Azumah Nelson

Ghana has produced some of Africa’s greatest boxers, including former world champions Azumah “The Professor” Nelson, Ike “Bazooka” Quartey and Joseph “King Kong” Agbeko. The 54-year-old Nelson, who had his last professional fight in 2008, is regarded as the patriarch of Ghana boxing. The former WBC featherweight and super featherweight champion learned to box in the capital, Accra, which is still a hotbed for up-and-coming Ghanaian fighters.

There are about 16 boxing gyms in Accra’s central neighborhoods of Jamestown and Bukom. It’s where boys as young as five get their start in “the sweet science.” Most of the gyms, as you can see in this punchy video package, are Spartan and have basic equipment like wooden planks and old metal chair frames.

I mention in the video how young Ghanaian fighters are now following in the footsteps of Azumah Nelson, hoping to fulfill their own boxing dreams.

Sonny and Barry Maughan

I remember how 20 years ago, my longtime Voice of America colleague Barry Maughan followed Nelson’s footsteps to Melbourne, Australia, where The Professor turned in one of his greatest performances. Barry was ringside when Nelson fought longtime Australian rival Jeff Fenech in front of a wildly partisan Aussie crowd at Princes Park in Melbourne. The Ghanaian warrior stopped Fenech with an 8th round TKO to retain his WBC super featherweight title.

It’s tough for champion fighters to hang up their gloves for good, though, and this was proven 16 years later when Nelson and Fenech, both well past their prime, met in a rematch in Melbourne, where Fenech won a majority decision.

Azumah Nelson’s legacy, though, is not that 2008 loss to Fenech. It’s the smile and world title belt slung over his left shoulder at the top of this page.  The ring success by Nelson, Quartey and Agbeko continues to inspire a new generation of Ghanaian fighters.