Over the course of the past four years, Nate Campbell has been among the top contending fighters in his weight class. He is fast and skilled, tough and determined. He is well-respected and has consistently been a fan favorite. This week on "Friday Night Fights" (9 ET, ESPN2), Campbell will fight recent world title challenger Ricky Quiles in an IBF lightweight eliminator.
For those of us who cover the fight game, Nate is on the short list of boxers whose company is thoroughly enjoyable. He will talk to you about the classic car he is rebuilding, or the latest poem he has written. He is the kind of pro athlete you get to know well. It seems everyone has always liked Nate Campbell. Everyone, that is, except Nate.
"I was so caught up in self-hatred. I hated what I had become. I hated that I lost fights I should have won. I hated things I had done to those I loved and things people had done to me. I was depressed about it. I hated myself."
"When everyone is asking you what is going on in your career, but nobody cares about what is going on in your life, that hurts."
Nate Campbell (29-5-1, 24 KOs) says he suffered from depression. He didn't seek a psychiatric opinion. But it's hard not to agree with his self-diagnosis when you hear him talk about it.
After starting his career in 2000, Campbell didn't lose until he gave current world champion Joel Casamayor all he could handle in 2003. Since then, Campbell has had some ups and downs in the ring while struggling to make the 130-pound weight limit. In 2004, he was showboating against Robbie Peden. Campbell got caught with his hands down and was KO'd.
"I didn't want to be defined by one mistake. I didn't murder anybody, I lost a fight. That affected my life. Sometimes, people hurt. When everyone is asking you what is going on in your career, but nobody cares about what is going on in your life, that hurts."
Campbell moved forward with some good wins, some disappointing losses and even more self-hatred. He was a father of three daughters but he felt he didn't see his children enough. He was a skilled fighter whose skills were muted by worrying about the scale.
Things had gotten so bad that when he met with our ESPN crew before a fight in June 2005, he almost couldn't make it through the pre-fight meetings. Campbell now reveals that he was so drained and depressed he barely had enough energy to shadowbox for our cameras. It showed in how he fought the next night. He was upset by Francisco Lorenzo, a fighter against whom Campbell was thought to have every advantage.
"I told somebody I gave up. I mentally gave up. I thought about retiring."
In October 2005, this depressed, damaged version of Campbell was given another chance. The fight wasn't billed as a shot at redemption for Campbell. It was to be the coming-out party for Almazbek Raiymkulov. He was the undefeated prospect better known as "Kid Diamond." But on that night, it was Campbell's multifaceted brilliance that shone.
"I needed to change Nate. I started back praying again. A little more prayer," Campbell said. "I never got any professional help but I spent a lot of time with my pastor. I received spiritual help."
In a way, his prayers were answered. With the newfound relief of fighting at 135 pounds, he beat Kid Diamond. It was yet another turning point in his career.
"I started forgiving myself for things I had done in my life," Campbell said.
Even though the boxing buzz was now positive he stopped caring what people were saying about him. He started caring more about the people who had major roles in his life.
"For me, it has always been about spending more time with my daughters," he said. "I am a grandfather now. My oldest daughter had a baby early and she made me a grandfather."
The new Nate Campbell talks about his three girls with such pride and love. He is able to do that because he now talks about himself in the same way.
"I'm happy for the first time. I'm human. I make mistakes. I'm flawed. That's what makes me beautifully human. We are all beautifully human. It's not the perfection that is beautiful; it is the correction of shortcomings that is beautiful."
That happiness has been tested. Last April, he fought on "FNF". Campbell thought he had won. I'm not talking about his subjective opinion in defeat. Instead, when the split decision was announced, he literally thought he had won. He misheard the convoluted ring announcement.
It was one of those awkward moments you had to see to believe. While Nate was celebrating, the commission was explaining to 23-0 Isaac Hlatshwayo that he was indeed the winner. If ever a fragile professional was to slip back into a state of depression, that was the moment. It didn't happen.
"When I walked out the ring, I realized I could still hug and kiss my girls. They still loved me. What happened didn't matter. I wasn't bothered."
Campbell knows what really matters. Come Friday night, when he steps into the ring, win or lose, the outcome won't cost him his happiness.
Joe Tessitore is the blow-by-blow announcer for ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."