- Eric Raskin, Boxing
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Money is the ultimate matchmaker in boxing.
Just ask Floyd Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya, who generated 150 million reasons last May to give sports fans a rematch that boxing fans aren't particularly interested in.
Joel Casamayor and Nate Campbell are not Mayweather and De La Hoya. There will never be a "Casamayor-Campbell 24/7." There will never be a reason for Liev Schreiber to utter either of their names.
Financial considerations will never force Casamayor and Campbell to agree to a rematch to their Jan. 25, 2003 battle that ended in a close, debatable decision win for Casamayor.
And, as we're so often reminded, the name of the game is "prize fighting" -- money being the prize, the motivation for stepping into the ring and accepting the risks that come with getting punched in the head for a living.
But money isn't the only prize worth fighting for. Most boxers will tell you that earning universal recognition as the king of their weight class can help get them out of bed in the morning.
And that's the prize that would be at stake in Casamayor-Campbell II.
There aren't millions of dollars to throw at these guys, and if you don't know why, just ask your neighbor, the general sports fan whose life at this moment revolves around his NCAA office pool, whether he's ever heard of either of them.
But Casamayor holds The Ring lightweight championship and the lineal title indicative of who's the man that beat the man, and Campbell, despite recognition in many quarters as the best fighter at 135 pounds right now, hungers for what Casamayor has.
"If he didn't have that title, I wouldn't be interested in fighting him," Campbell told ESPN.com on Saturday night, shortly after Casamayor's riveting 10th-round knockout of previously unbeaten Michael Katsidis to retain his championship. "But he has the lineal title and I want to be the lineal champion."
Benny Leonard, Henry Armstrong, Roberto Duran, Pernell Whitaker -- all were lineal lightweight champions. It's a title with history. It's a title that means something.
After Mayweather left the 135-pound division in 2004, Juan Lazcano and Jose Luis Castillo, the top two fighters in the weight class at the time, fought for the vacant Ring championship, with Castillo coming out on top. Castillo lost the title to Diego Corrales in their legendary first fight, and Corrales lost it to Casamayor, keeping the lineage intact.
Campbell, meanwhile, has three alphabet titles that he won from Juan Diaz on March 8. These belts are not without value in the modern fight game, as the same promoters who will disparage the for-profit sanctioning bodies when the alphabet bandits invariably screw their fighters will also shamelessly embrace the trinkets when it serves their purposes. As long as industry insiders shrug their shoulders and submissively say, "That's the boxing business," those belts do serve as bargaining chips.
But they don't serve as real world championships. No offense to "The Galaxxy Warrior," a championship-caliber fighter who fought brilliantly against the heavily favored Diaz, but one of his chips traces its lineage back to a vacant title fight between Leavander Johnson and Stefano Zoff, while another one connects its dots back to Lakva Sim vs. Miguel Callist for a vacant title. You can call a hunk of cubic zirconia a diamond all that you want, but it doesn't make it a diamond.
Yes, Diaz was widely regarded as the best lightweight in the world until a couple of weeks ago (largely because Casamayor looked so awful against Jose Santa Cruz last November). But he was never the champion. And neither is Campbell. He's just a darned good No. 1 contender with a lot of hardware to keep his pants up.
Admittedly, it became extremely uncomfortable to call Casamayor champ when he retained his title against Santa Cruz on a split decision at Madison Square Garden. It was a fight that couldn't have been scored worse had the new governor of New York been handed a pencil.
Fortunately, Casamayor's win on Saturday night over Katsidis made his position considerably less uncomfortable. The champ scored a pair of first-round knockdowns, only to watch the relentless Australian warrior battle back, knock him through the ropes in the sixth round and hurt Casamayor as badly as anyone ever has. Casamayor persevered, however, and caught the challenger with a spectacular left hand just seconds into Round 10 that swung the pendulum for the final time and set up the dramatic stoppage.
Afterward, Campbell climbed into the ring at the Morongo Casino Resort in Southern California to challenge Casamayor, but he didn't get the response he was hoping for.
"I beat Nate Campbell with three weeks of training," Casamayor said, in reference to their bout five years ago. "I want [Manny] Pacquiao, I want [Marco Antonio] Barrera. I want the big money fight."
"He won't fight me because he's afraid of Nate Campbell," insisted the Galaxxy Warrior. "Y'all saw how washed up Casamayor is against a guy who's green as grass [Katsidis]. I'm the best lightweight in the world, I proved that against Juan Diaz, and Joel Casamayor doesn't want any part of me. He would rather fight his mother than fight me. On his best night, he didn't beat me; they had to give him the decision he didn't deserve. So how's he going to beat me now that he's washed up?"
Campbell's not alone in wanting to find out the answer to that question -- hard-core boxing fans feel the same way. When the lineal champ and the fighter generally viewed as the best are not one and the same, the stage is set for a showdown that whips us boxing geeks into a frenzy.
Neither Casamayor nor Campbell has a shot at the huge money fight against Pacquiao right now, as the junior lightweight champ from the Philippines is targeting easier mark David Diaz for his first bout at 135.
But PacMan's arrival makes clearing up the division's clutter that much more important. With Pacquiao headed for lightweight, and Juan Manuel Marquez presumably soon to follow, this is about to become a "glamour division." It would be nice to get the house in order before company arrives.
Casamayor-Campbell is the lightweight fight that matters most to the boxing nerds, the obsessive fans who argue about mythical intergenerational match-ups and about the Hall of Fame candidacy of 108-pound fighters from South Korea.
Casamayor just needs to come to the realization that he isn't in a position yet to attract the Pacquiaos and the Barreras. A wily, often dirty, 36-year-old southpaw who's never been knocked out isn't the first choice of opponent for boxing's established superstars.
He happens to be, however, the first choice of opponent for a fellow 36-year-old named Nate Campbell.
Both Campbell and Casamayor just won exciting fights against opponents a decade younger that were generally expected to overwhelm the old men. The timing will never be better for Casamayor-Campbell II.
If it's money, that ultimate matchmaking motivator, that Casamayor is after, and if a fight with someone like Pacquiao is the way to get it, then his best bet is to beat Campbell and prove that he's both the champion of the lightweight division and its best fighter.
If he gives the hard-core boxing geeks what they want, then maybe he'll come away with enough bargaining chips for Pacquiao to give him what he wants.
Eric Raskin is a contributing editor for and former managing editor of The Ring magazine.
4hBy Ian O'Connor