Nicknaming a fighter is a hit-and-miss process, especially in
contemporary boxing. Some, like Jermain Taylor’s “Bad Intentions”,
seem unsuited to such a cushioned fighter. Others, such as “The
Southern Disaster”, are fitting for the cruellest of reasons – as
Dominic Guinn and his fans have experienced. But sometimes, the name
cannot be separated from the essence of the fighter.
If one can discard the tacky tag of “The
White Tyson”, a phrase coined because he’d been seen ringside
several times with the troubled heavyweight, Jeff Fenech was indeed
the “Marrickville Mauler.” The most relentless slugger of his time,
Fenech scuffled, stung and battered opponents, from bantamweight all
the way up to super feather, over an incredible six year run of
Conceived from Maltese stock, but raised
in the rough area of Marrickville in Sydney, New South Wales in
Australia, Fenech was a brute in the ring – and sometimes out of it,
too. Described by veteran trainer Johnny Lewis as a “wonderful
friend but one of the most vicious and terrifying people alive”,
Jeff notoriously knocked out a 230-pound nightclub bouncer, in
Atlantic City. This, when he was campaigning as a featherweight!
Unlike so many pure sluggers, Fenech was a
successful amateur. Making it to the 1984 Summer Olympics, he was
robbed of victory – and a chance to win a medal for his country –
falling short to a controversial decision in the quarterfinals. Jeff
was infuriated by the verdict, and had to watch on as the talented
Detroit fighter Steve McCrory went on to win flyweight gold. Steve
would figure prominently in Jeff’s professional career over two
Turning professional under the tutelage of
Johnny Lewis and the promotion of Bill Mordey, Jeff had become an
immensely popular figure among Australians, who saw him as a moral
victor. Beginning his career as a bantamweight in October 1984,
Fenech incredibly won the IBF title in only his seventh pro fight,
two days before his 21st birthday. Satoshi Shingaki was handed a
one-sided beating, and Fenech stopped him again four months later to
prove it wasn’t a fluke.
Still in the second year of as a
professional, Fenech demonstrated that he could go fifteen hard
rounds when he overwhelmed slick American Jerome “Kid” Coffee, again
in Sydney, NSW, with hard, accurate hooks. Remarkably, he was able
to throw huge clusters of punches even during the championship
rounds. His following fight, a non-title over the weight affair in
April 1986, was quite an important one.
Jeff might have been unbeatable at home,
where he drew huge gates, but members of the American press were
sceptical. Interestingly, The Ring rated recently vanquished
bantamweight champion Daniel Zaragoza (number 5) one place ahead of
the young whirlwind.
Fenech’s ten round pounding of Daniel
Zaragoza looks even better these days, given that “The Mouse” proved
to be one of the most persistent, gutsiest champions to have fought
at the (bigger) super bantamweight division. Although it was
back-and-forth over the first four frames, Fenech overwhelmed the
gutsy southpaw midway, scoring lop sided unanimous decision.
The Australian media wanted Fenech to
become the undisputed champion – as their own Lionel Rose was in the
late 1960s – to prove beyond doubt that he was the best 118-pounder
worldwide. Jeff was able to beat Zaragoza more convincingly than the
outstanding WBC champion Miguel “Happy” Lora, giving supporters
ammunition to argue that Jeff was the best bantam on the planet.
Fenech didn’t get round to facing Lora,
but he would took on another fine contender in is next, very
significant fight. Steve McCrory (of Olympic fame) was also an
undefeated professional, and the two battled it out in an exciting
fight that went into the championship rounds. Unlike Jerome Coffee,
who tried to box on the move, the Kronk fighter surprised everyone
by going toe-to-toe with the mauler.
The two traded solid blows from the
outset, Fenech swarming him with pressure and McCrory waiting for
heavy counters. Despite being shaken midway through the fight,
Jeff’s amazing work rate and fitness built him a significant lead
and he stopped the brave, skilled American in the fourteenth. (McCrory
died on August 1, 2000, at the age of 36, after struggling with a
Tall at 5’ 8 for a bantamweight, Jeff had
a lot of trouble making weight. After a brief stop at featherweight,
he shot for the WBC super bantamweight title, held by the skilled
Thai Samart Payakaroon. Samart was an outstanding fighter, having
beaten Sot Chitalada in a Muay Thai contest (Chitalada himself would
develop into one of boxing’s great flyweights). He stopped Lupe
Pintor to gain his present title, and followed with an impressive
stoppage of Juan “Kid” Meza to defend.
In that fight (December 1986), Payakaroon
had put on an amazing display of defensive prowess. Backing up to
the ropes, the lively Thai invited the experienced Mexican to hit
him, and proceeded to sway away from every blow, before jolting him
with a southpaw left that laid his man out. Jeff, undaunted, took
the fight to the defensive master in May 1987, going to the body
immediately. Although he took a count himself (the first of his
career), Jeff stopped him in four but defended only once.
Again proving the weight was no barrier,
the marauding pressure fighter destroyed former WBA feather champion
Victor Callejas, stopping him in ten, for the vacant WBC 126 pound
belt, and defended three times against Tyrone Downes, Georgie
Navarro and future WBC feather champ Marcos Villasana, enhancing his
reputation as one of the finest boxers at any weight. He then
followed with a win over Mario Martinez, in an eliminator for Azumah
Nelson’s WBC 130 pound title.
The fight with Downes in August 1988 was a
bizarre one. Cut early, a frustrated Jeff broke through in the
fourth and had Downes in serious trouble to begin the fifth.
Appearing completely finished, Downes jumped up like a jack-in-a-box
and somehow started to produce snappy, lively boxing as if nothing
had happened. Looking as though he had turned things around, Tyrone
fell apart the first time Jeff hit him again, and it was rescued by
Suffering from brittle hands, Fenech was
plagued by injury throughout his career, and he had had to take
powerful painkillers every day when not fighting. This prompted him
to retire for almost a year, but the lure of battle proved too
strong. His fight with the legendary Ghanaian Azumah Nelson in June
1991, in Las Vegas, should have been his finest hour. In a great
fight – his first ever in America – Jeff overcame inactivity, very
painful hands, and a rough start.
Finding his range in the third – after
being pounded over the first two – Fenech used his raw strength and
impressive instincts to charge Nelson to the ropes on that bright,
windy desert evening. Much of the fight took part with Nelson
stapled in the same neutral corner, as the two greats traded clean
power shots. In the eyes of many, Jeff well outworked Nelson, and
almost stopped him in the final seconds of the twelfth, final round.
To the surprise of almost everyone, Nelson
was allowed to hang on to his WBC super featherweight crown with a
fiercely protested draw, that even Joe Sulaiman called a “grave
controversy”. But Jeff, robbed of his fourth world title in as many
divisions, was heartbroken and vowed never to fight in America
It was a remarkable performance by Fenech
– not only to have bridged the gap between 118 and 130 pounds – but
also to have done so against one of the greatest, longest reigning
130-pound champions in history (1988-97, three reigns). Although
Nelson would claim that he was recovering from malaria, he in fact
gave an excellent performance, his best for two years after a
lacklustre win over Juan LaPorte and a one-sided loss to Pernell
Whittaker at lightweight (when grieving over the death of his wife).
Fenech was never the same afterward, and
although favoured to win a rematch in Melbourne, was dropped twice
and stopped in the eighth of another thrilling fight – his first
ever defeat. Jeff’s pressure was answered by acute counters from the
remarkable 33 year old, but at 28 Fenech was sadly finished. His
best days gone, burned out Jeff would lose by stoppage to Calvin
Grove the next year and retired for good after Philip Holiday
stopped him in 1996 for a version of the lightweight title.
By then, he was a shell of his old self.
But no one who ever saw him at his peak will ever forget the
(Now a promoter, manager and trainer, Jeff
works with Australian based fighters such as Hussein Hussein, seen
recently in a thrilling loss to Jorge Arce on the Erik Morales-Manny
Pacquiao undercard; as well as solid chinned Lovemore N’Dou, rugged
super middleweight contender Danny Green and the formidable IBF
flyweight champion Vic Darchinyan, who last year dethroned long
reigning Columbian Irene Pacheco.)
Fenech was inducted in the IBHOF in June
2002. Deservedly so.
Comments made by Aussies
We must not forget the height Australian boxing, hype
wise, got to because of this guy.
I am just like everyone else, I don't like the way he comes over and
he was once rude to me at the Flemington racecourse and I was told
"hey Vic do you see anyone talking to him?"
My brother who owned Aunty Mary said come on lets keep going he
isn't in your class.
But he did just like all of Americans say and the proof is written
above, just like Johnny Famechon and Lionel Rose elevated Aussie boxing to its
Great read mate
and i am a bit different to everyone else I get along quite well
with Jeff and think he is a good bloke he has done a heap for me and
is always someone I can rely on if I need help
He does have some good points
Yeah, funny isn't it.
These days he seems only to get press when he blasts someone.
It takes an article like this to jog my memory as to what a
ferocious fighter he was.
Given the opportunity, Jeff would hit you behind the knee, & when
his opponents got in the ring, they knew they couldn't cover all the
bases. The referee might caution him, but that didn't undo the pain
Perpetual motion. An absolute thrashing machine.
Would never sling @#%$ at Jeff's ring achievements. I loved watching
his all or nothing, take no prisioners style. It is a pity he seems
to invite discredit outside the ring in later years.
Yeah, I think Stormy covered what a lot
I think even Jeff's biggest critics would never try to discredit his
fighting career, rather it's his performance as a trainer or his
general personality that comes into question for some.
Who can ever knock Jeff. In his prime he
was awesome. One of the best in his era. Im not interested in his 3
titles because Tony Miller, Ferrari etc all would of beat Shingaki.
Jeff brought boxing back to TV. Personally I don't believe he is
Australia best boxer but in my opinion he would be very close to the
Top 10. I watched him in amazement and am proud to have boxed on his
cards. His robbery against Azumah Nelson might of stopped us from
seeing a better Jeff in the future and that performance was his
defining moment. A Hall of Famer and someone us boxers, trainers and
supporters should never forget when he donned the gloves in the 80's
We can all argue where Jeff Fenech sits
amoung Australias best ever. But for mine as far as fighters of my
generation (i'm the same age as Fenech,42), he's certainly in the
top one or two.In his day he was the little aussie battler
personified. Back in '88/'89 he was like the one man "Melbourne cup"
in the way he'd practically "stop the nation" when he fought. Not
even the great Kostya Tzysu could capture the nations imagination
like the Marrickville Mauler.
It's just a shame that in his post fighting days he's been in the
headlines for the wrong reasons.Maybe you can take the Mauler out of
Marickville but you cant take the Marickville out of the Mauler.
Guys its nice you all see the point I
made, our lifetimes, so close to this action of important landmarks
of our Boxing History and we will be to blame if we mess it up for
boxing's future generations.
Its so nice to see so many re-enter the fantastic time zone Jeff
opened up for us Aussies (me then a wog) agree with me.
I am going to publish this on YVB to show it off.
Young Victor ( Victor Aquilina )