|Fenech promises fireworks against Nelson
Interview By Anthony Cocks, Site Editor (May 28, 2008) Doghouse Boxing
When Jeff Fenech was unceremoniously knocked out in two rounds by unheralded South African Philip Holiday in Melbourne some twelve years ago, it was obvious to most fight fans that Fenech’s boxing career had reached the end of the road.
Now, at age 44, Fenech is preparing for his unlikely return to the ring when he faces arch nemesis Azumah Nelson at Melbourne’s Vodafone Arena in Australia on June 24.
The storyline to this fight is simple. After boxing to a highly disputed draw with Nelson on the Don King promoted Mike Tyson versus Razor Ruddock II undercard, a rematch was agreed upon in the Australian’s home country. This time around a rejuvenated Nelson out-hustled and out-bustled Fenech en route to an 8th round stoppage in a fight that was named The Ring magazine’s Upset of the Year.
But that was sixteen long years ago. So why push an ageing body through the gruelling grind of roadwork, bag work and punishing sparring to return to the ring now?
“I’d never really thought about coming back,” admitted Fenech, who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2002 after retiring with a 28-3-1 (21) record. “There was talk of me fight Samart Payakaroon, then there was talk of him pulling out. The replacement happened to be Azumah Nelson, so now I’m even more motivated to fight and win.”
When negotiations to fight Payakaroon fell through, fellow Hall of Famer Nelson quickly fell into the frame.
“When they wanted the fight with Nelson it was a different kettle of fish, a different ball game for me,” explained Fenech. “This is going to be a much harder task and I’m going to have to train much better for it. I never really thought of fighting again but it just sort of happened that way and I’ve got to get on with it.”
But not everyone is happy that this matchup is taking place. Alan Moore, president of the Australian National Boxing Federation, believes the fight is fraught with danger.
"Both fighters have been idols of mine and to think they are getting into the ring at their age, and after 10 years of inactivity, is a grave concern," said Moore, a former Australian welterweight champion and respected boxing official. "Boxing is hazardous enough for extremely fit young athletes without blokes who are close to 50 taking risks. There's not many places in the world where they'd sanction this fight.”
Former WBA featherweight champion Barry McGuigan voiced similar concerns in his column for The Mirror.
"The coming contest will prove nothing except that one old man is better than another," he wrote. “This is ridiculously silly on a number of fronts. But first and foremost it is dangerous. Boxing is not something you play at. It does not support a seniors league. This is not golf.”
Still, boxing is a sport built on rivalries, personalities and popularity as much as fistic ability. Fenech believes that the history between the two boxers combined with their loyal legions of fans will make this promotion a success.
“Fighting a great fighter is always good, but had I won the first fight and won the way I thought I did, there would never have been a rematch,” he said. “I would have moved straight up to a heavier division and challenged Pernell Whitaker, so who knows what might’ve happened had I won. But look, everything happens for a reason and like I said sixteen years later we’re doing it again, as crazy as it might seem.
“If someone would’ve asked me six months ago I would’ve told them they’ve got rocks in their head. But the only person with rocks in their head is me, because that’s what I would’ve told anybody six months ago. Like I said, I’m up to the challenge, he’s up to the challenge and I’m sure that we’re going to put on a great fight. This is going to be two people who are very proud, two people who have got a great tradition, two people who are in the Hall of Fame. We’re going to have a real dig at this.”
Since starting his preparation Fenech has dropped over 16 kilograms in weight and expects to be in great shape comes fight night after top class sparring with former world titleholder Gairy St Clair and Peter Mitrevski Jr. The training hasn’t been easy according to Fenech, but is has been rewarding.
“I’m just trying to get enough time into me as I can,” said Fenech of his training regime. “Not that I’ve got ring rust, just that you’ve got to get used to actually physical body contact to be ready for the fight.”
Working again with renowned trainer Johnny Lewis, who took Kostya Tszyu and Jeff Harding to world titles along with Fenech, has provided The Marrickville Mauler with a familiar and respected figure in his corner.
“It’s always an honour and a pleasure to be with Johnny Lewis,” Fenech said. “He’s a great trainer and he’s the kind of guy that can motivate you and lift you to do things that you’re incapable of on your own.”
The brittle hands that plagued Fenech throughout his career are holding up well to the intense training, according to the former three division champion.
“They weren’t great until I first started using them again but now they’re back to normal,” laughed Fenech. “But I’m used to that and I’m prepared to go through that pain again to change the result.”
Nelson, a two-division champion in his own right who made 17 successful defences in three title reigns, is reportedly in great shape too. But whether two boxers with a combined age of 93 will make for a competitive, compelling contest remains to be seen, Fenech is promising to bring a quality undercard to Melbourne that should produce fireworks of its own.
“The first thing the fans can expect is a great show because we’re going to have a great undercard,” he said. “We’re going to have Australian heavyweight champion Bob Mirovic fighting, we’re going to have ‘Tiger’ Tim Bell from Melbourne fighting, we’re going to have Shannon McMahon fighting, we’re going to have some great local kids from Sydney fighting. They can also expect two warriors on the other side of forty who are both very proud guys who want to win. And when you get two guys who have been there and done it before the way we have, I think it’ll be a great fight.”
The ten round welterweight clash is also unique as both Fenech and Nelson will be donating large parts of their purses to their nominated charities.
“I’m donating to two charities,” said Fenech. “One is the Down Syndrome Society of Australia and the other is the Spastic Centre of Australia. To be able to help people at this stage of my life and at this age, I think it is a great feeling. It is one of the main reasons I accepted the challenge of Azumah Nelson because I knew I would raise more money for charity and raise more awareness. It has given me extra motivation to do well. I want to make everybody proud and I hope they support me on June 24th at Vodafone Arena.”
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