Nate Campbell Vs. Ali Funeka - A Very Risky Fight For "The Galaxxy Warrior!"

by James Slater -- South Africa's 31-year-old Ali Funeka may not be a household name in the US yet, but the danger man is working on it - big time. Beaten only once in a pro career that began with a disappointing draw in September of 1995, the lightweight known as "Rush Hour" has proven to be something of a late bloomer..

His last bout, against the previously unstopped Zahir Raheem - the man who beat Erik Morales in a big upset in September of 2005 - proved as much. Scoring a shocking 4th round KO over the "Z-Man," the largely unknown South African who had been out-pointed by countryman Mzonke Fana for his sole loss, made a big impact. Now, in February of next year, Funeka will get his reward in the form of a shot at reigning IBF, WBA and WBO lightweight king Nate Campbell. The fight is set for February 14th, St. Valentine's day, and the man known as "The Galaxxy Warrior" has a potentially tough night ahead of him.

Campbell, 32-5-1(25) has not fought since causing his own upset, over defending champion Juan Diaz in March of 2008. At age 36 (Nate will turn 37 a month after the Funeka fight), will this ring-rust affect him any? Signed to fight the unbeaten Joan Guzman back in the summer, Campbell saw the fight fall though due to Guzman's miserable attempt at making the 135-pound lightweight limit. So now the Floridian faces the little known Funeka, currently 30-1-2(25). The defending champion has not lost a fight since April of 2006, but could an upset be on the cards in February?

Funeka hasn't exactly been overactive himself, but inactive spells have done him no harm thus far in his career. Going into his biggest test, against Raheem, Funeka had been out for almost ten months. Despite this, he annihilated his man, earning his big title shot in the process. Of course, just because he isn't affected by idle periods does not mean Funeka will beat Campbell (who, by the way, entered the Diaz fight after having been out for eight months). Still, the fight is a dangerous one for Campbell because, in a way, there isn't a lot to be gained in winning. Should he do away with Funeka easily, fans will say the South African was a nobody anyway. Should Nate actually lose, the big-money matches he wants for the future will have gone, along with his world titles.

Funeka can fight, without a doubt. And he is hungry. Convinced he is both at his peak right now AND the best lightweight in the world, the 31-year-old who has never fought outside of his home country (will this be a factor in the fight, it being held in America?) has nothing to lose on Feb 14th. As such, he will have trained like a man possessed for the bout and he will likely fight like one. Despite his recent form (16-0 with 11 KO's since the loss to Fana), Funeka is a man who can be, and has been, hurt in a fight.

Going back to his 2000 fight with pro novice Wzwanele Sam, the record shows how Funeka was down early in the fight and very badly hurt. Close to being stopped, he somehow held on for a close points win. That fight was a while ago now, and Funeka has clearly improved, but it's likely Campbell's team will have looked at this fight while doing their research on the challenger. The 2002 UD loss to Fana doesn't look all that good either. Considering how easily Marco Antonio Barrera dispatched Fana three years later (2 rounds), Funeka should not have had such a tough time with him (it must be said, though, that Fana has improved since his loss to Barrera).

Clearly, Funeka wasn't ready for anything approaching the top dogs back then, but is seems he is now. There are a number of questions going into February's fight. Will Campbell have trouble "getting up" for a fight with Funeka? Will age catch up with the champ? Is Funeka out of his depth? Or will a new African boxing star emerge early next year?
Precious little footage is available of Funeka, the Raheem win aside, and he remains a somewhat mysterious fighter.

Due to this, it is hard picking a winner between he and Campbell. Having said that, unless he grows old overnight or underestimates Funeka, Campbell's greater experience should see to it that he emerges with a points win. Funeka can not be written off though.

Article posted on 11.12.2008

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