Turn on the lights, action ahead at 135
Intriguing contests between six exceptional lightweights -- what more could fight fans want? Eric Raskin breaks down three upcoming fights at 135.
Originally Published: September 1, 2008By Eric Raskin | ESPN.com
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesLonging for a fight like Diego Corrales' war of attrition with Jose Luis Castillo in '05? You might get three of them in the coming weeks.The May 7, 2005 bout between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo will forever be remembered as a sensational fight -- perhaps the best of this decade, perhaps the best in many decades. But what history might forget is that it was also a battle for true lightweight supremacy. If we watch sports for two primary reasons, to find out who's the best and to be entertained, then Corrales-Castillo represented the ultimate experience. But such occasions are not as common in boxing as we'd like. Sometimes, we have to be satisfied with one or the other. Either the best fight the best or we get a style matchup guaranteed to entertain. Over the next two Saturdays, the lightweight division offers us three exceptionally appealing and intriguing contests. Three exceptionally appealing and intriguing contests, that is, that might not bring us any closer to clarifying who truly rules the weight class three years after Corrales-Castillo.
By outpointing Corrales in Oct. '06, Joel Casamayor claimed the lineal title, but he lost that championship aura with a ridiculous gift decision win over Jose Armando Santa Cruz in his next fight. We're talking about a judges' verdict as unexpected as, say, a jilted lover writing a hit song about getting dumped by Dave Coulier. Casamayor restored some championship luster with a dramatic knockout win over Michael Katsidis his next time out, but many fans and members of the media had already moved on and elected a "people's champion." The overwhelmingly likeable Juan Diaz had rounded up three alphabet belts, and then Nate Campbell took those straps from him with a magnificent effort in March. Casamayor's lineage remains unbroken. But in a boxing world in which there is no singular governing body calling the shots, confusion often reigns and public perception takes on additional importance. And there is undoubtedly a perception that Casamayor must beat Campbell, or vice versa, to claim sole authority. At the press conference following Casamayor's 10th-round stoppage of Katsidis, Campbell told the Cuban, "You say you're the best lightweight. I hold all the belts. Let's work something out." It sounded simple enough -- and marketable enough, with the additional plotlines created by their 2003 meeting, a solid scrap won narrowly by Casamayor. So on Sept. 13, Joel Casamayor and Nate Campbell will compete for eyeballs. Casamayor took an alternative fight that offered him more money, and the fighters will be in action on the same night, against different opponents, on different networks. It's Casamayor vs. Juan Manuel Marquez on HBO PPV and Campbell vs. Joan Guzman on Showtime. And one week earlier, on Sept. 6, Diaz and Katsidis square off on HBO.
Ed Mulholland/US PRESSWIREDespite a less-than-stellar showing against Jose Armando Santa Cruz, right, Joel Casamayor is considered the lineal lightweight champion.
In an eight-day span, we get three fights at 135 pounds that are every bit as potentially thrilling as they are difficult to pick a winner. Steve Albert, who'll be providing blow-by-blow commentary on the Campbell-Guzman fight, feels the same way. "I don't really look at these upcoming fights as a means to determine who's the best in the division," Albert said. "I'm satisfied knowing that each of the fights has the potential to be tremendously entertaining and crowd-pleasing in a talent-rich weight class." Of the three, Diaz-Katsidis has that potential in the greatest supply. It means the least from a supremacy-determining perspective, as there's no major title at stake and both are coming off the first losses of their careers, but it guarantees more leather on flesh than a trip to Zed's basement in "Pulp Fiction." Casamayor-Marquez might turn slightly more tactical than fans would like, as both are wily veterans who know how to counterpunch, but recent tendencies suggest it could also be a scorcher. Since losing to Chris John, Marquez has turned more aggressive and taken part in five action fights in a row. And Casamayor is much more entertaining than he's given credit for, as his handful of stinkers (Santa Cruz, Castillo) are more than counterbalanced by his memorable battles (Katsidis, the first two fights with Corrales, Roberto Garcia). And if classic clashes of styles are your thing, Campbell-Guzman has what you're looking for. "It's power vs. speed in a bout where it's tough to predict a clear-cut favorite," said Albert. "It's going to be fun to see if Guzman's fast hands can neutralize Campbell's relentless, punishing style. I'm expecting a lot of action." Two things that the Sept. 13 fights have in common is that the challengers are junior lightweights moving up a class and that those challengers are, in fact, favored slightly to knock off the incumbents. If those odds hold up, we'll no longer have to root for Casamayor and Campbell to broker a deal to bring the Ring Magazine title and the alphabet titles together. We might instead be talking about Marquez-Guzman or Casamayor-Guzman or Marquez-Campbell. Or one of the winners vs. Diaz or Katsidis. Or anyone vs. Manny Pacquiao, should he return to the division after fighting Oscar De La Hoya. (Doesn't Pacquiao-Marquez III, with the lineal title on the line, get your motor humming just a little bit?) And this is all without even invoking the name of Jose Armando Santa Cruz, who should arguably be the lineal champ right now. Lightweight may be short on true superstars beyond Pacquiao, but it's deeply stocked with talent -- specifically, with talent all on roughly the same level. There are coin-flip pairings everywhere you look, and over the next two weekends, we'll see three of them that could drastically alter the state of the division. We won't have the whole world agreeing about who's "The Man" at 135 in two weeks' time. We might not even be a single step closer to ending that debate. But we're almost certain to see some sensational fights while we wait for that clarity. And let's be honest: While it's wonderful that Corrales-Castillo I was for all the proverbial marbles, would you love that classic fight any less if it hadn't been? Eric Raskin is a contributing editor for and former managing editor of The Ring magazine.
AP Photo/Israel LealKeep it going: Nate Campbell, right, hopes to build on the momentum he established in beating Juan Diaz.
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