If it were left to me to decide who gets a national medal, I will gladly hang one around Azumah Nelson’s neck every year. And I bet it won’t generate the sort of controversy that greeted President Kufuor’s decision to hang one of those medals around his neck.
Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think there is an individual who inspires Ghana as much as Azumah Nelson does (or has done in the past). His rags-to-riches story doesn’t have any ugly sub-plots of indecent flamboyance, foolish arrogance, senseless substance abuse and irresponsible womanising. The man has money but instead of building several mansions all around the country, he decided to build a modern gym, where he helps other sports men hone their talent. It amazes me that even with his fame, stature and wealth, Azumah Nelson is still as humble as a houseboy in the home of a Presbyterian priest.
Growing up as a child, Azumah Nelson got me to stay up late into the night just to watch him fight. My mum didn’t have a TV set and so I usually had to go into a friendly neighbour’s house in Essikado to watch him beat people for money. I believe this was the case for many Ghanaians back then, when owning a TV set was considered a major privilege. Whenever he won a bout, the whole nation was thrown into celebration. The Monday after every Azumah Nelson victory, the frontpage of the ‘People’s Daily Graphic’ will most likely read: “Ghana goes gay.” That was long before we learnt that “gay” has another meaning other than “merriment”. And whenever Azumah lost, the nation was covered by a dark cloud of gloom.
I remember in those days, if Azumah fought in the wee hours of Sunday and I didn’t attend the mandatory Sunday morning service, I can go to school on Monday morning without a bible verse to recite, confident that my teachers at Essikado Bethany Methodist Primary will not punish me. Chances were they also stayed up to watch the bout and therefore didn’t go to church as well. But then, if they ask me why I didn’t go to church, I’d quite humbly reply: “I watched Azumah.” And they would understand and I will be spared the rod. My teachers were not as sympathetic on days I came to school on a Monday without a bible verse and told them that I didn’t go to church because I felt ill.
We all watched Azumah fight because we loved to see him win. But all those times I watched Azumah, I learnt some very important lessons.
First, winning is great but it’s not the most important thing. What matters most, Azumah Nelson taught me, was for you to do your level best and even when you lose, you won’t be humiliated. That’s why even when he lost, he returned home to an adoring nation. We knew he did his best.
Secondly, Azumah Nelson taught me that if you really want to win you create your own luck. After his first bout with Jeff Fenech, we all felt – like he did – that he had been cheated. When he agreed that the rematch should be staged in Australia, we thought he had lost it. But he knew it didn’t matter where he fought because he was bringing his own ‘referee’ along. And did he give Fenech a beating? When after the bout, he conferred the title of ‘Professor’ on himself, no one questioned him. Even ‘Prof’ Steve Adei of GIMPA had no such luck.
Thirdly, Azumah Nelson taught me that giving up should never be an option. On so many occasions we all felt the odd stack against him. But he never gave up. He went into the ring and did his best.
And finally, when he hanged up his gloves, Azumah taught us all an important lesson. It pays to leave the stage when the applause is loudest. At the time he quit, he still had a lot of strength in him. He could have continued to fight. But he would have risked brain damage. A young boy from some village in Costa Rica would have beaten him to pulp. He knew better so he quit at just about the right time.
That’s the mark of a true legend and hero. There is none like Zoom-Zoom. And from the bottom of my heart, I celebrate the life of one of the greatest human being I ever had the privilege of shaking hands with. Please, Mr. Kufuor, give him one of your medals. He deserves it more than you do.