- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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Nate Campbell didn't begin boxing as an amateur until he was 24. He didn't turn pro until he was a month shy of 28. He was just another nameless, faceless fighter trying to make ends meet. Little was expected from him.
Yet, Campbell overcame ups and downs to become a television staple and a three-belt lightweight world champion in 2008 when he upset Juan Diaz. But on Monday, three days after a shocking eight-round decision loss to journeyman Walter Estrada on the Juan Manuel Marquez-Michael Katsidis undercard in Las Vegas, Campbell announced his retirement at age 38 after a 10-year career.
"First of all, I want to let everyone know that I'm fine. But after thinking about Saturday's fight, I know it's time for me to hang it up," Campbell said in a statement. "I've reached the point where I can still see the openings, but I just can't get my shots there in time. In this business, a tenth of a second delay is too much. And in no way do I mean any disrespect to Estrada. He came to fight and won the fight fair and square, but I'm not supposed to struggle in fights like this. And if I do struggle in fights like this, then what would that mean for me against a top tier fighter?
"I didn't enter this sport to be anyone's opponent. I entered this sport to become a world champion. I am fortunate that I was able to accomplish that goal. I would have liked to continue on to win titles in other divisions. However, when your body tells you that it's time to go, then it's time to go."
The loss to Estrada was Campbell's second in a row. He also lost a lopsided 10-round decision to Victor Ortiz in May, after which he said a nerve issue in his back made it hard for him to move in the fight. Campbell (33-7-1, 25 KOs) went through rehabilitation and hoped he could handle Estrada and move on to a more meaningful fight.
"I had hoped that the back rehab I went through after my injury in training camp for the Ortiz fight would have made a difference," Campbell said. "However, mobility obviously wasn't my only issue, and the rehab couldn't fix my age. As we get older, things slow down a bit, and the 135 and 140 divisions just don't work well for a 38-year-old."
Terry Trekas, Campbell's longtime adviser and close friend, believes Campbell's retirement will stick, even though boxing is littered with fighters who make ill-advised comebacks.
"I'm extremely confident it will stick," Trekas said. "I don't think he'll ever get the idea he can compete at the level he wants to and used to be able to. I hope someone doesn't offer him money to be a stepping stone and that his financial circumstances don't make him consider it. There's nothing wrong with being an opponent because the sport can't survive without opponents, but I don't want to see that for Nate and Nate doesn't want to see that for himself."
Campbell, nicknamed "The Galaxxy Warrior," had a drama-filled career inside the ring and out. He began his career 23-0 and was rewarded with an HBO fight against former lightweight and junior lightweight champ Joel Casamayor, who handed him his first loss in a tight 10-round decision.
In 2004, the junior lightweight contender gained attention for a reason he wished he hadn't. Winning easily against Robbie Peden in a nationally televised fight, Campbell dropped his hands in the fifth round and began taunting him. Peden responded by cracking Campbell and knocking him out in an embarrassing scene.
Campbell eventually worked his way back up the rankings and became a mandatory challenger for Diaz. They met in a Cancun, Mexico bullring in March 2008 and Campbell pulled the upset, taking a split decision to claim Diaz's three alphabet belts. But Campbell was unable to capitalize. He didn't fight for 11 months because a late 2008 mandatory defense against Joan Guzman was canceled the day before the fight when Guzman failed to make weight and refused to participate in a nontitle bout.
The loss of the $300,000 purse from that fight pushed Campbell into bankruptcy. Then, when he was finally set for his first defense in February 2009 against Ali Funeka, Campbell did not make weight and was stripped of his belts. The fight went on and Campbell won a majority decision.
No longer able to make 135 pounds, Campbell moved up to 140 pounds and got a junior welterweight title shot with Timothy Bradley Jr. in his next fight. Bradley dominated the first and second rounds before an accidental head butt in the third round opened a bad cut over Campbell's left eye, and the fight was stopped and ruled a no contest.
Campbell had been having problems with promoter Don King in the months leading up to the bout. King eventually sold his contract to Golden Boy, which matched him with young gun Ortiz.
"Nate came up out of nowhere at an age where nobody was interested in him and went against the grain the entire way and wound up winning three world titles. In my mind it's a great story," Trekas said. "I would liked to have seen it end a little differently. The best part of his career got wasted with his issues with King. It might have been different had he been able to stay active. But it was a success story. He went from being a nobody to being champ of the world. That's in the record books forever. Nobody can ever take it away."
Said Campbell, "I would really like to publicly thank Golden Boy for still believing in me after the Ortiz fight. It's no secret that I've had many issues with promoters over the years, but if I had one regret in this sport, it's that I wasn't with Golden Boy at the time of the Diaz fight. I think the last three years would have played out significantly different had I been with them the whole time."
Campbell, a married father of three daughters, three step-sons and a granddaughter, grew up in difficult circumstances. He was shuttled in and out of foster care as a youngster while his mother was in prison. Campbell's father died on his 10th birthday. He had scrapes with the police and was a high school dropout, although he later earned his equivalency degree and took some junior college courses.
He worked numerous odd jobs to make ends meet -- selling vacuum cleaners and meat door-to-door, among them -- but took up boxing in his early 20s. Campbell was working the graveyard shift as a box cutter in a Winn-Dixie grocery store warehouse and sometimes had trouble staying awake through his shift. To keep himself awake, he would shadowbox. A co-worker saw him and encouraged him to try boxing for real at a local gym.
Campbell would like to stay involved in boxing as a television commentator, which he has had some experience at, or as a trainer or manager.
"I've got no complaints," he said. "I came into this sport as a nobody at 28-years-old, ultimately appeared on NBC, ESPN, Showtime, HBO, and PPV, managed to win three world titles in the process, and made a few bucks along the way. Not too shabby for a wise-ass kid from Jacksonville."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter.
On Monday, three days after a shocking eight-round decision loss to journeyman Walter Estrada on the Juan Manuel Marquez-Michael Katsidis undercard in Las Vegas, Nate Campbell announced his retirement at age 38 after a 10-year career.