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Boxing Perspective: Barry McGuigan vs. Azumah Nelson?

Let's turn the clock back to 1985 in order to consider what could have been a legendary fight between Barry McGuigan and Azumah Nelson.

Both men were riding high in the featherweight division. McGuigan, on an emotional night in London, had defeated the great Panamanian Euesbio Pedroza and had cemented that win with a solid eight round victory over tough American Bernard Taylor.

As for Nelson, he became a World Champion at the second time of asking by defeating the great Wilfedo Gomez in 11 rounds in 1984. He ended the following year with a second successful defence against Briton Pat Cowdell with a swift one round knockout to close 1985.

After months of being called out by Nelson, "The Clones Cyclone" Barry McGuigan agreed to put his WBA version of the championship on the line against The Professor's WBC honours.

The fight was signed to take place at the Caesars Palace Sports Pavillion on 25 February, 1986. It would be a fight that Ring Magazine would vote Fight of the Year.

Despite the goading by Nelson, it was obvious that the African had a high amount of respect for his Irish opponent.

This was highlighted in the opening few rounds when Nelson adopted a high guard to offset the constant pressure of his opponent who was three years younger. McGuigan, although setting the pace, was always wary of the African's potent left hook. That fear was realised when McGuigan was caught high on the temple, taking a count in the fifth round.

McGuigan would spend the rest of the round trying to clear his head, but did manage to stun Nelson with a left hook to the solar plexus to end the fifth.

For the next four rounds, MCGuigan would continue to fight with incredible bravery. He was pulling off the right sort of fight and not giving the harder punching Nelson a chance to plant his feet. It was a fight that was hard to score. What did you prefer? The constant pressure of McGuigan or the cleaner shots of Nelson?

Going into the 11th, the fight was nip and tuck on the judge's scorecards. McGuigan, although pressurising the African, was notably marking up around both eyes as Nelson started to potshot.

That pattern continued as we went down the championship stretch. The 14th in particular was a hellacious round for the Irishman as the pace noticeable began to slow, giving his older opponent more chances to land. However, the fight was still in the balance as we approached the 15th and final round.

A weary McGuigan touched gloves with Nelson at the start of the 15th. One big round for the Irishman and he could possibly still win the fight. However, disaster struck one minute from the end of the fifteenth round when Nelson connnected with another big left hook, knocking the exhausted Irishman to the canvas. McGuigan would get up and smother his way to the final bell but that 10-8 round would prove to be the deciding factor.

As the decision was announced, both men embraced showing a respect that only the two of them could appreciate. Nelson's two knockdowns would be the difference maker as he took a close but unanimous decision. He was now the unified champion.

Problems outside the ring caused McGuigan to take a two year hiatus from the ring and he would eventually make a comeback to the squared circle in 1988. After three comeback wins at super featherweight, he would be rematched with old foe Nelson for the WBC title.

McGuigan, although determined, was no longer the force he was in his featherweight days and a fifth round stoppage on cuts saved his dignity. Before the fight, McGuigan said he would retire if he lost.

Ever since that day he has been true to his word.

About Lee Bellfield

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