On this day in 1996, Azumah Nelson TKO’d Jesse James Leija in six round to retain the WBC super featherweight title. “The Professor” was just six weeks shy of 38 and it ended up being the final victory of his distinguished, Hall-of-Fame career. Leija had drawn with Nelson and beat him by unanimous decision in 1993 and 1994.
Leija would win a fourth fight between the two by unanimous decision in 1998, a week before Nelson turned 40. Nelson would come back for one last fight, losing a majority decision to old rival Jeff Fenech in 2008, a month after Fenech turned 44 and a month before Nelson turned 50.
In my opinion, it is between Nelson and 1960’s middleweight and light heavyweight champion Dick Tiger for the greatest fighter ever from the Continent of Africa. Nelson was one of the finest fighters of the 1980s and 1990s, when he reigned as an outstanding champion at featherweight and super featherweight. Nelson lost a very good fight to Pernell Whitaker when he challenged for the world title at lightweight.
Nelson exploded onto the boxing scene at the world class level in 1982, in just his 14th fight, when he lost by Round 15 TKO after forcing the legendary Salvador Sanchez into a war. After losing to Sanchez, Nelson would go undefeated for the next eight years, collecting world titles in two divisions before finally losing to Whitaker in 1990.
After losing to Whitaker, Nelson would go back down to 130 pounds and continue to rule there for most of the next half decade. After stopping Leija 19 years ago today, he lost his title six months later by split decision to Genaro Hernandez.
Nelson became a tremendous national hero in his native Ghana, where he has been a notable advocate of education. He was elected into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 2004. Besides Leija and Fenech, Nelson beat top boxers such as Wilfredo Gomez, Juan LaPorte, and Gabriel Ruelas.