Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Zooming for glory - Azuma on the line

By Ebo Quansah

Ghana has produced a number of world-class featherweight boxers and Azumah Nelson is probably the best of them all. He takes on Pat Cowdell in Birmingham this weekend. This writer assesses their chances.
There are striking similarities in the fortunes of the two men who rule the world in the nine-stone category of professional boxing.

Like Barry McGuigan, who is a unifying factor to Irishmen on both sides of the border, Azuma Nelson is about the only source of pride to the 14 million people of the former British Colony of Ghana that have seen the land of their birth devastated by political and economic mismanagement.

In the ring, both champions wear the ferocious look of hungry prize fighters, prepared to draw on the last calorie of energy to press home their claim for honours.

On current performances, they compare with all those great names that graced the featherweight ranks of the noble art of self defence. Men like Davey More, Sugar Ramos, Danny Lopez and Salvador Sanchez, who held the world title at one time or another, would be too glad to welcome the two champions into any exclusive club of all time great featherweights.

That partially accounts for the British press almost relegation of local boy, Pat Cowdell, in their build-up to Saturday's World Boxing Council featherweight championship, at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre.

The London Sunday Times even went to the extent of appealing to McGuigan to avoid Nelson if he hopes to reign longer. That a unification challenge contest would be a sell-out is never in doubt and that must be one reason why Azuma launched a verbal assault on the Irishman on arrival at London's Heathrow Airport while his immediate concentration should be 32 year-old Cowdell who will be in the square ropes with the Ghanaian on Saturday.

The once retired ex-European champion seems to have only one aim in mind. To earn a few quids for the rough road to permanent retirement. The sort of compliment he paid the Ghanaian champion is one devoid of any ambition in the fistic sport beyond Saturday. "Azuma is the greatest featherweight around. The only reason they gave me a chance is that they consider me a warm-up".

Like the legendary Muhammed Ali, Azuma fights his battles on two fronts. While his durability and punching power take care of the physical confrontation, the WBC champion carries his psychological warfare on his lips.

"I'm coming to get you Pat Cowdell. You got to be ready. I don't care where I go. Just put me in the ring. I'm the best in the world. Tell him he's in trouble. Tell him the warrior is coming".

Like the great names in the fistic sport, Azuma's introduction to boxing was purely accidental. An elementary school drop-out, Azuma was given a sound thrashing in a street fight with a Beninois at Amamomo, a suburb of Ghana's capital city of Accra, where he was born 27 years ago.

When Azuma learnt that his conqueror was taking boxing lessons, he harassed his father into taking him into a gymnasium to pick the rudiments of the game with the hope of wreaking vengeance on his conqueror.

After a brief spell at his father's pal's gym, Nelson enrolled at the Akotoku Academy, under the tutor ship of the late Attuquaye Clottey, one of Ghana's finest boxing coaches whose three sons, Hector, Thunder and Judas formed the nucleus of the academy.

After a year's tutelage, Attuquaye felt his ward was ready to begin the hazardous journey to boxing fame and applied to the Greater Accra Region to allow Azuma to feature on their ticket during the 1976 National Sports Festival. Accra rejected the request on the grounds that Azuma, then featuring as a flyweight, was too young and inexperienced.

The Ghana Prison Service, then building a new image as a sporting institution, recruited the 18-year-old and put him in the ring for the contest.

Azuma conquered all to become the national amateur flyweight champion. Incidentally, it was the year that Danny Lopez snatched the world title away from Ghanaian holder David Kotei Poison before over 120,000 screaming fans at the Accra Sports Stadium.

His immediate international assignment was the Ghana-Nigeria Sports Festival where he snatched the gold medal. When the first ECOWAS Games opened in Lagos in 1978, Nelson boxed his way to gold and was in line for the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow (an event Ghana later boycotted) when another incident forced him into the paid ranks.

Twenty-one fights, 20 wins, 16 inside the distance during which he has captured every title in his category, Ghana, Africa, Commonwealth and world is more than eloquent testimony of the prowess of the man who single- handedly carries the almost discarded Ghanaian flag to rostrums around the globe.

The only common feature he has with his Saturday's opponent is the man that once answered the name Salvador Sanchez. Both Nelson and Cowdell have fought the great Mexican whose death in a road accident, has robbed the fistic sports of one of the greatest performers of all time.

While Cowdell went the full distance and lost a split decision, Azuma was stopped in the last minute of the 15th round of the fight he took at two weeks' notice.

Apart from Sanchez being their common denominator, the two men are poles apart in comparison. At 32, Cowdell is almost over the hill while Azuma is in his prime at 27.

In sports, age is the worst opponent. And in boxing where will power is as important an ally as sense of judge- ment, nothing short of a miracle would bring smiles to the wry face of the challenger, beaten by 32 years of snowfall and occasional sunshine.

A few incredible results have been recorded in boxing. Men like Ken Norton, Leon Spinks and his brother Michael Spinks have climbed into the ring no-hopers and come out with the world at their feet. But, surely, Saturday does not look like one of those days.

Azuma knows his mission too well to allow any slip. That is why I am firm in my conviction that the only topic worth discussing after Saturday, will be a unification bout with McGuigan.

Pat Cowdell is all set to follow the path of Wilfredo Gomez from whom Azuma snatched the world title on December 8 last year and Juneval Ordenas of Chile, who could not sur- vive the fifth round in that Miami title defence last month. The British is well aware that Saturday cannot be one of those days when miracles are wrought out of nothing.

talking drums 1985-10-14 Azumah's World Crown at stake