Danger Ahead: Diaz-Campbell Preview, Prediction

With several fighters from the current crop of boxing mega-stars and superstars, you could see them coming around the pike. First example: Floyd Mayweather, Jr. always had the skill to be the best, but it took top guys like Roy Jones, Jr. and Bernard Hopkins slipping, plus star-siphoning turns against the popular Arturo Gatti and then Oscar De La Hoya, to catapult him into the #1 spot and into a draw in his own right. Second example: Kelly Pavlik crept up on some people, but with his Caucasian-ness and power-punching, all he needed was the opportunity to put both on display before a big audience against HBO’s handpicked star-to-be Edison Miranda and star-in-recess Jermain Taylor and it was inevitable that he would become one of boxing’s biggest attractions, with potential to transcend the sport. Mayweather’s still behind De La Hoya on the pike, and Pavlik’s still behind Mayweather, and somewhere on the pike are the likes of Manny Pacquiao, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto and Joe Calzaghe all pikin’ it up in the pantheon of established stars.
The next guy coming around the pike is fighting Saturday night. Juan Diaz is his name, and his star potential is obvious. College student by day and boxer by night, he melds a winning personality outside the ring with a fan-friendly style inside it. His opponent, Nate Campbell, is a very viable opponent, a top five lightweight (135 lbs.), but more a threat to derail Diaz’ path to stardom than someone who can accelerate it. That makes Campbell a very dangerous man.

If you’ve seen Diaz in action, and know his story, you know why he’s coming around. He’s boxing’s perpetual motion machine in the ring, and the sport’s rare college student/aspiring politician outside it. In the top-heavy lightweight division, he’s won three of its title belts. Despite average punching power, he’s a thrill a second because he just keeps punching and punching and punching and punching. It’s a rare kind of boxer who enjoys being hit, but I imagine that Diaz is a distinctly un-fun chap to fight with, because he won’t let his opponent breathe. Two straight top-ranked lightweights, Acelino Freitas and Julio Diaz, have quit on their stools, preferring not to come out of their corner to fight him at all after several rounds worth of persistent pounding. By doing this, and doing it so entertainingly, Diaz had a breakthrough 2007. And yeah, I confess, I’m just a straight-up sucker for his humble personality, college student by day/boxer by night gag and his political ambitions.
Campbell? He’s just plain unpredictable. His nickname is “The Galaxxy Warrior,” and he’s lived up to that space-cadet sounding moniker before; in the buildup to this fight, he declared, for no apparent reason, “I don’t want to sound conceited or overconfident but Juan Diaz is not a demigod. A demigod is half mortal, half god and I just don’t see that. Unless my team and I have been in this sport too long—or not long enough—we are seeing a lot of hype.” Thanks for that clarification, Nate. During a 2004 fight, en route to a victory over Robbie Peden, he stuck his chin out to mock Peden and dare him to throw a punch; Peden did just that, and knocked him straight out. He has some losses on his resume that don’t paint him in the best light. But: He’s a real talent. He lost close fights against some of his toughest opponents — Joel Casamayor, Isaac Hlatswayo — but absolutely thrashed then-rising star Almazbek “Kid Diamond” Raiymkulov in 2005, forcing his corner to throw in the towel in the 10th. He’s got speed and a big right hand, plus some boxing skill.
If you ask Campbell, only his ability to focus — sometimes hampered by outside events — has limited his own star potential. Now, he says, he’s dialed in. Diaz, by contrast, was just the victim of a Don King news release about the disputes between Don King Productions and Diaz’ manager, so you can make a case that he could be distracted. My sense is that Diaz has too good a head on his shoulders to let something like that affect him; hell, he might even be happy about it, since King’s announcement was that he was dumping Diaz, and Diaz’ manager has been wanting just that for a long, long while.
What’s so dangerous about Campbell, then, assuming he’s got his focus? The playbook on Diaz is that if you want to beat him, you have to keep him off you. What’s the best way to do that? Raw power. Campbell has shown it before. It’s not clear to me he has as much of it at 135 lbs., where he has four knockouts in eight fights. My guess is, he doesn’t have enough to dissuade Diaz, anyway, who took on some serious power-punchers in Julio Diaz and Freitas. Diaz has a way of keeping his opponents so busy on defense, keeping them backing up, that they never get to launch full-on power shots the way they want.
But Campbell’s got enough thunder in his fists to make him a threat to Diaz’ momentum. We’ll see if he has enough to pull off the upset Saturday night on the undercard of the heavyweight battle between Sam Peter and Oleg Maskaev on HBO.
My prediction: Diaz wins, with Campbell’s corner throwing in the towel around the 10th. Campbell talks like a man who wants this, and at 35, it’s arguable that he needs this. I don’t think he’ll quit like previous Diaz opponents have in what amounts to his last stand, but Campbell’s corner won’t let him get needlessly punished, I’m guessing.
Confidence: 85%. Campbell’s a live underdog, no doubt. But Diaz has stood up to his likes before. If Diaz is sleeping on Campbell, though, he’ll wake up with a big headache Sunday morning, and the first loss of his young, promising career.
My allegiance: Like I said, I’m a sucker for Diaz’ schtick. It’s a really good schtick.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.