a shot at the world title, he said: “I had my 14th fight and Sanchez was supposed to fight someone but the person pulled out of the fight so my manager came to tell me we have a fight and they gave me just two weeks to train before the fight.”

“I lost that fight but in two years I got my chance against Wilfredo Gómez and I knocked him out,” he said.

Touching on what drove him in his boxing career, he mentioned God, focus, hard work, determination and humility as his trump cards for success.

Answering a question on which was more difficult, winning the title or defending it, he said defending the title was more difficult.

“Anyone can be a champion but how to defend it and keep going is the most important thing,” he said.

How it started

Touching on how his boxing career began, he said he developed the interest for the sport through his father who was a boxing fan himself and used to take him along to watch boxing bouts.

“I didn’t know I will be a boxer. My father wanted to be a boxer but his family didn’t allow him. He loved boxing and still took me to watch bouts,” he stated.

He said on one of the bouts, he saw two young boys fighting, with the bigger one beating the smaller one, something he said angered him.

“When I saw the sweat, I thought the small one was crying and on that night, I told my father I want to fight the big boy and from that day I kept putting pressure on him to allow me to start boxing,” he explained.

Most difficult fight

Azumah Nelson cited his fight against Mario Martinez in 1988 as the most difficult fight in his career.

“That guy was a good boxer and had a heavy punch. I fought him twice and he was my toughest opponent. I won the first fight on split decision, gave him a rematch and knocked him out in the 12th round,” he stated.

Helping people

Touching on his purpose in life, the man who used part of his earnings to pay for television rights to ensure Ghanaians got the opportunity to watch his fights said he had only two purposes in life— boxing and helping people.

He said it was for that reason why he opened the Azumah Nelson Foundation to support the underprivileged.

“People think I am crazy but I don’t think I am because I know what to do to make myself happy and that is helping people. There is blessing in giving than in receiving. I have passed through difficult times, when I sometimes slept without food so I know how it feels when somebody says he is hungry,” he pointed out.

When asked if any of his children will be a boxer, he said his 15-year-old son would one day become a world champion. — GB