Azumah, you are a great blessing to our country” were the concluding remarks in a glowing tribute former President Jerry Rawlings paid boxing legend “Professor” Azumah Nelson on Wednesday.
The occasion was the launch of the book: The Professor, a biography by Ashley Morrison detailing the extraordinary life of Azumah, a life Rawlings describes as “perhaps unparalleled in Ghana’s rich history.
The three-time world champion in two weight classes (two-time WBC super featherweight champion and WBC featherweight champion) is considered Africa’s greatest boxer ever, a gallant status from obscure beginnings guided by a steely determination to upset the odds.
Rawlings who performed the book launch, urged Ghanaian youths not only to read the book but also emulate Azumah’s noble life.
The former president, tracing the history of Azumah’s exploits, recalled the challenging environment and difficult obstacles that prevailed in the country but which still proved, for the determined Azumah, opportunities enough to bring joy to his people.
“Ladies and Gentlemen: Azumah became a world champion during a very trying moment in Ghana’s history. A period when the fortunes of our country had declined to dangerous levels and drastic measures had to be taken to turn the tide and bring Ghana back to its rightful position on the continent.
“Professor Azumah Nelson almost singlehandedly flew the kite of Ghana under those trying periods and brought so much joy to millions across the country. He was an embodiment of the sense of purpose, sense of mission and unity that had gripped the nation during the revolutionary period,” Rawlings told patrons at the event held at the Alisa Hotel.
According to President Rawlings, even though the commendable performances of Ghanaian sportsmen in disciplines like athletics, football and boxing put Ghana on the world map during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s as Ghana participated in various tournaments from the All Africa Games to the Commonwealth Games through to the Olympics, “it was the genius of Azumah that sent some across the globe to check the position of Ghana on the world map.
“Azumah put Ghana on the map long before football did through the Starlets 91 group that proudly annexed the World Under-17 Cup.”
Azumah the patriot
Touching on Azumah’s philanthropic spirit and selfless devotion to the wellbeing of his fellows, Rawlings said the boxer went as far as including in his fight contracts, conditions that made it possible for his bouts to be televised live to Ghana, and he paid for TV rights from his own pocket when a contract did not accommodate that wish.
“In fulfilling his duties as a boxer Azumah was always aware of the need to provide for his family and his numerous friends and admirers who were underprivileged. And sometimes he had to achieve victory under circumstances that many would find difficult to overcome. His desire to die for Ghana and put a smile on the faces of Ghanaians played a significant role in those victories and it is gratifying to note that Azumah had a clause in his contract that ensured that all his world title fights had to be relayed directly to GBC so that Ghanaians could watch him live. When such arrangements were not in his contract he doled out thousands of dollars for the live telecast to take place.
“Such is the sense of humility and patriotism of the man we celebrate today. He has not stopped to show love and compassion to the disadvantaged. The establishment of the Azumah Nelson Foundation and the projects already underway prove how much of a blessing this proud Ghanaian has brought to our country.”
Praise for author
President Rawlings also served special praise for Author Ashley Morrison, who he said did “an excellent literary job of piecing together the Azumah story, the Azumah way – full of innocence, candor and emotion.”
He said the book not only showcases Azumah’s lineage and ancestry but also Ghana’s rich cultural history and leaves nothing out in capturing the socio-political situation that persisted especially during Azumah’s world title days.