LAS VEGAS – Almost from the day he turned professional in 1996 after defecting from Cuba, Joel Casamayor was one of the world's elite boxers.
He's now 37 and, after an illustrious career, he can see the finish line, even though he insists he has several big fights left in him. One of those will be Saturday, when he defends his Ring lightweight championship against Juan Manuel Marquez in a pay-per-view bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Boxing isn't the same, he insisted, as it was in 1992 when he and the promoter of Saturday's show, Golden Boy's Oscar De La Hoya, both won gold medals at the Barcelona Games.
Fighters don't fight nearly as much – Casamayor had more than 400 amateur bouts before he turned pro – and aren't trained nearly as well, Casamayor said.
Casamayor grimaced when it was pointed out that Cuba failed to earn a gold medal in boxing this summer, the first time since 1968. Cuba won four silver medals and four bronzes in Beijing last month. It had racked up 20 golds in the previous four Olympiads, including Casamayor's bantamweight gold in 1992.
"A lot of the 'C' and 'D' fighters back in my (amateur) days are better than the 'A' fighters now," Casamayor said. "The scoring has ruined boxing a lot and it's caused all this pitty-patty punching. In my day, you had to fight like a man."
De La Hoya won the lightweight gold medal in those same Olympics and recalled how deep the competition was simply to make the U.S. team. He said the computerized scoring system, which Casamayor referenced, has changed the sport for the worse.
In that system, there are five judges with an electronic box with a button for each fighter. If a judge believes a punch is landed, he or she pushes the button. If three of the five judges register a punch landed within a second, the fighter gains a point. The fighter with the most points wins.
That system discourages in-fighting and body punching, two facets of the game that Casamayor has excelled, because individual blows are often difficult for judges to see.
De La Hoya said the system is not conducive to teaching the sport.
"The problem is the amateur system," De La Hoya said. "I believe we have to change that. It really is affecting the styles of the fighters. … You now see fighters throwing punches that you wouldn't have seen them throw before because of that scoring system."
Casamayor said he's disgusted with what the professional version of the sport has become as a result of how badly amateurs are taught. But he concedes he was, albeit briefly, part of the problem.
He said he had lost a lot of his desire to compete hard over the last several years, which he said explains a few lackluster performances.
A March 22 knockout victory over Michael Katsidis has invigorated him, he insisted. He said he was growing sick of boxing's politics and of his inability to land a high-profile bout. He did fight the late Diego Corrales three times and Acelino Freitas once, but he couldn't snag bouts with high-profile fighters such as Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera and Manny Pacquiao, among others.
"Knockouts like that one (over Katsidis) will rejuvenate any man's career and I feel like I have the love back for the game," Casamayor said. "I love going to the gym. I love working. I want to do this again. I finally have gotten the fight I wanted and that's helped, too.
"You lose love for the game. I felt I was robbed in some decisions and in my draw (in a 2005 match with Almazbek Raiymkulov. I wanted to fight guys who wouldn't fight me. This business can take a lot out of you. I was sick of it. But then fighting that young guy (Katsidis) and winning that way, it made me interested again."
He's also motivated by the many doubters who see him as a steppingstone for Marquez. Casamayor is the reigning champion, but Marquez is nearly a 4-1 favorite at the MGM Grand sports book.
Casamayor grins at the odds. He said he performs his best when he has something to prove.
"Honestly, I can't remember when I've had a camp this good," said Casamayor, who was resplendent in a white suit. "This is the right fight at the right time. I wanted to fight this guy for so long and I couldn't get him. His trainer (Nacho Beristain) kept saying no, because he said I was too tough.
"You know what? He was right. I will show Marquez that his trainer was right."