Sunday, February 15, 2009

Beltless Campbell Shows Championship Stuff

by Lee Payton

The main event of a seemingly jinxed triple header had former lightweight champion, Nate Campbell, facing off against a 135 lb monster by the name of Ali Funeka. As if trying to chop down the imposing challenger wasn't enough, Campbell had to deal with the emotional baggage of leaving his title belts on the scale when he came in 3 lbs over the limit.

There were other problems, too. Like not having fought for nearly a year. But Nate Campbell has never had it easy, and fighting for his boxing life, he did what he had to do in order to remain relevant as he makes the trip North to 140 lbs. While no longer the carrying a horde or title belts, he used all of his championship mettle to pull out a victory when it mattered most.

Unimpressed by the South African's size and physique, Campbell started off fast, going right after his man with thudding right hands to the body and head. Funeka showed some professionalism in keeping a cool head, while the more experienced fighter banged him around the ring for the first 3 minutes.

In the 2nd, Nate came out hard again, blocking most of the challenger's work while continuing to slam him with his heavy right. One of those shots caught Funeka on the temple and sent him wobbling backward. Thinking he had his man ready to go, Campbell worked his right like a sledgehammer to the ribs, in hopes that he could create an opening up top. He found it with a sweeping overhand bomb that flattened Funeka. To his credit, the hurt fighter kept his composure and survived the round. It was a violent welcome to the big time.

Obviously fatigued, Nate had to take his foot off the gas, and as a result, the fight tightened up. He wasn't busy enough to take the 4th or 5th, and he also lost a scrappy 6th when Funeka found his way around the guard with snappy left hooks. After 10 rounds, the fight was up for grabs, with both men weary from the action.

The proud "Galaxxy Warrior" turned it up to start the 11th round, and it was that extra gear that proved to be the difference. After coming out with a new determination, he floored Funeka with another roundhouse right to the side of the head. The game challenger somehow rose to his feet once again, and was able to finish a disastrous round.

Funeka giving every ounce of himself in the final stanza. The whipping power in his punches and the zest in his legs were long gone by his point, but he never stopped trying to win. Campbell could do little more than smother, line up the odd power shot, and just pray for the fight to end. The crowd rose in the final seconds, recognizing that neither man left anything in the tank on this night.

In the end, the former champ earned a career saving majority decision win, and the courageous contender from South Africa put forth an inspiring effort, that fight fans will not forget. So while we lost an exciting lightweight to the scale, we may not have to look very far for his replacement.

It seems like Nate Campbell still has the fire, so who will get burned next? The jr. welterweight division is packed with solid fighters, all trying to land dates with the two biggest stars in boxing, Manny Pacquiao and Ricky Hatton. At 36 (soon to be 37), you wonder how much time he has, but he does have the important advantage of being backed by HBO, so it's not out of the question that he could land a fight with either one.

On paper, Hatton-Campbell is a nasty war, while Pacquiao-Campbell is a battle of passionate bangers. Who wouldn't want to see those?

On the undercard, Sergio Martinez and Kermit Cintron tangled to a 12 round draw. It wasn't easy to watch. Cintron seems clueless against southpaws, and Martinez probably needs the perfect style in front of him to be entertaining, so there was more posturing and missing, than pain over 36 minutes.

While the fight was a bore, it was made slightly interesting when Cintron took a knee in the 7th, after what he thought was a head butt. It turned out to be a left hand that hurt him, so the ref started to count. Cintron, complaining the whole way, started to get up at about 9 and 7/8. The referee reached 10, but I guess because of some confusion, allowed the fight to continue anyway. Martinez' busier hands probably should have won him the fight, but he keeps his title belt, so no real damage was done.

Boxing needs instant replay. It just does. Surely it's brought up among officials, but I'd like to know why it hasn't been implemented. What possible reason is there not to put it into action? It's not realistic to expect a ref to catch everything, and there is far too much at stake not to get it right. Not to mention that it leaves all kinds of room for people to assume the worst about boxing. We don't need the headache.

Alfredo Angulo started things off by dismantling late sub, Cosme Rivera, in 5 rounds. It really wasn't a fair fight, as Angulo was just way bigger and stronger. I know the fight was thrown together last minute, but what was the point in finding an out-sized opponent, who never had a chance? Is making your guy look great on TV more important than giving him a legitimate test? Let's hope that he's fighting someone his own size next time.

- Lee Payton e-mail