Welterweights find the spotlight

Jul 28, 2009 5:04 PM
Pulling No Punches by Michael Katz |

It’s Bradley vs. Campbell, but Manny-Cotto on deck

Junior welterweight, one of boxing’s best and deepest divisions, will be featured next Saturday and you can throw out its top two names, Manny Pacquiao and Ricky Hatton (pictured).

Pacquiao threw out Hatton, trashing him with a second-round knockout, but is now focused on bigger things, starting with Miguel Cotto in November at a catchweight of 145 pounds, and possibly Floyd Mayweather Jr. after that, again above the 140-pound junior welter limit.

The main man Pacquiao is leaving behind is Timothy Bradley, who said of the man rated No. 1 in the game, "He is not the best fighter in the division. He’s fighting bigger fighters who are chopping down to make weight. And he’s chopping them up because they’re weak."

The usually quiet Bradley will try to show he’s the division boss by taking on the dangerous Nate Campbell in the main event from Rancho Mirage, California, this Saturday.

Bradley had some very nice things to say about his opponent, the former lightweight king who no longer could make 135 pounds, especially about Campbell’s somewhat shocking trouncing of Juan Diaz last year.

"I couldn’t believe it," he said. "I actually lost money on that fight. I was like, ‘Wow, this dude is unbelievable.’ I was like, ‘I would never want to get in the ring with that dude.’"

But he gave up his WBC 140-pound belt when the tyrants refused to authorize Bradley’s decision to take on Campbell because "to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best" – and, perhaps, because Campbell afforded him the biggest payday.

It is an intriguing battle between young and old, except Campbell’s age of 37 may be deceptive. He was a late starter, beginning his career at 25, while the 25-year-old Bradley by contrast had a significant amateur background.

And don’t think that because he’s moving up in weight that Campbell is the smaller man. Au contraire. He lost his lightweight title on the scales in February, but went ahead with the bout and out-pointed Ali Funeka, who was 30-1-2. At 5-7 with a 72-inch reach, he will clearly be bigger than Bradley, who is 5-6 with a 69-inch reach.

Bradley is the 3-1 or better favorite and while my inclination is to believe he will somehow find a way to win, Campbell’s edges in experience and strength (certainly he should be the bigger puncher here) make him a very live underdog at the buyback rate of better than 2-1.

Campbell has had a somewhat spotty career – stopped twice by Robbie Peden, although the first time was when he taunted the Australian by dropping both hands and got cracked on the chin. But he’s been tough and done well with a 33-5-1 record with 25 knockouts. "I’ve got more knockouts than he has victories," he said of Bradley, who is 24-0 with 11 stoppages, but only one in his last eight bouts.

Bradley came out of nowhere last year when he shockingly out-pointed the veteran Junior Witter (who is on the Showtime card, fighting for the title Bradley vacated, against undefeated youngster Devon Alexander).

But the Palm Springs, California, fighter confirmed his world-class status with a clear but hard-fought victory in a unification bout with Kendall Holt in April. He said his sudden fame – billboards with his picture are plastered all over his neighborhood advertising this card at nearby Rancho Mirage – has not made him less hungry. "I still drive a Ford Explorer," he said.

The semifinal is also a battle of the ages. Alexander is a 22-year-old undefeated southpaw who grew up in a rough St. Louis neighborhood ("I heard gunshots every night where you have to hit the ground and check to make sure the bullets didn’t hit you.") but in the same gym where his trainer, Kevin Cunningham, produced Cory Spinks. Alexander, 18-0 with 11 knockouts but against nothing much, is about a 2-1 favorite over the 35-year-old Witter and, as one who had to sit through the Englishman’s boring loss to Zab Judah in 2000, I am hoping the youngster’s speed and four-inch reach advantage justify the odds.

"I trained my whole career with Cory Spinks," said Alexander. "The name of the game is to hit and not get hit and I had a front-row seat to one of the best at that."

Sounds like a dull opener, but Bradley-Campbell should be worth the price of admission.

The 140-pound division has another "title" bout next Saturday, off-TV in Connecticut where Isaac Hlatshawayo of Soweto, South Africa, who in 2006 beat Campbell by split decision at 135, faces Delvin Rodriguez in a rematch of last November’s draw. That was in South Africa. This time, Rodriguez has the home-court edge since the Dominican is based in Connecticut. And to show the depth of the division, Juan Diaz – like Campbell moving up from lightweight – faces former junior welter title-holder Paul Malignaggi on Aug. 22.

Manny who?

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Michael Katz