It’s been a weird month and a half in the sport of boxing. Cheating scandals (Antonio Margarito). A five minute round (Juan Urango-Herman Ngoudjo). Everything about the Valentine’s Day card coming in was strange: three different opponents dropping off the slate, a long delay in picking the location before ending up in Florida, and the most accomplished fighter of the evening, Nate Campbell, failing to make weight.
It got weirder. Potential future attraction Alfredo Angulo suffered a deep cut in the first fight of the evening, which was ruled as coming from a punch but actually was from a head butt. That meant Angulo risked a knockout loss to a journeyman if the cut got worse, but no matter; he took care of business, KOing Cosme Rivera. Up next was a referee who appeared to call a halt to the Sergio Martinez-Kermit Cintron fight in the 7th round before allowing it to continue, whereupon it ended in a draw that looked like a clear Martinez win. And then Campbell spent most of his fight with Ali Funeka getting dominated between the two knockdowns he scored, and two judges saw him winning a fight in his home state that seemed no worse than a close decision win for Funeka.
I hope something went right for everyone out there on this most amorous of evenings, or, at least, that nothing as inconclusive and improbable as all that went down.
ALFREDO ANGULO – COSME RIVERA
This one went much as I expected. Rivera, moving up on four day’s notice to Angulo’s junior middleweight (154 lbs.) division, was veteran and tricky enough to give Angulo a little static, but not enough. Two rounds in, it was clear Angulo was the bigger, harder-hitting man, but the aforementioned cut added more urgency to his aggressiveness. Only Rivera’s toughness and the refusal of the ref and his corner to stop the fight kept him from getting knocked out over the next few stanzas. In the 5th, finally, the Florida commission stepped in to call it off. Glad that somebody gave a damn about Rivera.
We don’t learn much about Angulo from this. Perhaps we learn that he might fare better against people who can move some than his handlers fear, and that’s a promising sign. Angulo’s a good fighter, but all this talk of keeping him away from giant southpaws and sharp boxers — Gary Shaw, his promoter, is presumably referring to Paul Williams and a Martinez type — leaves me wondering if they think he’s destined only for nice television fights. He’s destined for at least that, but if he’s to be considered a really good fighter one day, he’ll need to fight the best regardless of the style problems they pose. In the short-term, I get it. In the long-term, it’s chickenshit stuff. I think Angulo has what it takes to be really good.
Next for the loser: A trip back down to welterweight (147 lbs.) and more stern testing of young prospects his own size without having enough to beat them, one presumes.
Next for the winner: This was to be the night Angulo truly stepped up in competition and perhaps even became a minor star, and it’s not his fault that Ricardo Mayorga and another replacement backed out for whatever reason. Despite his short resume, it’s clear that he’s ready for the step up. I’d love to see him against the winner of James Kirkland-Joel Julio. Another top-10 junior middle would do the trick, too.
SERGIO MARTINEZ-KERMIT CINTRON
I gave Martinez eight rounds, awarding him an extra point for a 7th round knockdown and honoring the referee’s off-base point deduction in the 12th for hitting behind the head after a blow landed on the back of Cintron’s head only because he bent down. Two judges saw it a draw, and the other had Martinez by a considerable margin. It’s not as if it was a totally easy fight to score. The first four rounds were basically toss-up rounds, with neither man doing much to distinguish themselves as an awkward style match-up developed. Cintron looked faster than I expected, and Martinez was cautious, so they got tied up and posed a fair amount. In the 5th, Martinez cut Cintron with a punch, but the referee saw it as a head butt. I gave the 6th to Cintron, but the next few rounds went all Martinez’ way.
It almost went his way in the ultimate way. In the 7th, Martinez landed a beautiful left at the end of the round that Cintron thought was a head butt, and he went down to his gloves and knees. The referee counted to 10, and Cintron foolishly waited until about a millisecond before the word “ten” was spoken to get off his knees. At first, it looked like the ref had stopped the fight. He would have been within his rights — sure, Cintron was up a hair before the word “ten,” but some refs might have waved it off after Cintron was still down at eight, despite Cintron’s protests that it was a head butt. Cintron lost his mind complaining about the apparent stoppage, and then all of a sudden after a two minute break the fight was back on, so maybe the mind-losing worked.
Martinez, angered about what he thought was a win vaporizing, got careless, and Cintron, angered by what he thought was an unfair call, got focused. I still thought Martinez won every round from the 8th to the 12th except the 10th, but Cintron landed enough big punches that he might have stolen one or two more. Maybe “might have” isn’t the word. He did, obviously, or else two judges wouldn’t have seen it as a draw, right? Without the point deduction, Martinez wins, too. Cintron’s corner was giving him bad advice, suggesting he was up through much of the fight. Perhaps it was only fitting that a fight that began awkwardly, almost ended and then finished in a hard-to-comprehend draw.
Next for Cintron: Cintron might have been in a big hole if he’d lost this one, but while the draw might not appear to hurt his record, I, at least, came away with my impression of him, for lack of a better word, as a draw. To his credit, he found his focus at the end of the fight, and in the beginning he looked sharper on offense and better on defense than I expected. To his discredit, he is turning into a real whiner in the ring, constantly griping to the ref and this time nearly costing himself the fight with his slow rise, and he basically disappeared over several of the middle rounds. I still would love to see Cintron against Joshua Clottey at the welterweight division in which he has been fighting, but Cintron against most anyone in either division has good potential. Mostly, I’d like to see him become consistent, whomever he fights next.
Next for Martinez: He says he’d fight Williams, and I’d definitely dig that one. And he is owed a title shot against Vernon Forrest, who has dropped entirely off the map. Both of those are excellent bouts. He’d be wise not to lose his focus against either, because one day that cocky hand-dropping routine is going to cost him big time. If he can’t wrangle up a top-10 opponent, a match-up with Joe Greene, his original opponent for the evening, remains intriguing.
NATE CAMPBELL – ALI FUNEKA
We all know how Campbell came in over the weight limit for this fight, automatically losing his title belts that no one should care about anyway, since none of them amount to the real lightweight (135 lbs.) championship held by Juan Manuel Marquez. But he got lucky not to lose the fight, too. At first, it appeared the extra weight benefited him. His punches were doing real damage, and Funeka, a real puncher, couldn’t scratch Nate. The 1st was close, with Funeka’s work rate against Campbell’s showier body shots, but I gave it to Funeka. In the 2nd, Campbell landed an overhand right that dropped the 6’1″ behemoth, which gave him a 10-8 round.
But Funeka figured out that overhand right for almost the rest of the fight, and Campbell didn’t do anything but keep searching for it. Campbell’s stamina, such a boon to him against Juan Diaz, was gone, surely related to the weight issues. Funeka was sticking him with the jab to set up nice combos, all powerful enough to swell Campbell’s face but never really hurt him much, and he’d step to the side before Campbell could try to retaliate. It was great work, enough to make it look like he was well on his way to a win. Through nine, I only gave Campbell one round. but Campbell dug deep and pulled out the 10th on my scorecard with his body work, and that may have helped Campbell set up another overhand right in the 11th that decked and severely hurt Funeka. Funeka got his wits back about him in the 12th, but Campbell, who told his corner, “I really want it,” pulled out the final round. Still, I had it 114-112 at the end.
One judge saw it 113-113, which obviously I can’t think of as crazy. But one had it 115-111 for Campbell, which means he found seven rounds to give Campbell. What rounds, I wonder? I can see maybe giving the 1st and 3rd to Campbell even though I didn’t, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if some gave the 10th to Funeka. So that’s at least three borderline rounds where a judge would have had to liked Campbell in all of them, which leads me to think that in another state, Campbell doesn’t get this win. It’s too bad, because Campbell, from a karma standpoint, may have had an unlucky decision coming. Instead, it turned into a sad night for
Funeka, who deserved to win, who showed real heart in battling back from two knockdowns and who exhibited real guts in deciding to fight at all, given that he could have said “no” after Campbell failed to make weight. Funeka took the loss very hard, crying in his corner, and I can’t blame him. Campbell got a little compassion back from me for showing the emotion he showed for failing to make weight and for praising Funeka, but I came in more a fan of Campbell than Funeka and left the other way around.
Next for the loser: I think this Funeka fellow is a very nice fighter. Hanging with a pound-for-pound top-20 guy like he did, even one with weight problems, demonstrated that he’s the real deal, not a one-fight sensation after knocking out Zahir Raheem. He deserves a shot at another top-10 lightweight, sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, many of them are tied up with one another, many due to a lightweight “tournament” that features some good fights but that isn’t a real tournament for reasons we’ll get in to over the next day or two. Seriously: Funeka put on a good show and fought well, and one of the networks should get him back on ASAP against someone of quality.
Next for the winner: Campbell says he’s moving up to 140, explaining that his body at age 36 can’t get down to lightweight anymore. Campbell against virtually any top-10 junior welterweight is a good fight. But it’s hard for me to get all enthusiastic about him getting a big money bout right now, because he was unprofessional in not making weight and is lucky he didn’t get an L on his record. I guess, considering the bad luck he’s had in his career, it evens out, but it leaves my impression of him… as a draw.