Boxing: Nelson's `bottle' problem is put to the test

Much maligned cruiserweight has a chance for title redemption.

STAGE FRIGHT is a cancerous condition for a fighter. It implies cowardice and a more damning, insidiously damaging accusation could not be made of a professional boxer. It suggests an inherent inability to do the job. And the slur sticks like glue.

When a debuting professional's bowels betrayed him in the third round at Glasgow four weeks ago, the young man was allowed to leave the ring immediately with what little dignity he had left. That was an accident, an aberration unlikely to happen again. But to a few he will forever remain the guy who lost it, big time.

The Sheffield cruiserweight Johnny Nelson has received white feathers through the post and lived to fight another day. But his status is currently uncertain after two bitterly disappointing non-efforts on the world title stage. Does Nelson have the bottle for the job? Saturday night should reveal all when he challenges Carl Thompson for the World Boxing Organisation championship at Derby Storm Arena.

It is a fight that has twice been postponed in order to allow Thompson's two fights with Chris Eubank. And it is a fight that Nelson, 33, must win in order to salvage even a semblance of respectability from a 13-year career that has threatened so much more than it has delivered.

Nelson's unrequited fan mail followed a desultory draw when he challenged the veteran Carlos De Leon for the World Boxing Council title in 1990. The total lack of aggression from either man was by entirely mutual consent and infuriated the Englishman's home-town crowd. The consensus was that Nelson, for all his talent, lacked heart enough to make the grade at world level.

Two years later Nelson received a shot at the International Boxing Federation champion, James Warring. This was a chance for the Englishman to clear his name, against a distinctly average former kickboxer. Nelson had impressively won and defended the European title by the time of the fight in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and looked ready to make amends. But, on the night, Nelson fled shamelessly for 12 rounds. At times he looked petrified. His credibility and marketability hit rock bottom. "It's a psychological problem," his trainer, Brendan Ingle, said at the time. "I know what needs doing but it's going to take time with him.But it's a strange game. Anything can happen."

Commercially dead in Britain and America, Nelson was forced into virtual exile. He won the lesser World Boxing Federation version of the championship and then that organisation's heavyweight title, also. Nelson defended these belts on every continent. He was treated as the second coming of Muhammad Ali in Thailand and robbed by bandits and the judges in Brazil.

But, out of the limelight, the pressure was off and Nelson enjoyed his rehabilitation. He earned wellenough to buy a house in his local area and sat back as Naseem Hamed brought world title glory to Ingle's stable. Nelson claims that the younger man's achievements had a cathartic effect on him. He says that years in the company of the recently departed Hamed have finally given him a winning attitude.

"I was a late developer," Nelson now admits. "But I've grown up just in time. And I've never felt so confident."

Words, however, mean very little as Nelson enters this contest. He talked good fights prior to his previous world title challenges. And Thompson is a dour, uncompromising champion who is hungry for recognition.

The evidence of his hard-won victories over Eubank shows that if it comes to a firefight, Thompson will not flinch. He could be Nelson's worst nightmare if the challenger's resolve is insufficiently bolstered. And many doubt that Nelson has much resolve to bolster in the first place. And while the scorned fighter claims rebirth, the weight of evidence supports his detractors. Is Nelson's treacherous nervous condition cured, or is he simply in remission? We will soon find out.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss