Former president Jeremiah John Rawlings has hailed boxing legend Azumah Nelson as one of the biggest exports of the country adding it was The Professor, as he is fondly called, who compelled some foreigners to check out Ghana’s position on the world map thanks to his superb boxing exploits.
The man who played an integral part in Nelson’s career made these known at the book launch of the three-time world champion titled, THE PROFESSOR: THE LIFE STORY OF AZUMAH NELSON.
According to the NDC founder, although athletics, football and boxing were sporting disciplines that put Ghana on the world map during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, it was the genius of Azumah that propped up Ghana’s name globally long before football did through the Starlets 91 group that proudly annexed the World Under-17 Cup.
Touching on the personal attributes that made many to label Azumah as the greatest African boxer ever, Mr. Rawlings said, “The story of Azumah is truly one of a man who was never intimidated by the challenges of his humble beginnings. He saw every challenge as a reason to create an opportunity. Author Ashley Morrison does an excellent literary job of piecing together the Azumah story, the Azumah way – full of innocence, candour and emotion”.
The book not only showcases Azumah’s lineage and ancestry but also Ghana’s rich cultural history. It leaves nothing out in capturing the socio-political situation that persisted especially during the world title days.
The book first launched in Australia, offers Ghanaians a sneak peek into how we regulated and preserved natural resources back in the day when Azumah’s childhood friend Obi Oblitey offered a vivid description of the beauty of the blue seawater that used to be the Korle Lagoon – full of fish that swam in peaceful abandon surrounded by coconut trees that bordered the river bank, but now polluted and left to rot.
Rawlings reliving the tough days of his rule said Professor Azumah Nelson almost single-handedly flew the kite of Ghana at a time citizens had little to cheer about, bringing so much joy to millions across the country, adding he was an embodiment of the sense of purpose, sense of mission and unity that had gripped the nation during the revolutionary period.
Nelson then limited in his use of the English language often falling on the phrase ‘you know, you know’ became an attraction on its own often leading Ghanaians to eagerly await his post-match interviews. “It was the round thirteen of most bouts as he sometimes created his own lexicon and riled us with laughter as we savoured his latest victory. He was always magnanimous in victory but never hesitant to drop a threat or two, completing it with a knockout prediction when the unrepentant opponent claimed Azumah had not won on merit,” Mr. Rawlings added.
The AFRC/PNDC/NDC strong man full of praise and admiration could not help but state that the professor was not only physical but had a spiritual dimension to his game indicating that he had both a sixth and seventh sense that made the former two-time WBC super-featherweight Champion rise above his peers.
Ring Magazine’s Nigel Collins tried to unravel the enigma of Azumah when he described his style as “a strange hybrid,” adding that: “He is best described as a cerebral slugger, and it’s what goes on inside his head that is his greatest asset. He is cool, calculating, with just the right touch of fanaticism. And never, even under the most trying circumstances, does he get discouraged.”
Touching on Azumah’s never say die spirit, Mr. Rawlings said “He demonstrated the true spirit of a boxer. In football, when you are in trouble, most players pass the buck or pass the ball. In boxing, there is no one to pass it on to. You can’t pass the buck in a boxing ring, and to have held the title for that long also demonstrates the fighting spirit of the man.
He is, in a way self-made. Others who tried to rely on other environments didn’t last that long. Most champions do not last as long as he did, and he did so because of his own personal and internal spiritual, mental, and physical discipline – all three, the state of his mind and spirit. He made sure that his physical performance did not fall behind the strength of his mind and spirit. Winning the championship, the environment did not change his mindset. If he made money, it did not change him.”
The former WBC featherweight champion’s desire to die for Ghana and put a smile on the faces of Ghanaians was never in doubt so much so that Azumah had a clause in his contract that ensured that all his world title fights had to be relayed directly to GBC so that Ghanaians could watch him live. When such arrangements were not in his contract he doled out thousands of dollars for the live telecast to take place.
Commending the author, the flight lieutenant noted that Ashley Morrison has done excellent research in interviewing opponents, judges, referees, promoters and other boxers and offers a varied and broad commentary on the intriguing life of the Professor as well as the controversial world of boxing.
“Professor, I commend you for taking great pains to put together this biography. It is another sign of your selfless devotion to your country. This book should be compulsory reading for our young ones at all levels of education in the country. It is a book about a life well lived and a life every citizen of our country should emulate” he concluded.
Nelson was selected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame on 8 January 2004. He was inducted on 13th June 2004. He is also a member of the World Boxing Hall of Fame.
Neslon’s boxing victims include Billy Kwame, Hector Cortez, Wilfredo Gómez, Juvenal Ordenes, Mario Martinez, McDonnell and Jeff Fenech.
Nelson had a record of 39 wins, 6 losses and 2 draws, with 28 knockout wins.