Fenech, Rocky and the beast inside

Jeff Fenech has pretty much seen it all during his career in the boxing business. From rugged national hero, through momentous fights on the international stage to training Mike Tyson and public spats with Anthony Mundine that almost led to a mismatched fight between the two a while ago. Now aged 44, thanks to a birthday two days ago, the Marrickville Mauler is to pull the gloves on once more for a rubber match with nemesis Azumah Nelson.

The boxing world is largely pretending the fight isn’t happening, hoping to place their fingers in their ears and hum their way through a contest pitching the 44 year old versus the venerable 49 year old ‘Professor’.

Fenech has been retired 13 years, Nelson 10 and though both were premier practioners during their respective primes, the Professor Nelson particularly, the belated third encounter between the two is highly unlikely to reach the heights of their original contests. To witness Fenech’s performance in the first fight, one most observers felt the Australian won, is to watch aggressive, volume punching at its best. Fenech was irrepressible and his all action style appeared to win him the bout, but the judges tallied an unlikely draw and Fenech’s finest performance left him only with bitterness.

Nelson, better prepared nine months later, stopped Fenech to record the Ring’s 1992 upset of the year. A reflection of how comprehensive Fenech’s first performance had been perceived by the majority of the viewing public. In reality, with the benefit of hindsight, Fenech’s career never fully recovered. And somewhere within the hurt the contentious draw caused Fenech, lay the foundation to the forthcoming third encounter. Fenech simply does not have closure on the fight or his career. Rather like Sylvester Stallone’s hackneyed reference to an uncontrollable “beast inside” in Rocky Balboa (Rocky VI), Fenech still has sufficient fire to make retirement an itchy, uncomfortable experience.

Inevitably, the fight’s drawn some cliched attention but far less than Fenech, who already claims to be beneath the contracted fighting weight, for the sentimental clash. Asked whether the negative response from writers and broadcasters to the contest had saddened him, the typically straight-forward, straight talking Australian suggested he’d “expected it to be much, much worse than it was”.

This writer cannot help surmising the boxing world is so turned off by the credibility of the fight that they’ve lost the will to comment preferring to indulge their former hero long enough for him to slake his thirst for combat but afford the promotion no more than minimum support.

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