by Paul Upham at ringside: It had taken over eight years, but Robbie "Bomber" Peden was a very pleased man as he sat back in his crowded dressing looking over his IBF junior lightweight world title belt, which he had won with an 8th round TKO over Nate Campbell at the Vodafone Area in Melbourne on Wednesday night. Born in Queensland, Peden had campaigned as a professional in the USA since representing Australia at the 1996 Olympic Games. "I feel like the champ mate," he said, as he looked around the room of his family and close friends. "These are the guys who I have traveled to the world title with. These are my roots right here."
Despite having knocked out Campbell in their previous encounter in 2004, Peden entered his professional debut at home as a betting outsider. On paper Campbell was expected to avenge his bizarre knockout loss (where he dropped his hands an invited a free swing) and correct the ledger. There were many Australian fans who believed Campbell would be too classy and punch too hard for 31 year-old Peden.
But just as he has done so many times during his career, Peden overcame the odds and proved people wrong. His long-time trainer Roger Bloodworth from St Louis has trained some of the great American boxers over the last two decades including Evander Holyfield and Fernando Vargas. He had no doubt as to where this win with Peden rated. "It was one of the best wins I've ever had," he said. "A lot of people wrote Robbie off and said he would never be able to do it. I never wrote him off because I knew what I saw in him. I knew what he could do. He just proved my point."
Promoter Dan Goossen had worked with Peden 25-2 (14) on and off for a number of years with American Presents and now Goossen-Tutor Promotions. "Those are the great thrills of the business, when you see someone working and working and working," he said. "He came in here in his own country and was a 2-1 underdog. But he came out at the beginning and set the tone and you could see after each round, that Campbell was realising it wasn't the same fighter he fought the first time. Even though Robbie knocked him out, Campbell always felt it was a lucky punch. The opportunity that Campbell gave him. Here, Robbie showed him what type of fighter he is tonight."
It was no easy win for Peden either. After a good first round, Campbell loosened up and was steadily getting on top in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. While it is always hard to say what may have been, the 4th round was a turning point in the fight after Campbell sustained a bad cut above his right eye. Campbell claimed it was a head clash, Peden said his fists did the damage. Referee John Wright was unsure and approached all three ringside judges to seek direction on the source of the cut, but none could give a definite answer and the referee ruled that it was caused by a punch. It took three television replays to establish that a head clash was involved. But with blood streaming down his face, Campbell knew that he now needed a knockout to win. If the fight was stopped because of the cut, Peden would be the winner.
The American opened up and a series of wild right hands whistled past Peden's chin to the gasps of many in the crowd. "Nate was still throwing those bombs, they weren't coming as frequently, but Robbie was taking some chances," acknowledged Goossen. "He was kind of exposing his chin, but he wanted to put on a show for the fans, the hometown country and he did that tonight."
Another turning point came early in the 5th round when Campbell was penalised one point for a low blow after being warned a number of times by the referee. But this was all too much for the American's corner, who felt that every decision was going against them, even yelling out, "just keep it fair ref".
"The crowd seen it," said Campbell's trainer John David Jackson, the former two-division world champion. "The referee just didn't do us any favours, not that we were looking for favours, but to me, it just wasn't fair at all. Everything Nate did, he called it. He called nothing Robbie did. I'm not taking anything from Robbie. Robbie did what he had to do. But Nate can't fight two people at one time. He can't fight Robbie and the referee."
Just as Campbell was fighting his way back into the contest, which had turned into a war of attrition on the inside in the 7th round, Campbell sustained a cut on the left eye as he was backed up on the ropes and this time, there was no disputing that it was a Peden punch.
32 year-old Campbell 25-3-1 (21) showed tremendous courage and determination, fighting on with his face a mask of blood. But with victory in his sights, Peden really turned up the heat in the 8th round. Campbell taking a number of powerful shots and being backed up constantly. With his legs more and more unsure, Campbell was no longer returning fire and referee Wright stepped in and stopped the fight with him still on his feet at the 2:53 minute mark.
"Nate is a tough fighter," said Bloodworth. "Before the fight I told people that these are the two best 130lbs fighters in the world. Nobody else wants to fight them, so they had to fight each other. Taking nothing away from Nate, because actually Nate fought a much better fight this time than he did last time both tactically and spiritually. When he got hurt, he just kept fighting, he wouldn't stop. He just kept coming. I was getting a little worried that they weren't going to stop it, because he was cut pretty badly over both eyes. You don't want to see a career get ended like that, because he'll be back."
Back in the dressing room, one by one Peden thanked those around him. Hugging Nedal "Skinny" Hussein, who was himself unsuccessful at his own world title shot in late 2004. "I called him up and he come and helped me with sparring for nothing," said Peden. "That's what Australian people are all about."
In boxing so often, the promoter is accused of all the ill wills the sport has to offer. While no one disputes there are issues that have to be dealt with, what many do forget is that without promoters, there is no professional boxing. "I want to thank Dan Goossen for taking the chance on Robbie and giving him that opportunity," said Bloodworth. The new world champion concurred. "I'm going to thank Tony Caradonna, the best promoter in Australia, the music man Glenn Wheatley, Dan Goossen and also my friend Stuart Duncan," said Peden. "Without them, this wouldn't have been possible."
The forgotten man of the heavyweight division David Tua, who has been sidelined with out of the ring legal disputes, flew over from New Zealand to watch the fight live. "Robbie is one of my closest friends in boxing," said Tua, as he put his arm around a smiling Peden. "My other close friend Maselino Masoe won the WBA middleweight title, and now Robbie has won the IBF title. So, I guess the title that is left is the WBC heavyweight title for me."
There was then a touching moment as Barry Michael, who had called the fight for television with the Colonel Bob Sheridan, entered the dressing room to congratulate Peden. Almost 20 years earlier at the Festival Hall in Melbourne, Michael became junior lightweight world champion when he defeated Lester Ellis for the exact same title that Peden had just won. As they embraced Peden said to Michael, "I'm one of you now."
It was a night for celebration and Peden was not interested in looking towards his first world title defence just yet.
"I'm going to enjoy tonight and show my girlfriend around Australia," he said. "I'm going to spend time with my family and friends. I'm going to enjoy my beers tonight. I'm going to savour the moment."
Amongst fans and the media, there were suggestions of a third fight with Campbell. While a shattered Campbell received medical attention to the deep cuts over his eyes, his trainer Jackson didn't mind the idea. "If we are going to fight him again for the third time, why not," he said. "It is for the world title. We would be fools to say no."
Maybe Peden's immediate future lies in the USA with big fights against Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera or Manny Pacquiao. But he definitely has grand plans for a long title reign and a defence at home.
"It's the start. It's just the beginning baby," he said with a smile. "This is the beginning of me fighting back here in Australia again. I told everyone years ago, this is the way I wanted it to work. I couldn't have dreamt it any better. I kept my word to my friends and they were here tonight."
After his first trip to Australia, you can count Roger Bloodworth in for another dose of the land 'Dowunder'. "I hope it is not the last time we are here in Australia, because I love it here," he said.