Fenech Decisions Nelson
By Chris Williams: If you can’t beat someone during your youth, bring them back in their old age and make it happen. This indeed is what a middle aged 44 year-old featherweight/super featherweight champion Jeff Fenech (29-3-1, 21 KOs) did with former WBC super featherweight champion Azumah Nelson (39-6-2, 28 KOs) on Tuesday night, beating him by a controversial 10-round majority decision. Forget for a second about Nelson’s age, 49 years-old, Fenech at least accomplished what he couldn’t do in his prime, even if it meant pulling Nelson out of his 10 year retirement, put him in front of a hostile Australian audience, and then rough him up by pushing him against the ropes for the entire fight, to make it happen. The final judges’ scores were 96-94, 96-94 and 95-95.
Even with all that going for Fenech, he still didn’t appear to win the fight, even though he got what appeared to be a home town decision. The two fighters had fought previously, with the first bout being a 12-round draw in 1991 and the second fight seeing Nelson stop Fenech in the 8th round a year later in 1992. I saw both fights, and there was no way the first fight was a draw, as Nelson appeared to win that fight by a comfortable margin of at least two to three rounds. I’m not precisely sure why Fenech suddenly decided after 16 years to try and avenge his one defeat to Nelson.
Why did he wait so long, and what would it prove to beat a fighter nearing 50? I can understand making the fight for a paycheck, but if revenge is the motive, then I feel that it is bittersweet. Judging by how Fenech looked on Tuesday night, running constantly in the second half of the fight, getting staggered and getting booed constantly by the angry Australian fans, he can’t be feeling too good about this fight either. In particular, because it appeared to be another draw like their first fight in 1991. And, the only reason it appeared to be a draw, and not another loss for Fenech, is because Nelson (a notorious slow starter) waited too long to start coming on in the fight.
In rounds one through four, Fenech, 44, controlled the action, constantly pushing Nelson to the corner and leaning on him and landing short punches on the inside. Fenech looked older than 44, about the same age as the 49 year-old Nelson, although Nelson appeared to be the much better skilled fighter. Whenever the two fighters were at the center of the ring, Nelson would nail Fenech with right hands to the head and lefts to the body, hitting him at will and making him look not unlike an unskilled MMA fighter trying to slug it out without much technique.
Indeed, Fenech looked close to horrible when in the center of the ring, having no hand speed, little ability to land shots, and very little power. For that reason, it seemed, that Fenech would either run around the ring a couple of times, then dive bomb in on Nelson, bum rushing him and shoving him across the ring to a nearby corner. Of course, this kind of rough stuff would never fly elsewhere in the world, where Fenech would likely be penalized for constant pushing. Never the less, it went unchecked on Tuesday night in his home country.
On the inside, Fenech was able to land well much of the time, landing short punches, and keeping Nelson’s back pinned to the ropes. Fenech was able to accomplish this by leaning on him with both his shoulder and his bead, which kept the older Nelson trapped and unable to escape from the ropes. In fighting in close quarter, Fenech appeared to be even smothering his own power, as he was unable to get much leverage on his shots. However, he appeared not concerned with that, mostly focusing on outworking Nelson, which he was able to do without many problems during this time.
Starting in the 5th round, Nelson was able to get Fenech off the ropes for a brief spell, enough time to land some big right hands in the center of the ring. He then stalked Fenech as he turned and ran like a wounded deer, trying to escape. A short time later, Fenech once again dive bombed on Nelson, charging him and shoving him roughly to the ropes. This time, however, Fenech wasn’t able to keep him pinned there for long with his head and shoulders.
In rounds six and seven, Fenech attempted to keep the fight against the ropes, where he would often tie Nelson up in a headlock and pound him on the sides while he was helpless. He also had a clever technique of hooking Nelson’s right arm, and then nailing with right hands as he was helpless to block punches. Fenech continued to outland Nelson, but most of the shots were the weak variety, not landing cleanly and no match for Nelson’s bigger shots landed at the center of the ring.
Fenech ran continuously from rounds eight through ten, stopping occasionally to bull rush Nelson into the ropes. However, even when he had him there, Fenech couldn’t keep him there for long as Nelson would break free and start stalking Fenech around the ring, hitting him with big shots to the midsection and head. It seemed clear that Fenech couldn’t handle the pressure, was gassed and couldn’t deal with Nelson’s superior power. The Australian crowd seemed furious with Fenech for the final three rounds, booing him constantly for his nonstop running and his back of punching.
He didn’t seem to pay any attention to them, fighting as if he had the fight in the bag and didn’t need to stand and fight with Nelson. It was sad, because even then, I figured that Fenech would get the decision, even though it was clear that he wasn’t going to win the right based on his lack of fighting in the second half of the fight. In the 10th round, Nelson suddenly staggered Fenech with a big right hand in the last 30 seconds of the round, causing him to clinch for life to prevent from being knocked out.
The Australian crowd, naturally, hated what was happening at booed all the way until the final bell. Afterwards, when Fenech declared the winner, the crowd began booing once again, obviously like me, thinking that the fight should either have been scored a draw or the decision given to Nelson.