Boxing


Johnny Nelson – The Ignored Cruiserweight World Champion

23.01.06 - by Neil Thompson: From a loser, to being a prospect, to a contender, then a journeyman, and finally a World Champion. Johnny has done it all in his long career and despite the rumours may well continue for another two years providing he gets past tough Welshman Enzo Maccarinelli. If successful, big fights could come this way. Hot prospect David Haye is closing in on the top of the division and O'Neil Bell, the new unified World Champion is another winnable fight for Johnny..

Johnny Nelson has had an up and down, roller coaster ride of a career. His professional career started 20 years ago on the 18th March 1986 in my hometown of Hull, Yorkshire, England. His first 3 fights were all defeats, he went on to lose 5 of his first 11 fights. It appeared that Johnny would not have a future in boxing.

Johnny came from a very poor background. When he first started training he had to catch two separate buses from one side of Sheffield to the other, he did this seven days a week. People told his trainer Brendan Ingle ‘he is rubbish’ and ‘wouldn’t amount to anything in Boxing, Brendan Ingle did not listen. Brendan knew this pleasant, lanky black kid who looked more like a ballet dancer than a fighter, had potential.

After his fifth defeat he won 9 on a row and worked his way to a title shot against the then WBC Cruiserweight Champion Carlos De Leon. Nelson turned in one of the most negative performances ever seen in a British ring, which ended in a draw. Not only was it terrible fight but it was also being shown on nation-wide, prime time television. By this time Carlos DeLeon was on the slide and the general consensus was that this fight was very winnable for Johnny but he could only manage a draw. I remember watching this fight on TV when I was 15 years old and I recall promising myself I would never watch another fight involving Johnny Nelson. This dismal display of boxing made Nelson the most unpopular fighter in Britain. He regrouped, wining his next 6 and winning and defending a European title on the way. This earned him a crack at the IBF Cruiserweight Title against James Warring but he was beaten on points.

After this latest set back Johnny went on the road and went into his journeyman phase of his career fighting around the world against up and coming cruiserweights and heavyweights. Just like when he started his career Johnny was loosing as many as he was winning. During his journeyman days he faced fighters like future WBO heavyweight champion Corrie Sanders (L PTS 10) and Heavyweight contenders Henry Ackinwande (L PTS 10), Jimmy Thunder (W PTS 12), Adilson Rodrigues (L PTS 12 twice). In 1996 he moved back down to the Cruiserweight division and stopped the former 3-time WBC light heavyweight champion Dennis Andries in 7 rounds. This victory rejuvenated Johnny and he went on to win his next 5 fights which climaxed in a fifth round stoppage win over the WBO champion Carl Thompson. This was the first time I’d watched Johnny Nelson fight since the Carlos DeLeon fight. I remember being shocked at the change in Johnny. No longer did he look too scared to throw a punch, this was a new confidant Nelson who could be aggressive when needed and he seemed to ooze confidence. That night he out punched the puncher. At last Johnny had become a World Champion and he’s never looked back. He enjoyed his longest winning streak his career had ever seen, an undefeated run that he’s still enjoying today. Only Guillermo Jones has come close to taking his title away but Johnny was lucky to keep his title on a draw. Since then he has once again proved the doubters wrong, winning his next 3 defences on foreign soil in impressive style.

So after 20 years of boxing, 13 successful defences during a 7 year title reign and a record of 45–12–2 (29 ko’s), Johnny is once again about to enter the ring to defend his world title. His next defence will be against Enzo Maccarnelli of Wales on the Calzaghe v Lacy undercard. With this fight being viewed in the USA it could lead to a shot at O’Neil Bell or domestic showdown with David Haye.

Despite his long reign as WBO champion, the big fights at Cruiserweight have avoided him. It is well known that it is almost impossible to look good against Johnny Nelson. He’s a big, athletic cruiserweight who uses that unique fighting style as taught by Brendan Ingle. Like all Brendan Ingles fighters of the past (ie. Herol Graham, Naseem Hamed and Junior Witter) Johnny uses reflexes for defence and throws punches from all sorts of angles and at the age of 39 those reflexes have yet to show any signs of slowing down. Nelson regularly defends his title in hostile territory such as Germany and Italy were home town decisions are all too frequent, yet Nelson keeps on winning and has slowly gained at lot of respect on the European continent.

Enzo has the size and style to give Johnny Nelson trouble. Enzo is big, powerful, who throws good combinations, but he is making a huge jump in class. Enzo hasn’t faced anyone of world class yet or anyone even close to world class. Johnny should be too crafty and too seasoned for the big Welshman. My prediction is a stoppage win for Johnny some between the 10th and 12th rounds.

With all this in mind, you have to give Enzo Maccarinelli all the respect in the world. Yes, Enzo is a relative novice and yes he’s taking a huge step up in class, but has also been calling out the most avoided cruiserweight in the world. Enzo truly believes he will win and retire the old champion. Indeed Johnny Nelson will retire if he loses and has hinted in the past that this would be his last fight win, lose or draw. But recently he has also hinted that providing he wins he could continue for another two years. Johnny has stated that his dream is to retire as champion.

If Nelson gets through this next fight, I would like to see him get the shot at unifying the 4 major alphabet titles. O’Neil Bell is now the recognised true World Champion but by all accounts is beatable. It is my opinion that Johnny Nelson has already fought the best Cruiserweight on the planet …… Mr Guillermo Jones. That result may have been a disputed draw but it proves that Johnny can compete with the best of the division. Hopefully Nelson will get his shot against O’Neil Bell, but I doubt it …… nobody looks good against Johnny Nelson and the world knows it.

Whatever the result on the 4th March, Johnny deserves respect from the boxing world. He may not be the Cruiserweight number one and he may not be the most exciting fighter around but he’s proven that dedication, intelligence and pure stubbornness can go along way. Since the current Cruiserweight division is as good as it has ever been, it seems a shame that Nelson isn’t getting talked about. The top cruiserweights all seem to be fighting each other except for Johnny Nelson. Hopefully Johnny will get his chance to shine providing he gets past Enzo. Whatever the result on the 4th March Johnny can hold his head up high and look back on his career with pride.

Article posted on 23.01.2006



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