Unlucky not to become the only Australian professional boxer to win four world championships, Jeff Fenech compiled one of the most outstanding international records in the modern history of Australian boxing. Nicknamed the “Marrickville Mauler” early in his career, Jeff has an extraordinary three world boxing titles to his credit -in three different weight divisions.
Fenech was keen on rugby league as a teenager. He was fast and a good tackler, but too light for senior football. At the age of 17 he found his way to the Newtown Police Citizens Youth Club run by Johnny Lewis, who became his mentor and manager, providing fatherly reassurance and shrewd tactical and business advice. Fenech benefited greatly from the advice of Lewis, and in fact did not lose a fight, amateur or professional with Lewis in his corner.
As an amateur he had considerable success, boxing overseas in the 1983 Rome World Cup and winning bouts in the King’s Cup in Thailand. He punched his way to the captaincy of the Australian Olympic boxing team that competed at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
In Los Angeles he suffered a major disappointment when he was the victim of an overturned decision in the quarterfinal. The officiating judges awarded him the fight 3-2, but a nine-man jury reversed this later and the decision was given to his opponent, the Czech boxer, Zepovski.
Fenech was bitterly disappointed and turned professional on his return to Australia. On October 12, 1984, he won the Australian super-flyweight title in his third professional fight. He then moved up and took the New South Wales bantamweight title.
April 26, 1985, saw Fenech defeat Satashi Shingaki in the ninth round of what was his seventh fight in six months as a professional to claim the International Boxing Federation bantamweight title, becoming world champion. Fenech was suddenly a national hero. He then defended the title against Shingaki in Sydney, on August 23, 1985. This time he stopped Shingaki in three rounds. Fenech defended the title again against American, Jerome Coffee, in Sydney, December 1985 winning on points, and knocked out the American, Steve McCrory in 14 rounds in another defence of the title in July 1986. It was McCrory who won gold in Fenech’s division at the Los Angeles Olympics.
After several impressive wins against highly rated boxers, Fenech took nine months off from boxing because of injuries to his fists.
In 1987 Fenech won the Australian featherweight title and in his next contest stopped Thailand’s Samart Payakarun to win the world WBF super bantamweight championship. He made successful defences of this title the same year against Greg Richardson, and the legendary Mexican Carlos Zarate. A year later he survived a bone-rattling uppercut from Puerto Rican Victor Callejas to score a tenth round knockout and take his third world championship, the WBC featherweight crown. In two other contests the same year he made successful defences against Tyrone Downes and Georgie Navarro.
Fenech retired from boxing and played a few games for the second grade Parramatta rugby league side. Returning to the ring, he defeated Mexican Mario Martinez in November 1989.
In 1989 he retained the title against Marcos Villasana and after a break from boxing to allow his injured hands to heal, challenged the famous Azumah Nelson for the WBC lightweight championship. The fight, staged in Las Vegas on June 28, 1991, was a farce. Fenech appeared to win easily on points but the split decision of the judges resulted in a draw being declared and Fenech’s dream of winning four world titles was dashed. Within 12 hours, a re-match was negotiated. He met Nelson for the title again in Melbourne on March 1, 1992, and affected by a pre-fight injection in his injured right hand was stopped in the eighth round. It was Fenech’s first loss in 28 fights.
Fenech had a long break before returning to the ring on June 7, 1993, and lost on knockout to the brilliant Calvin Grove in Melbourne. He then announced his retirement but made a surprise comeback in late 1995, easily winning two fights, in November 1995 and March 1996, before meeting South African Philip Holiday in Melbourne in a challenge for the IBF lightweight championship on May 18, 1996. Fenech was outclassed, stopped in the second round and immediately retired from boxing for good.
During his career, Jeff had 32 fights for a total of 28 wins (21 by knockout), one draw and three losses.
A career with the Australian Sports Commission, and involvement with amateur boxers to represent Australia in future Olympics plus co-hosting Sky Channel fight nights, including interviews internationally has kept Jeff busy.
In 1985 he was named the Male Athlete of the Year, in 1986, the Most Popular Australian Sporting Personality, in 1987, Sports Entertainer of the Year, in 1988, Boxer of the Year, 1989, Boxer of the Decade by the WBC, and on December 10, 1993 at a glittering ceremony in Las Vegas he was named as one of the world’s top 30 boxing champions of all time by the World Boxing Council.