Saturday, March 8, 2008
Campbell earns three belts by split decision over Diaz
By Dan Rafael
CANCUN, Mexico -- The bad omens were everywhere for Juan Diaz this week heading into his lightweight title defense against Nate Campbell.
There was promoter Don King "quitting" him after four fights together at Wednesday's final press conference, the culmination of a soured relationship with Willie Savannah, Diaz's demanding manager.
Then there was Ronnie Shields, Diaz's trainer, breaking his foot when he slipped on a slick tile floor in his hotel.
And on Saturday night, Campbell ended Diaz's unbeaten run by pulling a major upset and winning a split decision to take three lightweight world title belts at Plaza de Toros, the main bullring in the heart of this tropical resort city.
The fight was the co-feature on the Oleg Maskaev-Samuel Peter heavyweight title card and it was an action-packed battle.
Two judges had it for Campbell, 116-111 and 115-112. Diaz won on the third card, 114-113. ESPN.com had it 114-113 for Campbell (32-5-1, 25 KOs), who turned 36 on Friday.
Winning the lightweight title was some present.
"I feel great," he said. "He was the best. Now, I am the best. I told everybody this was going to happen. I knew he couldn't take it. I knew I was the bigger puncher. I knew I could outbox him or outfight him from the start."
Campbell also earned more than his $200,000 purse. His co-promoter, Terry Trekas, twice trekked to Las Vegas this week to wager tens of thousands of dollars for them on the fight, increasing their financial take dramatically, especially considering Campbell was about a 4-1 underdog.
The fight began as most expected, with Diaz and Campbell going right at each other and trading punches in the center of the ring to the delight of the crowd.
"I came out at the beginning of the fight and I was throwing as fast as I could for as long as could," Campbell said.
Diaz (33-1, 17 KOs), a 24-year-old Houston native born to Mexican immigrants, was the favorite of the crowd, which broke out into chants of "Baby Bull! Baby Bull!," after Diaz's nickname.
But Diaz just seemed to have another gear from Campbell, who couldn't match his relentless output, especially to the body.
But it all changed in the sixth. That's when Campbell ripped open a bad cut on Diaz's left eyelid. Referee Jesus Salcedo called it a head butt and docked a point from Campbell. However television replays clearly showed that the cut was caused by a short left hand, not a clash of heads.
While it cost Campbell a point, it cost Diaz momentum.
"I wasn't going to give up," said Diaz, who earned $800,000 and is now a promotional free agent. "I had a lot of heart. I wanted to finish the fight out. When I got cut it affected me a lot. I wasn't able to throw the power jab. I usually have the power jab and break them down from there, but I couldn't do that."
By the eighth it was becoming an inside dogfight and Diaz's eye was not only cut but swollen and his high-octane output finally began to slow while Campbell continued to attack.
Diaz's eye was almost completely shut by the end of the 11th.
Ruiz dominates McCline
Former two-time heavyweight titlist John Ruiz (43-7-1, 29 KOs) cruised to a unanimous decision against former four-time title challenger Jameel McCline (38-9-3, 23 KOs) in another undercard fight.
It was an important victory for Ruiz, 36, who was coming off an easy victory against journeyman Otis Tisdale in October but had lost his previous two fights in Germany, a title fight to Nikolai Valuev and an eliminator to Ruslan Chagaev.
Beating McCline will put Ruiz back in position to get another title fight. He won handily -- 119-109, 118-110 and 117-111. ESPN.com also had it for Ruiz, 118-110.
For McCline, 37, it could be the end of the road for meaningful fights. He has lost three in a row, including a title fight to Valuev and to Peter last fall, despite knocking him down three times.
The fight was billed as WBC qualifier, so open scoring was used. Despite excessive grabbing and clinching from both -- giving referee Laurence Cole quite the workout -- Ruiz was more effective with his limited punching and led 40-36 and 39-37 (twice) on the scorecards.
McCline tried to get more aggressive in the fourth, but Ruiz had a big round, outlanding him 20-3, according to CompuBox. McCline emerged from the round with an apparent jaw injury. His mouth was open and he was bleeding.
Little changed in the pace of the fight through the eighth round, after which Ruiz still led on all three scorecards.
McCline could do little more than follow Ruiz around in the late rounds as the crowd voiced its displeasure, although Ruiz did have a big 11th round as he ripped McCline with combinations.
Dan Rafael is ESPN.com's boxing writer.