Azumah Nelson landed a crushing left uppercut to knock out Pat Cowdell in the first round and retain his World Boxing Council featherweight title last night in Birmingham, England.

The scheduled 12-round bout was just over two minutes under way when the Briton dropped his defenses. Nelson, 27, a Ghanaian living in Ohio, swung his left, coming from under with a massive blow that caught Cowdell square on and knocked him cold.

Referee Octavio Meyran's count -- the first time Cowdell, 32, had been knocked out in a 34-fight career -- was a formality, ending at 2:24. It took three minutes before Cowdell was hauled to his feet and helped, still staggering, to his corner.

Nelson (22-1), who had been led into the ring by an entourage of African villagers beating tribal drums, immediately challenged Barry McGuigan, holder of the WBA title, to a match to unify the two versions of the featherweight crown.

The crowd of 6,000 took Cowdell's defeat badly. Scuffles broke out near Nelson's corner and Ghana's Roy Ankarah, one of the three judges, had to be assisted away by stewards.

On the undercard, former WBC heavyweight champion Tim Witherspoon stopped fellow American Sam Scaff with a right to the jaw in the fourth round. Scaff, 6 feet 7 and 257 pounds of him, crashed to the canvas, took an eight count, briefly restarted and then referee John Coyle stopped the fight.

Following the fight, Carl King, Witherspoon's manager, announced his fighter had a signed agreement to challenge Tony Tubbs for the WBA heavyweight championship Jan. 17.