Saturday, April 26, 2008

Lightweights Are a Heavyweight Mess

Some say that world title belts from boxing's sanctioning organizations are no longer relevant, but don't tell that to the fighters. Above is a collection of belts from the International Boxing Federation.

It's one of boxing's original eight weight divisions with a proud history of great champions. But right now, the Lightweights are a muddled mess.

Ask any boxing fan who the 135-pound champion of the world is and you'd likely get a funny look and then you might get an even funnier answer, because despite boxing's best intentions, there's more than one guy who can make a serious claim to being the real champ.

36 year-old grinder, Nate "The Galaxxy Warrior" Campbell, recently played the role of matador and lifted the belts of the WBA, WBO and IBF from Juan "The Baby Bull" Diaz in a Mexican bullring. Campbell's win was the feel good story of the young boxing year, but then there's the little matter of Joel Casamayor.

Casamayor, a 36 year-old Cuban expatriate who fights with the "head first" approach, just knocked out Michael Katsidis in a spectacular barn burner of a scrap in an effort to stamp his claim on being the best 135-pounder on the planet. Casamayor holds The Ring Magazine and WBO "Interim" title straps. And then there's this little matter for Campbell supporters - Joel Casamayor already beat Nate - five years ago.

And then there's the little matter of Jose Armando Santa Cruz, who I saw thoroughly outbox a rusty Casamayor back in November at Madison Square Garden while winning 10 of 12 rounds. Except there was just one problem in that fight - the judges aided and abetted Casamayor and stole the decision from Santa Cruz in a total robbery.

Joel Casamayor flies the flag of Cuba. The Ring Magazine recognizes Casamayor as their Champion. Casamayor is also the WBO 'Interim' Lightweight titlist.

Which then brings us to the WBC claimant in this soap opera - David Diaz. He holds the title only because the WBC needlessly stripped Casamayor of the belt to begin with and then Bob Arum matched Diaz against Erik Morales for the vacant title in a fight that Diaz wasn't supposed to win, but did.

Oh, and there's this one little matter - Diaz stormed from behind and knocked out the same Jose Armando Santa Cruz (that should've gotten the decision against Casamyor) a year and a half ago.

So to put this into perspective: Casamayor beat Campbell by decision five years ago. Then Santa Cruz beat Casamayor but didn't get the decision. Yet Diaz had already knocked out Santa Cruz. So doesn't that sorta' make Diaz the real champ?


Well, here's where it gets really interesting. Diaz, the least regarded of the three title belt holders, will hit the big score when he faces off against the little Filipino spitfire, Manny Pacquiao, on June 28th in Las Vegas. Because of Pacquiao's star power everybody wants to fight him. He's the cash cow in the lightweight barnyard and when he headlines on the Vegas strip everybody wants to watch. And as a result, everybody gets paid.

David Diaz is tough as nails. To borrow a line from one of the Rocky movies; "He eats nails and craps thunder." Diaz fights out of Chicago and is the WBC champ.

It's no secret that Diaz will make more money in his "championship" fight against Pacquiao than what Campbell and Casamayor would make should they eventually fight one another again. Last month, the WBO ordered that the camps of Campbell and Casamayor begin negotiations to settle the WBO score, but there's little interest in the match from the networks primarily because Campbell and Casamayor do little to stir the passion of fight fans like Pacquiao does. And Casamayor, according to Campbell, has unrealistic monetary expectations which is making negotiations difficult.

But on the Diaz vs. Pacquiao front, promoter Bob Arum says that 7,000 of the 11,500 tickets for the Pacquiao vs. Diaz fight were sold in the first four days after tickets went on sale last Saturday. The fight that will take place at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas and Arum, who loves to see visions of dollar signs dancing in his head, was ebullient.

"The box office reported a tremendous demand for tickets," he said. "They say it was the biggest first day sale ever for a Manny Pacquiao fight and that they had to limit sales to eight tickets per customer."

Arum promotes both Diaz and Pacquiao and it's been Arum that basically nixed a third fight with Juan Manuel Marquez in favor of a fight for Diaz' WBC lightweight belt.

Manny Pacquiao always shows up in great shape, and he's on the lookout for another championship belt to strap around his trim waistline.

Of Diaz, Arum said that "David will be there fighting. He'll be in there toe-to-toe with Manny and unless Manny is in unbelievably great shape he won't be able to go twelve rounds."

Arum calls the unheralded Diaz "One of those over-achieving fighters who will stay there 'til the bitter end."

Diaz has his critics and many feel that he is over-matched against Pacquiao. However, Arum dismisses those pundits. "Look, he's not the hardest puncher in the world," admitted the 76 year-old promoter. "But David is a difficult fight for anyone."

As for Diaz, he sees this as the opportunity of a lifetime and he will undergo ten weeks in the gym to get ready for all that Pacquiao will bring to Vegas.

"I've already been running and shadowboxing," says Diaz, who opened his training camp in Chicago last week.

"I'm very excited to fight Manny Pacquiao and I'm keeping myself in good shape. We’re getting sparring partners who are southpaws who'll do what Pacquiao does in the ring. Pacquiao throws a lot of punches and we're going to find sparring partners who are like him," he promised.

Pacquiao, however, is going through another period where he is just "Manny being Manny." Reports out of Manila say that Pacquiao is touring the country with his wife Jinkee and that he may even go to China and take part in some sort of publicity event for the Summer Olympics.

Before anybody can call themselves the true champ at 135, they'll have to deal with one Nate Campbell who fights out of Florida and holds the WBA, WBO and IBF title belts.

Arum and trainer Freddie Roach are concerned with Pacquiao's gallivanting ways and also with the fact that Manny has delayed coming to Los Angeles to train. Pacquiao was supposed to arrive next week in order to begin preparations for the Diaz fight.

Arum wanted Pacquiao here in order to take advantage of the huge amount of media members that will descend upon southern California next week for the Boxing Writers Association of America Awards Dinner and the Oscar De La Hoya vs. Stevie Forbes bout. Now, however, the press conference to announce Pacquiao vs. Diaz has been pushed back to mid-May.

Both Arum and Roach expressed disappointment that Pacquiao has delayed his departure from the Philippines.

"I hope his decision to skip the press conference that was scheduled for next week won't make a difference in promoting the fight," said Arum with a furrowed brow. "But Manny makes his own decisions."

Roach is equally perplexed as he knows that Pacquiao has had periods in the past where he didn't focus on his opponent. Although most see Diaz as a pushover, Roach sees him in a different light - and as a real threat.

"People tell Manny this is an easy fight but it really isn't," says the bespectacled Roach. "Diaz is a world champ and an Olympian. He's a southpaw and fighting him won’t be easy. I'd like to see Manny here sooner rather than later."

And besides that, the Lightweight division needs Manny here, too.

April 2008

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