By Ron Jackson
South Africa’s Ali Funeka (30-1-2, 25 KOs) faces the biggest challenge of his boxing career when he takes on world champion Nate Campbell (32-5-1, 25 KOs) in a challenge for his IBF and WBO lightweight belts at the BankAtlantic Center, in Sunrise, Florida, on Saturday night. Even though Funeka is the underdog going into the fight, with his height and reach advantages, and as Campbell has been inactive for nearly a year, he is definitely in with a puncher’s chance provided he does not freeze on the night.
The 30-year-old Funeka, who will be the first South African to challenge for two of the major boxing belts simultaneously entered the professional ranks on September 24, 1995, when he fought to a draw with Simphiwe Xabendlini in his home town of Mdantsane and in his next fight in October of the same year he outpointed Anele Mqoboli.
He was inactive in 1996 and in the next two years only had three fights, a draw and two wins.
However, in 1999 his career took off as he scored wins over Papama Danisa, Thembinkosi Makwedini, Phumlani Menziwa, Edward Mpofu, and Xolani Jacobs.
After five wins in 2000 and 2001 he challenged Mzonke Fana for the South junior lightweight title on July 12, 2002 and suffered his only loss in the professional ring in what was considered a debatable decision by many at ringside.
When Fana relinquished the title Funeka outpointed Gabriel Phakula over 12 rounds in February 2004 for the vacant crown and made successful defences against Elvis Makama, Zukhile Khandisa, Danile Botman, Gabriel Phakula, Themba Tschila and Patrick Masango before being stripped in June 2007 by Boxing SA for failing to defend the title.
In the meantime he had moved up to the lightweight division and won the WBC International title when he knocked out Dexter Delada in the second round.
He subsequently made successful defences of the WBC International title against Anthony Tshehla, Yakubu Amidu and Benjamin Solano.
In his most recent fight on July 5 last year he beat the highly rated Zahir Raheem in East London on a fourth round technical knockout in an IBF lightweight title eliminator.
Campbell, who will celebrate his 37th birthday on March 7, entered the professional ranks on February 5, 2000 when he scored a first round stoppage win over Scoey Fields.
He has had an up and down career until March 8 last year when at the Plaza de Toros in Cancun Mexico he beat the previously unbeaten Juan Diaz on a split decision to win the IBF, WBO and WBA lightweight belts.
In January this year he vacated the WBA belt because of concerns over sanctioning fees and the proposed mandatory defences.
After his win over Scoey Fields, Campbell went on to win his next 22 bouts before losing to the outstanding Cuban Joel Casamayor in January 2003.
After this loss Campbell drew with Edelmiro Martinez and then outpointed Daniel Attah before being stopped by Robbie Peden on two occasions and also being outpointed by Francisco Lorenzo. His career appeared to be on the slide.
The first fight with Peden had a most bizarre ending when in the fifth round Campbell dropped his hands and stuck out his chin asking Peden to take a shot at him. Peden obliged and knocked out Campbell with a left hook.
However, he bounced back with an outstanding stoppage win over the highly regarded Almazbek Raiymkulov in October 2005.
In January 2006 he was outpointed by South Africa’s Isaac Hlatshwayo, who when asked about the fight between Campbell and Funeka, said that in his opinion Funeka was just too big and strong for Campbell and with his long left hand should win the fight.
After the Hlatshwayo setback Campbell won IBF lightweight title eliminators against Matt Zegan and Ricky Quiles before stopping Wilson Alcorro in the sixth round on July 6, 2007, and then captured the three belts with his win over Diaz.
Campbell’s first defense of his WBA, WBO and IBF titles was scheduled for September 14, 2008 against Joan Guzman, but unfortunately Guzman weighed in at 1.36kg over the limit and the fight was cancelled.
Promoter Don King has dubbed this card “The Valentines Day Massacre,” as homage to one of Campbell’s most revered heroes, Sugar Ray Robinson.
On the undercard, the interim WBC super welterweight champion Sergio Martinez (44-1-1, 24 KOs) faces former IBF welterweight champion Kermit Cintron (30-2, 27 KOs) and Alfredo Angulo (14-0, 11 KOs) meets late substitute Cosme Rivera (31-11-2, 23 KOs) in another super welterweight bout.