Jeff Fenech – The ‘Marrickville Mauler’
Australia’s former three-weight world champion (IBF bantamweight 1985-87, WBC junior featherweight 1987-88 and WBC featherweight 1988-89) and International Boxing Hall of Famer is currently recovering from pneumonia in a Bangkok, Thailand hospital. Our thoughts are very much with Jeff Fenech for a speedy and full recovery. Knowing the fighter that Jeff is, and as he showed on many occasions in the past, I am sure his healthy return is only a matter of time.
By coincidence, in the last week The Ring magazine has started a series of articles on the best of a nation. Jeff was unanimously stated as Australia’s best. Given the rich boxing tradition of that country that is praise indeed. At a moment when Jeff is in our thoughts let us pay tribute to his stellar career and achievements.
Fenech was born in 1964 in St Peters, New South Wales, later residing in Marrickville. He first entered the regulated fighting ranks aged 17 and represented his country of birth in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, losing a controversial quarter final to Yugoslav Redzep Redzepovski.
Before year end he had turned pro and this human dynamo with a relentless attacking style, trained by future Hall of Famer Johnny Lewis, would capture his first pro title in only his 7th fight stopping Satoshi Shingaki to win the IBF bantamweight title. He followed this up in 1987 with a knockout of Thailand’s Samart Payakaroon winning the WBC junior featherweight crown and the following year KO’d Puerto Rican Victor Callejas to win the WBC featherweight title. Along the way he defeated such luminaries as Carlos Zarate and Daniel Zaragoza.
At the peak of his powers in his 21st fight the ‘Thunder from Down Under’ landed stateside to attempt to win his fourth world title at junior lightweight/super feather. On a stellar Las Vegas card, when Mike Tyson fought his rematch with Donovan ‘Razor’ Ruddock, Jeff in the chief support met future Hall of Famer Azumah Nelson. This would be the fight that would epitomise his aggressive fighting style and underline his achievements and future legacy. In a toe-to-toe slugfest, likened to two elite fighters exchanging blows in a phone booth, Fenech was denied victory with a dubious draw, widely considered to favour the Ghanaian. This would be one of the fights of the 90’s.
The bitter disappointment of this decision meant that Jeff never quite reached the same heights, losing convincingly in a rematch with Nelson in front of 30,000 fans in Melbourne (his first loss) and then Philip Holiday in his final title fight. He would go on to fight Nelson a third time in 2008 (aged 43 and 16 years after their second meeting) winning, but with both fighters shadows of their former selves.
Jeff Fenech would finish with a professional record of 29-3-1 (21 KO’s), a triple world champion and, combined with his all action fighting style, be widely considered Australia’s greatest fighter of all time.
Keep punching champ, we look forward to seeing you on British shores again.