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The WBC Wasn’t the First Entity to Overturn the Result of the Fenech-Nelson Fight

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  • The WBC Wasn’t the First Entity to Overturn the Result of the Fenech-Nelson Fight

    Click image for larger version  Name:	The-WBC-.PNG Views:	0 Size:	624.0 KB ID:	22274

    By Arne K. Lang

    The June 28, 1991 fight card in the outdoor arena at the Mirage in Las Vegas was a star-studded event. There were dozens of celebrities in attendance including such notables as filmmakers Steven Spielberg and Spike Lee, actors Clint Eastwood and Bruce Willis, comedian Robin Williams, rapper M.C. Hammer, celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, Michael Jordan, and Rev. Jesse Jackson.

    There were also a good smattering of Australians. They came not to see the main event, the rematch between Mike Tyson and Razor Ruddock, but in hopes of seeing their countryman Jeff Fenech become the youngest fighter to win a world title in four weight classes. Fenech, 27, had won world titles at 118, 122, and 127 pounds. His opponent Azumah Nelson, 32, the pride of Ghana, was the reigning WBC super featherweight (130-pound) champion.

    This reporter was there too.

    Fenech vs. Nelson was an entertaining scrap. Fenech started slowly and things looked dismal for him when he suffered a cut over his left eye in round three. But he was the aggressor throughout, repeatedly cornering Nelson and then leaning into him, flailing away with body punches that landed with a conspicuous thud. Azumah rallied in the 11th, but the Aussie dominated the final round wherein he landed the best punch of the fight, staggering Nelson with a hard right to the jaw.

    This thin summary was pieced together from old newspaper reports. Looking back 31 years, I have no memory of what transpired inside the ropes. There’s just too much clutter between my ears. But I distinctly remember my reaction when the decision was announced as a draw. “Bull****,” I exclaimed to no one in particular, a bleat drowned out by a concordant chorus of boos.

    Las Vegas judge Jerry Roth scored the fight 115-113 for Fenech. His Las Vegas counterpart Dave Moretti had it 114-114, but Puerto Rican judge Miguel Donate saw a different fight. He had it 116-112 for Azumah Nelson, thereby enabling Nelson, co-managed by Carl King, stepson of promoter Don King, to retain his title. (For what it’s worth, Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, working for Showtime, had it 117-111 for Fenech, awarding him nine rounds.)

    In Australia, the decision was greeted with a spasm of outrage. People screaming for justice lit up the switchboard at the headquarters of Sky Channel which had beamed the fight to more than two thousand outlets across the country. RIPPED OFF AGAIN, LES DARCY, PHAR LAP AND NOW JEFF FENECH blared the headline over Roy Masters’ story in the Sydney Morning Herald. (The legendary Darcy was blackballed by American boxing promoters after leaving Australia to avoid conscription in World War I. He died in 1917 at age 21 in Memphis, Tennessee, from blood poisoning attributed to a botched tooth extraction. Phar Lap, although bred in New Zealand, competed extensively in Australia and came to be recognized as that country’s greatest thoroughbred race horse. Shipped to America, he died in 1932 in his stall in Atherton, California, under mysterious circumstances three weeks after setting a track record in the rich Agua Caliente Handicap at Tijuana.)

    The Fenech-Nelson fight of 1991 was in the news again last week. At its annual convention held this year in Acapulco, Mexico, with Jeff Fenech in attendance, the World Boxing Council retroactively overturned the result and awarded Fenech his fourth title. According to WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman, a special panel was convened to review the tape of the fight and the panelists were universally in accord that Fenech had been wronged.

    This news transported me back to the day that I learned to my mortification that my first boxing book was smudged by more than a few errors. The revelation came in an otherwise generous review of my book by a good friend, Hall of Fame boxing writer Graham Houston.

    The book -- “Prizefighting: An American History” (released in hardback by McFarland in 2008 and re-released in paperback in 2020) – included two chapters on Mike Tyson, one of which included a passing reference to the Fenech-Nelson fight, an encounter, I wrote, that “produced catcalls when the decision was awarded to Nelson.”

    But, of course, the decision was not awarded to Nelson; it was a draw. I was right there when it happened and I still got it wrong.

    There are no small errors in a book of non-fiction. Every error degrades the credibility of the author. I wish that I could go back and change it. And there’s little consolation in the fact that the WBC vindicated me last week, in a fashion, by ordaining Jeff Fenech the winner. It was a dumb ruling that potentially opens a Pandora’s Box. (Will the Mexico City-based WBC now overturn the bad decision that enabled Jaime Munguia to keep his title when he fought Dennis Hogan in 2019? Fat chance.)

    History would show that Jeff Fenech and Azumah Nelson would fight twice more. Eight months after their Las Vegas episode they locked horns again, this time before 30,000-plus at a stadium in Melbourne and to the great dismay of the Aussies, their hero left his fight in the gym. Fenech was knocked down in each of the first two frames and there wasn’t a whimper of protest when U.S. referee Arthur Mercante stepped in and waived the fight off in the eighth round.

    Fighting on his home turf, Fenech was considered such a shoo-in that Fenech-Nelson II was named The Ring magazine Upset of the Year, a distinction that was quite an anomaly; a very rare instance of a monster upset forged by the title-holder rather than the challenger.

    Sixteen years later, long after both fighters had retired and after both had been ushered into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, they shed the cobwebs and went at it again. Fenech prevailed, winning a 10-round decision.

    The revisionists at the WBC may disagree, but by winning the quasi-rubber match, Fenech knotted the series at 1-1-1.

    Arne K. Lang’s latest book, titled “George Dixon, Terry McGovern and the Culture of Boxing in America, 1890-1910,” has rolled off the press. Published by McFarland, the book can be ordered directly from the publisher ( or via Amazon.

    Last edited by AcidArne; 11-14-2022, 09:58 PM.

  • #2
    Nice write up. When KO Digest interviewed Fenech in 2014 we got into this decision, he said: “Can anybody watch that fight and give Azumah Nelson more than three rounds? I threw a hundred punches more. The fight wasn’t even close. Of course, it was a great fight, it was one of the greatest fights in history, but it wasn’t close. At the end of the twelfth round, if I hadn’t held him up, he would have fallen down. If they didn’t hide his mouth guard at the end of the ninth round, I may have knocked him out. If this was a 15-round fight, I’d have stopped him. After the first Nelson fight, I have no excuses, but I was never the same. It took something away from me. I was going to be the first boxer ever to win four world titles undefeated. I was the first fighter to win three undefeated. Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, and Roberto Duran, they all lost before winning their fourth titles. I was the first undefeated three time world champion. After that draw, I was never the same. I can’t put my finger on it, but something left me that day.”

    Fenech also made a great comment about Tyson and Ali. He said “Muhammad Ali predicted the round but Mike Tyson predicted violence.” Yup. Well said indeed. 🤔


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