By Fiona Manning
IBA 130 pound world champion Joel Casamayor has landed a huge fight on January 26 - inching ever closer to his real goal: a world championship, thanks to his stunning and devastating fifth round KO over Yoni Vargas in Miami, Florida 10 days ago.
“All I want for the new year is another knockout and that’s what I intend to do, stop Nate Campbell when we meet on January 25,” said Casamayor in an exclusive interview with La Prensa San Diego - his first since returning to training camp this week.
“That was the best performance I have seen from Joel since we started working together,” said his trainer Joe Goossen.
Casamayor, whose record now stands at 28-1, with 18 KOs was ecstatic with the results of a fierce training regimen. He remained in his home town of Miami last week, intending to take a well-earned break with his family before coming back to California to train for his next fight.
Six days into his break, Goossen called to tell him that the James Toney/Vassiliy Jirov fight was off at Pechanga Casino in Temecula and did Casamayor want to fight Nate Campbell on HBO?
“This was the first Christmas I got to spend with my wife and children in years,” said the devoutly Catholic, Cuban-born Casamayor. “I got to go home and eat my wife’s goat stew, her specialty. It’s the one thing I always want to eat after a fight, but the one thing I am not allowed to eat when I am training. Goat and lamb with rice, are my favorites.
“So, I was eating and playing with my children, watching them open all their Christmas presents. I admit, I spoiled them but that’s my job. Then I got the phone call from Joe and I thought, ‘I am in shape, I have been training hard for a fight, I never got hurt. I am ready to go. That’s my Christmas present!”
He arrived back in LA Sunday night. Goossen picked him up at the airport and on Monday, his first day in the gym, Casamayor ran in like an excited kid and prepared to work the bags and mitts.
“I ran every day after the fight,” he said. “Two miles a day. That’s one thing I always do. Where I live, the grounds have been landscaped and it’s beautiful. It is my pleasure to run there.”
“You did?” said a surprised but pleased Goossen. “Great! This whole thing’s been a blessing, the timing, you know? We’re treating this like his second or third week of training. We’re looking at a couple of sparring partners and next week, we get back into heavy training.”
“I am so rusty,” Casamayor joked.
“No, I’m rusty,” Goossen joked and spat out tobacco juice into the gym spit bucket.
Speaking of sparring partners, Casamayor was personally thrilled that his own, Glendale-based Armenian slugger Art Simonyan scored an upset win over Radford Beasley in Temecula earlier this month.
Beasley has only ever lost to one other fighter - Casamayor. “I watched Art fight him and he was incredible. I am so proud of him,” said Casamayor.
“That was a joint effort,” said Goossen. “He looked tremendous in that fight. Joel certainly got him ready for that fight and Art certainly got us ready for Yoni. Of course, we’ll be working with him again.
“I am so happy that we got all our sparring for the Vargas fight right out of our gym with our guys. It was a tremendous camp and we’re looking forward to another one.”
The trainer is more than thrilled by Casamayor’s dominance in the ring last week in Miami, as is his entire team, consisting of co-manager Louis deCubas, third manager, Leonardo Edgar and Goossen’s right hand man Elan Haim.
The mood at Ten Goose Gym in Van Nuys was so ebullient, that Casamayor and company even talked about the fight they have studiously avoided - his only loss, via decision almost a year ago to Acelino Freitas.
“If Joel had fought Freitas the way he fought Vargas, it would have been a much shorter night,” said Haim, voicing what all those in the gym seemed to feel.
Goossen concurred. “What I saw in the ring Friday night was a new Joel Casamayor. I saw a near perfect fight from him. When you work as hard as we do in the gym, you hope the fighter uses at least 30% of what you worked on. He gave me 90% that night. I could not have asked for anything more.
“It’s been a long and trying road back for Joel since the loss to Freitas,” he said. “Losses hit fighters hard and that road back is hard on them mentally and emotionally but Joel never stopped. He never gave up. I kept reminding him he wasn’t knocked out. He lost by two points.
“We’ve been in three training camps since that fight. One fight in October fell through but here we are for our fourth camp and we are setting our sights on another world title.”
Casamayor popped his jab as he spoke. “I was happy with the way I fought Yoni Vargas. To be honest, I felt I had to go in there and knock him out. I had to show people I still have my power and speed. I couldn’t think about our friendship in the ring. Afterwards, I was very worried about him. I wanted to make sure he was okay and I am happy he was okay.
“I am still angry about the loss to Freitas and now it’s my time to be champion again. I have to punish everybody they put in the ring with me. I have to hurt them. I will not let anybody change my plans.”
He stopped suddenly, his fire barely contained beneath the surface. “I have had to fight for everything in my life,” he said. “Even my gold medal at the Olympic Games. The Cuban government did not want me to go to Barcelona for political reasons. Then the guy who was supposed to go got hurt and I took the Olympic Games on one week’s notice.
“When I got there, I broke the guy’s arm - the guy from Morocco, who won the silver medal. The fight where I won gold, I broke Wayne McCullough’s right eye socket and cheek bone. I broke three bones in his face to prove myself. I am very sorry for Nate Campbell but I have to break him too.”
Neither fighter nor trainer is overly familiar with Florida native Campbell, the NABF/NABA super featherweight champion who goes by the ring name of the Galaxxy Warrior - yes, double xx folks.
“I’m scared,” Goossen joked.
Casamayor rolled his eyes.
“He’s a vicious puncher, knocked a lot of guys out,” said Goossen. “I’ve seen bits of his fights. I was in Florida two years ago and we were on the same card as him. I can’t even remember who he was fighting but I thought he was going to get knocked out and I remember being impressed that he turned it around and stopped the other guy. He has some knockout power but from what I saw, he takes a lot of punches.”
Campbell, who is 23-0, with 21 KOs is coming off impressive victories this year over Daniel Alicea and Renor Rojas Claure. Claure however came in with a less than stellar record of 22-14-2 in his fight with Campbell, who nonetheless looked flashy in his November fifth round stoppage of him.
Less impressive was his fifth round KO over a badly fight-faded Carlos Navarro in May, but Goossen and Casa-mayor are waiting for tapes and are preparing as usual for war.
Goossen and Edgar feel Casamayor’s slight detour from glory last January stoked the volcanic rage in him. A rage they are happy to fan and see burning away in the ring.
“Frankly, Yoni Vargas is a very one-dimensional fighter,” Goossen said as he chewed his beloved Kodiak tobacco (a “disgusting” habit Casamayor teases him about) and rubbed down Casamayor’s hands before wrapping them.
“He doesn’t have much movement. He just comes forward. We were expecting him to come in and fight the way he did. He put pressure on Joel. That’s his style. I’ll tell you, he had some nice right hands there but Joel just picked them off so nicely.”
Almost nobody expected Vargas to win but those close to both fighters and have seen their gym wars, expected a much more competitive fight.
“Gym fights and ring fights are not the same thing. The kid tried,” said Goossen. “He came to win, that’s for sure. If he was looking for a quick payday, he sure didn’t fight like that. Most other fighters would have quit after that first knockdown, but not Yoni. He was straight up and back for more, even when the referee was waving the fight over.”
Vargas had never been knocked down in a fight before, a fact that did not escape Casamayor’s attention.
“That’s boxing,” he said. “Sometimes, you can turn the boat around, as Joe likes to say. But I couldn’t let him turn that boat around.”
“I thought Yoni was disoriented after that first knockdown,” said Goossen as Casa-mayor nodded vigorously. “But he never lost the will to win.”
Casamayor is considering a move to 135 but will take a good fight at 130. “I would like Freitas as you know. I was even willing to fly to Brazil to fight him but he didn’t want it. My feeling is he won’t fight me unless he has to. Look who he’s fighting now, Gabriel Ruelas.”
Goossen who trained Ruelas from a young boy is not as quick as many to discount his chances against Freitas. “He has some power,” he said. “And that right hand. Gabe is one of those fighters who rises to the occasion given the right opponent. I’ve seen him do it before. I give him a chance with Freitas, especially with that hook he’s got.”
Casamayor will fight Morales, Mayweather...anyone that is willing to get into the ring with him.
Right now, it’s Campbell. “HBO must think highly of Nate Campbell to put him in the ring with my guy but I don’t know,” said Goossen. “Joel is just one of those special fighters. We’re expecting a tough fight from an undefeated guy. I hope he’s prepared for Joel. That’s all I can say.”