JEFF FENECH: "THE THUNDER FROM DOWN UNDER"
Updated: Aug 7, 2019
Jeff Fenech was born on 28th May 1964 in St Peters, New South Wales, Australia and was the sixth child of Maltese immigrants. He was a delinquent tearaway, but channelled his aggression into boxing. A zest for learning and hard work were his keys to success, plus trainer Johnny Lewis, polished his boxing style and channelled all that determination. Fenech represented his country in the 1984 LA Olympics. After getting robbed in the quarter finals he turned professional on 12th October 1984. He stopped Bobby Williams in the second round in his home town of Marrickville, New South Wales and the rise of the 'Marrickville Mauler' was launched..
In his third bout he knocked out Junior Thompson to win the vacant super-flyweight Australian title, at the end of November 1984. Two contests later he took on Wayne Mulholland for the New South Wales State and the vacant South Pacific & South Seas bantamweight championships. Mulholland's corner threw in the towel whilst the referee was counting him out in the fifth round at the start of February 1985.
In fight number seven and just twenty-four rounds as a pro under his belt he challenged Satoshi Shingaki for the IBF bantamweight title on 26th April 1985. He took the belt after TKO-ing his man in the ninth round, bringing his record to 7-0, all stoppages.
Just under two months later he made his first defence against the Filipino John Matienza, who boasted a 12-1 record. Fenech retained the crown with a sixth round TKO. In the July he stopped Liverpool's John Farrel in the ninth round in a non title fight and the following month TKO'd former champ Shingaki in the fourth.
He then moved up to featherweight and won his tenth straight stoppage victory in a row against the American Kenny Butts in round two. On 02nd December 1985, thirteen months after turning pro, he took on the unbeaten American challenger Jerome Coffee (26-0) in defence of his IBF crown. It was the first time he had to go the distance to win and after fifteen rounds was announced as the winner by unanimous decision.
In his next contest he moved up to the super-bantamweight division and faced the Mexican Daniel Zaragoza, Going the full ten rounds to inflict defeat number four on the Mexican's record. Fenech dropped back down to the bantamweight division to defend his IBF belt for the third and final time on 18th July 1986. He faced the unbeaten American Steve McCrory, winning by a fourteenth round TKO.
He didn't box again until April 1987, where he took on fellow countryman Tony Miller, for the Australian featherweight title. After twelve rounds Fenech was awarded the national title after an unanimous decision.
On 08th May 1987 he challenged WBC super-bantamweight champion Samarat Payakaroon. The title holder from Thailand had an unbeaten record of 14-0 (8 KO's). Fenech attacked his opponent from the openning bell. The challenger had to get off the canvas after a first round knockdown to eventually wear down the champion before the referee Arthur Mercante stopped the action in the fourth round.
In the July Fenech took on the much smaller Greg Richardson to retain the belt with a fifth round knockout. In October he made his second defence of the super-bantamweight crown against Carlos Zararte, the former WBC bantamweight champion. After a clash of heads in the fourth round, which cut Fenech, the contest went to the scorecards and the unbeaten Australian kept his title with a technical decision.
Fenech ended the year with a first round knockout over Argentina's Osmar Alfredo Avila. In March 1988 he challenged Victor Callejas for the vacant WBC featherweight title. Fenech knocked down the Puerto Rican in rounds three and eight before stopping him in the tenth round. Tyrone Downes was next for the three weight champion, but he stopped his man with a fifth round TKO.
On 30th November 1988 he put the green belt on the line against the American Georgie Navarro, winning again by a fifth round TKO. He started the new year with a twelve rounds points win over the tough Mexican Marcos Villasana, breaking both hands in the 118-109 (twice) and 117-109 decision.
Fenech next fought in November 1989, facing Mario Martinez in an eliminator for the WBC super-featherweight title. He had to get up from a sixth round knockdown to win by an unanimous decision and announced his retirement shortly after the contest, citing hand trouble.
He returned to the ring on 19th January 1991 against Canada's John Khalbhenn via a fourth round TKO. He next challenged the African great Azumah Nelson on 28th June 1991. The WBC super-featherweight title fight took place at the Mirage Hotel, Las Vegas on the Mike Tyson vs Donovan Ruddock undercard. It was only the second time Fenech boxed out of his native Australia. (for more information on the great Azumah Nelson please click here http://lw05boxing.blogspot.com/2017/11/the-professor.html)
Both men started brightly, but the thirty-two year old Nelson was the one who was looking to land the heavier shots in an even first round. Fenech looked to work the older man's body on round two, but Nelson was boxing on the back foot, picking off the Australian.
The Ghanaian started the third round quickly, with Fenech matching him punch for punch. Then the Australian landed two good right hands that shook Nelson to the ropes. The action remained with the champion being pinned on the ropes as both men fired big shots at each other. There were some afters as the bell rang, with Nelson waving at Fenech in a 'come on' gesture. The challenger walked back to his corner with a cut left eye.
Nelson was happy to stay on the ropes in the fourth round, absorbing everything the challenger had to offer. He fired back with a salvo and both men traded uppercuts with twenty-seconds to go. The Australian's face was beginning to bust up as both men were throwing bombs.
The champion elected to stay on the ropes again as both men could've carried out the contest in a phone booth. Fenech was the much busier, as the harder punches came from the champion. Nelson boxed in the sixth round, as both men looked to take their foot off the pedal, but Fenech was looking dangerous with his right hand.
The seventh seemed to be going the same way as the previous round, but midway through the round the champion elected to stay on the ropes again and both men threw a lot of leather at each other. Nelson's corner implored their man to stay off the ropes and he got back to boxing on the back foot, but the challenger kept bulldozing forwards, nailing the champion with his right.
Nelson got on his bicycle in the next round, but Fenech swarmed all over him, forcing the older man to stand his ground and swap punches with him. Again there was some overtime as the bell went as Nelson tagged him with a left hook, which really got under the Aussie's skin.
The start of the tenth round was delayed as Nelson's corner misplaced the mouthpiece. The champion was happy to continue without it, but referee Joe Cortez insisted on the gum shield being found before the action would resume. Both men touched gloves as the bell finally sounded to get the round underway.
The African seemed to get some snap into his punches finally, but he was driven to the ropes yet again towards the end of the round. At the bell Nelson threw a right, but the challenger ducked it and and flipped the champion to the canvas, as he returned to the corner as if nothing happened.
With both men landing good shots from the centre of the ring in the eleventh round, most observers believed that Nelson needed a knockout to retain his title. The champion was firing bombs in the final round, but it was Fenech who was fighting like he was behind on the scorecards. Then, with seconds remaining the challenger had the champion in trouble as his legs buckled, but he fought back at the bell, to end a remarkable contest.
Judge Jerry Roth had the challenger winning by scores of 115-113, whilst Miguel Donte saw Nelson the winner by a surprising wide margin 116-112. With third judge Dave Moretti scoring the bout even at 114 a piece, meaning Nelson retained his WBC belt with a very controversial draw. Nelson would later blame the lacklustre performance on recovering from a bout of malaria days before the contest.
Jeff Fenech defeated Argentine Miguel Angel Francia in September 1991, winning a ten round decision, before his awaited rematch with the WBC super-featherweight champion.
The bout took place at Princes Park Football Ground, Melbourne on 01st March 1992. The 'Marrickville Mauler' was a red hot favourite to put a third defeat on the great Ghanaian and become a four weight champion in the process. However, 'The Professor' had his own agenda.
Both men started tentatively in front of the 40,000 fans. Then just after halfway through the first round Nelson threw a right hand that dropped Fenech. He got up and heard the bell.
The challenger took the fight straight to Nelson in round two, but the old pro kept cool and had the Aussie on the deck again. Fenech got up, shaking his head in disbelief as he saw out the final 20 seconds. Replays showed that Fenech actually slipped on a wet patch of the canvas just after a right landed, but he lost the round 10-8.
The third round went the same way as their first encounter. Nelson was quite content to stay on the ropes and fire in his harder punches, as Fenech threw the more leather. Nelson hit his man after the bell and Fenech got away with kneeing him by referee Arthur Mercante.
The champion boxed behind a high guard and took the centre of the ring in the next round. Fenech was looking busier but couldn't land a clean shot. Nelson was much stronger this time around, compared to their last meeting, as the challenger couldn't bully his man to the ropes.
It was the same story in the fifth as the African boxed well and looked stronger as Fenech was busier. The challenger did get through with a good right, but it didn't really bother the champion. The Aussie tried to push the old master back in round six, but the champion boxed soundly. Finally Fenech had him where he wanted him, on the ropes and unleashed a flurry. Nelson fired back in kind and had the tough challenger in all sorts of trouble as the bell ended the round.
Nelson showed his class as Fenech couldn't land a clean shot in the seventh round. The challenger wasn't anywhere near as effective as he was in the first fight, with the champion looking in total control.
The champion started the eighth strongly landing some hard punches, but the outgunned challenger pushed Nelson to the ropes. The African was happy to stay there and punch with the busier challenger. Then a huge double left hook, followed by a right put Fenech down for the third time in the fight. He got up to continue, but had nothing left as he was trapped on the ropes as Nelson fired in some unanswered punches, with Fenech's trainer throwing in the towel. The official time of the stoppage was two-minutes and 20 seconds. The judges scorecards didn't really reflect the champion's dominance as judge Harry Gibbs had the champion up 68-65, but Tom Kaczmarek and Rudy Ortega had both fighters as 66-66.
Fenech then lost his second fight in a row to America's Calvin Grove, the ex IBF featherweight champion, via a seventh round TKO in June 1993. He stayed away from boxing for two years and came back against Tialano Tovar, winning by TKO in the eighth round.
In march 1996 a second round stoppage of Mike Juarez set him up for a May showdown with IBF lightweight champion Phillip Holiday. The South African, Holiday, was making the third defence of his title. The champion was too much for the Australian and stopped the challenger in two rounds.
In retirement he became a respected manager and trainer and famously was in the corner for Mike Tyson's final fight against Kevin McBride. He's also trained Sakio Bika, Danny Green and Lovermore N'dou, among others.
On 24th June 2008 he climbed back into the ring at the age of forty-four and took on forty-nine year old Azumah Nelson for the third time. Both men scaled in at the light-middleweight division, way past their prime weights.
Nelson was much slower than Fenech, but he held the power. Fenech out worked the Professor and stunned him in the fifth round. He hurt Fenech in the ninth, but the Aussie kept out of harms way, knowing he had to stay on his feet to get the victory. The judges scored it 96-94 (twice) and a level 95-95, meaning Fenech was the majority points winner.
The 'Marrickville Mauler' never boxed again and retired with a record of 29-3-1 (21 KO's) and will go down in history as Australia's greatest fighter.
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