By Lyle Fitzsimmons
It’s been a tumultuous four years for Nate Campbell.
On Valentine’s Day in 2009, the popular Floridian headlined a card in the Miami suburbs and outlasted Ali Funeka by majority decision to keep the lanky South African from winning the IBF, WBA and WBO shares of the lightweight championship.
But it was a bittersweet triumph at best for Campbell, who was forced to vacate the jewelry after failing to make the 135-pound limit for what would have been his first defense since defeating previously unbeaten claimant Juan Diaz in Cancun, Mexico.
Now 40, he remains on the outside looking in when it comes to titles, after a bloody challenge of 140-pound kingpin Timothy Bradley ultimately wound up a no-contest (it was originally ruled a TKO) and follow-ups with future champs Victor Ortiz and Danny Garcia ended in 10-round scorecard losses.
Still, he’s won three of four since the 2011 match with Garcia – with the lone loss coming to the IBO’s title-holder at 140 – and will re-emerge Friday as a late replacement for ESPN’s Friday Night Fights 12-round main event against unbeaten Canadian welterweight Kevin Bizier in Montreal.
Bizier is 19-0 with 13 KOs, but has had just one bout in a four-year career – a unanimous decision over Lanardo Tyner in 2011 – that was scheduled for more than eight rounds. His original opponent for Friday, Englishman John O'Donnell, withdrew after breaking his left hand in training.
We caught up with Campbell to discuss the hurried pre-fight prep for Friday, how he sees himself four years after the title reign and his expectations for what remains of his career.
Fitzbitz: Talk about the series of events leading to Friday’s fight. How did it wind up that you became involved? Who called who, and when did you give the final “yes”?
Campbell: I was contacted by Bizier's people a while back, but they decided against me. I figured it was a done deal, so I moved on. I was training, running my workout class at Headstrong Boxing in the Jacksonville Beach area. I was talking to (matchmaker) Zac Pamillio and he mentioned this fight in passing. I took the fight on Jan. 28.
Fitzbitz: How often have you taken fights on short notice like this? Is it something that happened at any stage of your career?
Campbell: I have taken many short-notice fights. The Kid Diamond fight (a 10-round TKO win in 2005) was a short-notice fight.
Fitzbitz: What is the main challenge in taking a fight like this… simply the lack of a prolonged training camp? Are there other particular problems that are caused?
Campbell: There are many problems that can arise, but none that I haven't dealt with before. I am ready to go.
Fitzbitz: What are the advantages? Are there any?
Campbell: I am a world-class fighter and now I am in a great place in my life. My greatest advantage is my mind and what I know. I am in tremendous condition and I have so much to fight for.
Fitzbitz: Are you at the stage of your career where you’re always “ready” to take a fight? What are you walking around at, weight-wise? How often are you training, and what are you doing to stay in shape?
Campbell: I love to fight, so I run all the time. I train a boxing class, but I also have a gym reputation as the gym rat. I must defend it all the time.
Fitzbitz: Are you still a full-time fighter? I know we’ve talked over the last few years and you’ve seemed ready to retire, then you were looking to travel the world and now you’re taking ESPN fights on short notice. What are your priorities these days and what are you trying to accomplish?
Campbell: I am a full-time fighter, but that still leaves a lot of time to live. I finished my first book, which will be out in March. The book is titled “When My Mess Became My Message.” I still love to travel and I am a guest motivational speaker and I am in school for my AA in business and also my pharmacy technician’s certification. Life doesn't stop, but I am steady moving.
Fitzbitz: Many people wrote you off after the series of fights from Bradley through Estrada. Since then, you’ve won three of four, with the only loss coming to a guy who now holds a world title. What was happening in that stretch? What’s happening now? Have you surprised yourself at all?
Campbell: People are fickle, but I have a faith in God and that has kept me faithful in what he can do with a wreck of a man like myself. I just believe that God has much more use for me and boxing is his platform of choice. I am here, and trust me, you all are about see what a man can do when he has faith, talent and determination.
Fitzbitz: Do you like fighting in other guys’ hometowns? Does it motivate you?
Campbell: I love fighting and it makes me no matter where. I have found a new motivation and renewed love for the game.
Fitzbitz: Do you view yourself as a large step up in class for Bizier? What do you know about him? Are you enjoying being the old-school fighter that young guys want to measure themselves against?
Campbell: Yes, I am a real step up, basically from the pond into the ocean. Bizier is strong and young, but he is nothing different than anyone else that I've seen. Again, I love to fight and it is always an honor for guys to measure themselves against you. That’s what we all do or have done.
Fitzbitz: If you beat him, what are you aiming for after that? Do you think there’s a chance you can still get a big fight with a big name? Do you want one?
Campbell: When I beat him I aim for what I always deserved, but was never afforded: the biggest fights that are out there, with all the money to match, period.
Fitzbitz: If he beats you decisively, what does it mean for you?
Campbell: He won't.
Fitzbitz: When you look back at your career, what do you remember most? What are you most proud of? Is there anything that you regret? Are you satisfied with the run that you’ve had?
Campbell: As I look back over my career I am thankful that God has granted me so much success. People told me that I couldn't, but I did and I regret that I didn't do it sooner. I am thankful that God has kept me safe.
Fitzbitz: What else are you doing these days, outside the ring? And who are you working with now, in terms of management and training, etc.?
Campbell: I am living life, about to marry my fiancé, Rosalyn, and I am in a great place. I am embracing my ministry and looking to do more mentoring of children. I was a foster child, so I like those hard cases. I am doing a morning prayer line at 7:30 a.m. EST, Monday- Friday (605-475-4000, sign-in code 1040144#). This is what life is and God knows it is better than God. As far as boxing, I love training and managing, but commentating is where I really want to land. I know the game and I truly believe I would be a great fit anywhere there is a conversation about the sport I love.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
No fights scheduled.
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Last week’s picks: 1-0
2013 picks record: 3-1 (75.0 percent)
Overall picks record: 376-122 (75.5 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.