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Azumah Nelson: The Craft Was Never Defined In Punches   
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Azumah Nelson: the craft was never defined in punches, but faith in God It has been 13 years since Ghanaian boxing legend Azumah Nelson called time off his glittering career, during which he held on to the World Boxing Council’s (WBC) featherweight title for a decade.

It was a feat that did not come cheap. He had to endure pain and agony from the punches of opponents in the ring to last that long. A remarkable boxer, who not only contributed to putting Ghana’s name on the globe, but also Bukom, a community in Accra noted for breeding boxers.

He told the Springboard programme (on Joyfm) back in April, 2011, that it was not so much his punches, but faith in God, that ensured he kept the title for such a long time. Now an international boxing hall-of-famer, Azumah, who kept the whole of Ghana alive during his fights, said most of his punches were directed by God. Though he was focused and trained extremely hard during his career, the direction where a punch landed on the face of opponents was more the work of God than himself, he said.

The soft-spoken boxer said looking back on his career, it amazed him anytime he got the opportunity to play back his active days in the ring, and he always wondered if he indeed took out his opponents with those devastating punches.

A fight with Mario Martinez for the vacant WBC World Jr. Lightweight title was one particular bout in which he believed the hand of God was present. The two boxers met twice and Azumah won both. He confessed that the Mexican was a mean opponent in the ring, whose punches felt like a hot iron on his body.

“If you don’t have God, it will be difficult…and when the rematch was coming, I was sleeping and a voice said I should go and take the tape and watch the [first] match…and I saw some punch and I heard that this is the punch you’ll knock him out with,” he recollected from his second bout with Martinez, which he won by a knockout.
Azumah said it never occurred to him that he was going to be a boxer, yet admitted that but for boxing, he might have ended up a truck-pusher. His father desperately wanted him to become a boxer, but his grandfather discouraged him.

“I believe that God gave everybody a talent, and he loved me that he gave me this skill.” When he was growing up, his father would take him to see boxing matches, and it was at one of such bouts that he developed his appetite for boxing. After witnessing a fight in which a rather smallish- looking chap was beaten by a bigger opponent, he was so much incensed by what appeared to be bullying that he told his father to take him into the ring to confront the big guy.

That did not happen. But Azumah, who said he hated bullies and cheats during his childhood, always stepped up to fight any bully he encountered since then. That was how he took up the craft of boxing, which today has not only transformed his life but thousands of dependents who knock on his door almost everyday for assistance.

For a man who once tasted poverty, Azumah’s life has not been negatively influenced by the wealth he has acquired trading punches. He remains a meek person who still recalls his upbringing with nostalgia. He grew up in various places including Mamprobi, Timber Market and Bukom, all in Accra.

Azumah’s career took off as far back as 1979, when his exploits were confined to Ghana. Though he enjoyed enormous popularity in Ghana and to some extent Africa, Azumah was in the early stages an unknown figure in the global boxing arena. It took a 1982 fight with the late Salvador Sanchez at the Madison Square Gardens in New York for the World Boxing Council Featherweight title, for boxing experts to start looking in his direction.

Though he was knocked down in the 15th round, Azumah put up a heroic fight that even shocked the legendary American boxing promoter, Don King, who was said to have asked Sanchez before the fight not to end it early enough due to the Ghanaian’s perceived lack of ring endurance and experience. Don King ate humble pie that night.

Azumah said he got only a two-week notice for the fight and had to endure several obstacles ahead of the fight, which somewhat contributed to his loss. He lost his gum, given to boxers to prevent them from biting their tongue, hours before the fight. But he was so determined to take advantage of the opportunity to fight for a world title that he bought an amateur one in the open market, improvised it by soaking it in hot water before putting it into his mouth.

The gum carried him through the fight, but it did not stop the bleeding brought on by Gomez’s punches. That bloody fight happened to be his turning point as he got another shot to the same title following the unfortunate death of Gomez in a road accident.

On December 8, 1982, in Puerto Rico, Azumah started a steady climb to fame and fortune. He stopped Wilfredo Gomez in the 11th round of their bout to claim the WBC Featherweight title. He beat every single opponent within his rank until he abandoned the title in 1987 after he had fought Villasana.

Among his many bouts with very tough opponents, his fight against Australian boxer Jeff Fenech is the one that most Ghanaians still look back on with pride. That’s the bout most people label the “Father and Son” affair.

Their first meeting ended in a draw, and when Fenech became upset that he had been cheated to the crown, he got a rematch from the champion. The rematch took place in 1992 in Australia, Jeff Fenech’s own backyard, and Azumah punished him when he knocked him out in the eighth round. Fenech himself admitted he had been soundly beaten by the Ghanaian.

Azumah called time off his career in 1998 after losing to James Leija in a fight for the IBA Jr. Lightweight title. He left the ring with a record of 39 wins, 5 losses and 2 draws, with 28 knockouts, a remarkable record most boxers today will envy. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame six years after his retirement in 2004. He is currently channelling his time off the ring to help the needy through his foundation, named after him.

Azumah has been married twice. His first wife Beatrice, with whom he had three children, died of cancer. He later married Peggy, and between them they have three children.
Source: B&FT Lifestyle

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