by Paul Magno
Boxing’s having a party in the Lightweight division, but somebody forgot to invite what should be the guest of honor.
Golden Boy is planning a Lightweight PPV tournament featuring Michael Katsidis, Jesus Chavez, Jorge Barrios, Carlos Hernandez and Joel Casamayor; Top Rank is celebrating the rise of Edwin Valero to 135; Amir Khan plans a major coming out party against the now Lightweight, Marco Antonio Barrera; And, of course, Juan Manuel Marquez will be taking on Juan Diaz in the most anticipated Lightweight war since Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo ripped each other to shreds back in 2005.
But the true Top Dog at 135, and the rightful guest of honor at 2009’s tribute to all things Lightweight, is financially bankrupt and coming off nearly a year’s worth of inactivity.
With the Boxing world abuzz with the goings on in the stacked 135 lb. weight class, Nate Campbell prepares to make a mandatory defense of his WBO and IBF titles against Ali Funeka, a relatively unknown fighter who has yet to fight outside of his native South Africa.
“I’m going to hit this 6-foot-1-inch Funeka everywhere it’s legal and maybe where it ain’t if the referee turns his back. If he truly wants to win, he better be ready to fight, kill or die,” said Campbell during a press conference promoting the February 14th bout, which will be part of a televised HBO Triple Header.
While all the typical bluster and li’l B-Hop swagger is still there on the surface, one can’t help but wonder if there’s a hint of desperation behind the mega-confident public image of “The Galaxxy Warrior.” How long can he keep his spirits up when he sees other, less deserving fighters digging into the cake that should be his? It has to be frustrating to sit out a year after his career-defining victory against the recognized best Lightweight, Juan Diaz, and the annexation of the WBA, WBO and IBF titles in March of ‘08. It wasn’t as though Campbell wasn’t ready and willing to take on the world, but one of his foes, Joan Guzman, couldn’t make weight and pulled out on fight night and the rest of the big names at 135 (as well as 10 of the BTBC Top 20 Lightweights) are affiliated with Golden Boy or Top Rank.
But, despite the recent string of bad luck, it wouldn’t be fair to paint Campbell as a victim of simply being born under the wrong sign. A lot of the fault for his lack of exposure rests at his own feet. He‘s been a famously inconsistent performer, with world-class performances followed by real brain lapses, the most famous of which being in his first fight with Robbie Peden where Campbell mockingly stuck out his chin at the game Australian and then went down hard for the count when Peden cracked him. He‘s also fallen victim to the “Hopkins Syndrome“ of being so abrasive in his interviews and so brutally honest that he‘s made too many enemies to ever start calling in favors for big paydays. His alliance with Don King hasn’t made things easy, either. The once great promoter, King, has all but resorted to novelty shows and a protectionist attitude where he sits on his few viable fighters and, literally, does nothing with them.
However, Campbell is insisting that all of the things that held him back are now a thing of the past. First, this will likely be Campbell’s last fight under the DKP banner. A free agent Campbell will probably have a bit more success finding worthwhile paydays although he will have to run the risk of being brought into events as the “opponent” and will probably have to fight in his opponents’ back yards. Campbell also insists that he has matured as a fighter and as a man and that the losses and lapses of the past only served to make him stronger, wiser and more determined.
But Before he can reestablish his claim on what’s his and what he earned by beating Juan Diaz to a pulp last year, another obstacle has been put in his path. The freakishly tall Ali Funeka (#1 IBF, #5 WBO, #6 BTBC) now stands between Campbell and the acclaim and money he feels he so righteously deserves. A win over Funeka is not a guarantee of getting to the level he seeks, but a loss, though, will completely eliminate him from the picture.
Therein lies the sad Catch 22 when it comes to guys as brutally honest and as fiercely independent as Campbell. But “The Galaxxy Warrior” seems to thrive on seemingly lose-lose situations. For him, as he’s stated over and over, the real greatness comes out when his back’s against the wall.
When it comes to the 2009 version of Nate Cambell, the desire is there, the drive is still obvious, but at nearly 37 years of age and with so many obstacles in his path, how much longer can he go on fighting for respect and/or waiting for someone to step up to him?
He will be pushed to the limits by Funeka on Saturday and how he responds will be an indication of just how much fight he has left in him.
“People fail to realize something, I still want to be world champion. I haven’t been respected for what I’ve accomplished. My goal is still to be world champion…I’m going to beat him like he tried to steal something from me.”