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Funeka – A New Star Is Born In The Lightweight Division

funeka342424By Jim Dower: Although South African lightweight Ali Funeka (30-2-2, 25 KOs) came up short on Saturday night against former IBF/WBA/WBO lightweight champion Nate Campbell, losing by a 12-round majority decision at the BankAtlantic Center, in Sunrise, Florida, Funeka out-fought Campbell in the majority of the rounds and proved to be every bit as good as Campbell and then some. After the fight, an emotional Campbell announced that he’s moving up to the light welterweight division, leaving Funeka and a handful of other lightweight stars to fight it out for the vacant International Boxing Federation title.

At 6’1″, and a slender 135, Funeka hardly looks like a power puncher or potential star as a lightweight, but just ask Campbell whether he’s tough, and he’ll tell you that Funeka was his toughest opponent of his nine year boxing career.

While Funeka may look like little more than a beanpole, he punches with excellent power and with his steady jab, high work rate and good punch arsenal, he’s a tough fighter to beat in the division. Other than his loss to Campbell, the only other defeat on Funeka’s record is a 12 round decision loss to Mzonke Fana a long seven years ago in South Africa.

Only 30 years-old, Funeka has at least five to seven good more years before his career goes into decline. Before that, however, with his height, reach, power and high punch output, he figures to be one of the major players in the lightweight division for a long time to come.

At the number #1 spot in the IBF, Funeka is in the driver’s seat for a fight against someone like Juan Diaz, currently ranked #3 in the division, Fernando Angulo or Anthony Peterson. A fight with Diaz would be especially appealing, as it would match two fighters with an enormous work rate, good power and a lot of energy against each other. If the fight were to be made right now, I’d have to favor Funeka based on his impressive performance against Campbell on Saturday night.

In Funeka’s fight prior to the Campbell bout, he easily stopped Zahir Raheem in a 4th round stoppage in the IBF lightweight title eliminator in July. The victory was even more impressive in that Raheem, a top fighter for the past five years, had never been stopped before prior to that bout.

Against Campbell, Funeka controlled vast stretches of the fight using his double and triple jabs and a high punch rate. However, due to a pair of knockdowns in the 2nd and 11th round, Funeka ended up losing the fight by a close margin. Campbell smothered Funeka’s offense in the last three rounds by sticking close to him and not letting Funeka get distance to put leverage on his power shots.

This is something that Funeka has to work on in the future, because other fighters will likely be trying to duplicate Campbell’s strategy against him down the road. That may be easier said than done, because Funeka is a punching machine during the early rounds, hard to pin down and very powerful. It will take a special kind of fighter to take the kind of offensive firepower that Funeka brings to the table.

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