Saturday, June 10, 2023  |



Bad luck marks Campbell’s career

Fighters Network

The feel-good story of Nate Campbell’s unlikely rise to the top of the lightweight division ended on the scales Friday afternoon.

Campbell, a former street tough who used boxing to bring order to his wayward life, became the sport’s latest Cinderella story when he upset highly favored Juan Diaz last March to win three world lightweight titles.

However, the 36-year-old veteran never defended those belts, vacating one of them prior to Saturday’s mandatory defense against Ali Funeka and then losing the other two at the weigh-in when he failed to make the 135-pound lightweight limit.

While it’s unfortunate that a warrior like Campbell lost his titles outside of the ring, it’s almost fitting that the maverick fell from the perch he had worked so hard to reach on Friday the 13th.

Much of Campbell’s career has been marred with bad luck, and he has no one but himself to blame for some of it.

Hardcore fight fans will never forget the image of Campbell being knocked out cold by a single left hook from Robbie Peden five years ago. At the time, Campbell was a streaking junior lightweight contender facing the less-talented Peden in a title-elimination bout that he was winning handily. Campbell got too comfortable with the beating he was dishing out to Peden and decided to taunt the rugged Australian by mugging and dropping his hands in the fifth round. Peden accepted Campbell’s foolish invitation and the resulting KO was a highlight on sports shows for months afterward.

However, many of same fight fans that made fun of Campbell’s goof against Peden rooted for him as he stubbornly clawed his way back into title contention – bouncing between promoters, losing fights he was supposed to win and winning fights he was supposed to lose – until he finally landed the shot at Diaz 11 months ago.

Diehard fans were elated when he beat the younger star-in-the-making. They felt sorry for him when his next bout, a fascinating showdown with two-division titleholder Joan Guzman, was canceled after the talented Dominican failed to make weight for their title match last September.

They could only scratch their heads when Campbell jeopardized his HBO-televised bout against Funeka after coming in three pounds over the lightweight limit at Friday’s weigh-in (just as Guzman, who came in 3 1/2 pounds over the limit, did against him).

“I like Nate but he brings bad s__t onto himself,” said Lou DiBella, one of Campbell’s many former promoters, who happened to be at Friday’s weigh-in as the promoter of the Sergio Martinez-Kermit Cintron bout that is part of Saturday’s HBO triple header at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla.

“He’s got big balls, and when he’s on and when everything is together, he’s the best lightweight out there. But there’s something with him that makes things go off course. I don’t know what it is, but crazy things happen with Nate’s title fights. I should know, I was his promoter when he fought Peden.

“I can’t believe what happened with (Friday’s) weigh in. That was a surreal scene after what he experienced against Guzman. It makes you shake your head. It’s mind blowing.”

There's a lot for fans to like about Campbell, a well-spoken, well-schooled tough-as-nails boxer-puncher who possesses a big a right hand and an even bigger heart, as evidenced by his willingness to face all comers. However, his volatile relationships with his promoters and an apparent inability to gauge when he’s outgrown a weight class have kept him from advancing past his perennial contender status.

Campbell, a late-starter to the sport who won his first 23 pro bouts while working part-time jobs and sometimes living out of his car, has been promoted by Main Events, Square Ring, DiBella Entertainment, and most recently by Don King. None of his promotional relationships could be described as amicable or truly successful, but there has seldom been a dull a moment since Campbell emerged as a world-class fighter almost seven years ago.

Here is a timeline of Campbell’s key bouts:

June 2002: Campbell stops former amateur star and featherweight prospect Carlos Navarro in five rounds on a small pay-per-view card in Mississippi that turns heads in the industry for the first time in his career.

September 2002: Campbell knocks out dangerous Puerto Rican contender Daniel Alicea with a single right hand in the third round of a bout on the Oscar De La Hoya-Fernando Vargas undercard in Las Vegas, earning rave reviews from the ringside press.

January 2003: Campbell gives former 130-pound titleholder Joel Casamayor all he can handle in dropping a competitive 10-round decision to the Cuban veteran in the co-featured bout to the first Vernon Forrest-Ricardo Mayorga fight. It’s the first loss of Campbell’s career, but many observers, including HBO’s Larry Merchant, thought he deserved to win the bout.

May of 2003: The momentum of Campbell’s recent strong showings is stifled when he is befuddled by the lateral movement of Edelmiro “Tiger” Martinez, who holds him to a disappointing 10-round draw on an NBC-televised card.

January 2004: Campbell regains some credibility by dropping tough contender Daniel Attah three times en route to a unanimous 12-round decision that earns him an IBF junior lightweight elimination bout.

March 2004: Campbell takes on Robbie Peden for the IBF’s mandatory contender status and punishes the brave-but-limited Australian before dropping his hands and daring his opponent to hit him. Peden seized the opportunity and laid Campbell out flat on his back in one of the most embarrassing boxing moments of the decade.

July 2004: Campbell beats Tiger Martinez by fourth-round disqualification in an ugly, foul-filled rematch that does little for his wounded reputation but somehow earns him another IBF elimination bout with, you guessed it, Robbie Peden.

February 2005: Campbell trains hard and stays focused for his rematch with Peden, which took place in Australia, but left his “fight” in the sauna as he struggled to make 130 pounds for their return face-off for the vacant IBF belt. Campbell is never in the fight and Peden knocks him out in the eighth round.

June 2005: Campbell is out-worked by Francisco Lorenzo and drops a 10-round split decision to the awkward spoiler in an ESPN-televised bout that leads most fans to assume that his days as a contender are over.

October 2005: Campbell takes on then unbeaten and streaking Almazbek Raiymkulov (AKA Kid Diamond) in a lightweight bout on the pay-per-view undercard of the Antonio Tarver-Roy Jones Jr. rubber match. Most fans and boxing writers feared for Campbell’s safety going into the fight but he brutally dominated Raiymkulov to a shocking 10th-round TKO victory, resurrecting his stagnant career.

April 2006: Campbell struggles to a 12-round split decision loss to Isaac Hlatshwayo in an ESPN-televised elimination bout for the IBF lightweight title. The undefeated and unheralded South African, now a welterweight contender, was simply too big for Campbell.

October 2006: Campbell looks sharp in repeatedly dropping once-beaten Matt Zegan in a 12-round unanimous decision on the non-televised portion of a Don King Productions undercard.

March 2007: Campbell looks even sharper in dominating former title challenger Ricky Quiles in a brutally one-sided IBF lightweight title elimination bout that was televised on ESPN. Campbell won a 12-round unanimous decision that set up his shot at Juan Diaz.

March 2008: Campbell shocks Diaz and the boxing world by beating the “Baby Bull” by 12-round split decision in an HBO-televised bout from Mexico. Despite the split verdict, Campbell, who won the WBA, WBO and IBF titles, dominated the second half of the entertaining fight.

September 2008: Campbell’s first defense of his three titles is canceled when WBO mandatory Joan Guzman weighs in at 138 1/2. Guzman attempted to lose the weight but failed to drop a single pound and then complained of dizziness hours later before pulling out of the bout.

On Friday, Campbell was given two hours to lose his extra pounds at the weigh-in, but he was only able to shed half a pound. Unlike Guzman, however, Campbell elected to go through with Saturday’s fight even though his WBO and IBF belts were stripped from him and will only be up for grabs for Funeka.

“Physically and mentally, I am OK, but I don't like what happened,” Campbell told Friday. “I did everything I could to make my weight. I feel like it's unprofessional but I can't do it. I'm 36 now and I couldn't do it. I thought I would take those last couple of pounds off easy.”

Campbell says he will campaign as a junior welterweight after Saturday’s bout.

If he beats the 6-foot-1 South African, the WBO and IBF titles will remain vacant. Campbell voluntarily abdicated the WBA belt last month rather than face the sanctioning body’s mandatory challenger (Paulus Moses).

“This situation messes up the lightweight division but it does make things more interesting,” DiBella said. “I thought this whole idea of a lightweight tournament was a waist of time when Golden Boy Promotions first brought it up. I thought there was no need for a tournament. The real champ would be whoever won between Campbell and the winner of the Marquez-Diaz fight. But now there might be three vacant titles out there for all these young contenders to aim for.

“I think the purists will hope that Funeka wins, so that the titles stay together, but all those lightweight contenders must be rooting for Campbell. In a weird way I think Campbell made Saturday’s main event more intriguing.”

The up-and-down career of Campbell continues, but true to form, he’s making it interesting.