Plus British Writer’s Picks
Well, Joe Calzaghe has long asked for it. And now he’s damned well got it. On Saturday at the MEN Arena, Manchester, England, the 33 year old Welsh warrior takes on undefeated IBF Super-middleweight champ Jeff Lacy in the biggest 168lb match up since Benn-McClellan and Toney-Jones Jr. Calzaghe, 40-0-0 (31) has long claimed to be one of the finest pound-for-pound fighters in the world today...but hasn’t yet had the opponent to prove it against. Since winning the lesser-regarded WBO crown in 1997 against faded but still dangerous Chris Eubank, he has beaten up a mixed bag of opponents, ranging from highly capable former world champs like Robin Reid, Charles Brewer and Byron Mitchell to mediocre chumps like Branco Sobot, Miguel Jiminez and Tocker Pudwill.
All have been defeated, sometimes impressively, sometimes not so. Joe looked scintillating when flooring and outscoring Eubank, his points win over Brewer was exciting, and his off the floor win over Mitchell was a barn-burner.
However, he laboured heavily against David Starie, Jiminez and Kabary Salem, winning on points each time but failing to impress. Salem, a heavy handed Egyptian, even managed to drop Joe for only the second time in his career.
So far, though, every time Joe has had his back to the wall with a top level opponent, he has delivered.
The trouble is, so has Jeff Lacy. Since turning pro in 2001 after the Sydney Olympic Games, the 28 year old muscular puncher breezed to 16 wins before claiming the vacant IBF belt, battering tough Syd Vanderpool in eight rounds. Whilst his follow up win over Omar Sheika was considered by some a disappointment (seeing as Calzaghe had easily stopped him and WBC champ Markus Beyer had little trouble outscoring him), as Lacy laboured to a points decision after being rocked and hurt, the Floridian knockout artist was back to his relentless best when stopping Rubin Williams, Robin Reid and most recently Scott Pemberton.
The Reid fight was a great confidence builder for Lacy, mainly because the Manchester veteran had taken Calzaghe to a disputed split verdict. Lacy floored him four times and retired him after the seventh. The Pemberton fight saw Lacy in almost frightening form as he bombed out the challenger in two rounds, putting ‘The Sandman’ to sleep with a monster overhand right.
That was back in November, which was when the fight had originally been mooted for. Unfortunately, Calzaghe had badly damaged his hand in a routine tune up just two months before, breaking the one of the knuckles on the head of Africa’s tough little Evans Ashira. Calzaghe cruised home to a wide decision one-handed, but the Lacy fight had to be postponed, much to the American’s chagrin.
Lacy, and manager Gary Shaw, had plenty of choice words for Joe after the injury, claiming the Welshman was running scared. Joe’s promoter Frank Warren of course rebuked the comments, but the fuse had been lit, and has added an extra element of needle to the rescheduled contest. “Lacy’s last couple of performances have raised my opinion of him as a fighter”, Joe recently stated. “He’s improving but as far as I’m concerned, I have total confidence in my own ability that I’ll win the fight.”
So in essence, we have the veteran southpaw skills of Calzaghe, who is an excellent boxer that likes to fight hard a little too often, against the relentless aggression of Lacy, who has genuine knockout power, but has not yet fought anyone with the ability of Joe. When the match was first announced, my immediate thoughts were ‘Calzaghe on points, or Lacy by knockout’, and many months on my instinct still tells me the same. As obvious as it sounds, we may well be able to gauge the fight’s outcome after the first 30 seconds. In that 30 seconds, we may either see Joe’s jab pepper Lacy’s face, or we’ll see Left Hook’s left hook whiz close enough to Calzaghe’s chin to tell us that he’s going to land it at some point. And when it lands….boy, Calzaghe’s chin had better be as good as it’s looked in his 40 fights previous to this, because Lacy can HIT.
The right hand that flattened Pemberton was a candidate for KO of the year in 2005. It hit him in the head with the force of a charging, steroid-induced rhino colliding with a 5 year old, and I swear that Pemberton’s head actually went THROUGH the canvas. Can Joe take a shot like that?
So far, in 40 fights, Calzaghe has looked resilient. The two knockdowns he has suffered, at the hands of Mitchell and Salem, were from genuinely heavy punches. Both times Joe got up and continued as if nothing had happened. In fact, he came straight back to stop Mitchell in the same round, if prematurely on the referee’s part. Salem, on the other hand, had roughed Joe up with constant fouls on the inside, taking the Welshman out of his game plan and sucker-punching him in the 4th before going down himself in the 12th to lose a wide but ugly decision.
Both knockdowns had been due, in part, to Joe’s tendency to get involved in a brawl. He may have lightning quick southpaw skills, but when in with a hard opponent, you get the feeling Joe would be just as happy with a set of knuckle dusters and a bar-room as he would boxing gloves and a ring.
Problem is, here he is with a like minded opponent…and one who swings like he’s got a baseball bat hidden in his gloves. But don’t think Lacy is just a puncher with no skills…the St. Petersburg hero has notably developed his defence and footwork since becoming champion. His broad shoulders and thick arms allow him to keep his upper body covered sufficiently to stop most blows. Lacy constantly stalks forwards, catching his opponent’s punches on his arms and gloves, deftly nudging them away with the inside of his palm before letting rip with monster left hooks or overhand rights. His head movement has improved, and he now quickly steps into position to get maximum leverage in his punches. He is not the easy target some may think.
Calzaghe, however, is adamant that Lacy is made for him. “I like Lacy’s style,” Joe has admitted. “He’s an exciting fighter, but to be honest I think that his style plays into my hands.”
If defending himself from barrages of punches is ‘playing to his hands’, then Joe will have a field day, because Lacy will be in his face from the opening bell. The question is, how will Calzaghe deal with it?
Will the magnificent hand speed and southpaw precision punching be enough? Will Joe’s solid chin hold up if Lacy starts tagging him? At 33 years of age, will Calzaghe be able to stay with a youthful and intense 28 year old for the full twelve rounds?
For my mind, there are two outcomes here. One is that Joe goes out to stamp his authority on the fight, tastes a few Lacy hooks and tries to engage him before being worn down and stopped in about eight rounds.
The other is that Joe gets his jab working early, is disciplined enough to keep the fight at range, and uses his speed and skills to win a tough decision in front of his home crowd.
Which one of those works out I can tell you after 30 seconds of the opening bell.
British Writer’s Picks
“It’s entirely possible that Lacy’s youth, power and strength overwhelm an older and (dare I say it?), slightly faded Joe. However, I think that Joe still has one big final performance left in him, and that his experience and hand speed will see him generally outboxing the power-hitting IBF champ. He will undoubtedly have to taste heavy leather a few times, but if he can be clever enough to hold when hurt, and not be tempted to fight in close with Lacy, I think Joe can do enough to claim a unanimous, but very tough, points decision.”Calzaghe W12
““Calzaghe certainly possesses the ability to outbox Lacy over the distance but his inability to avoid entering the trenches with a ferocious puncher could ultimately prove to be his undoing. The bulldozing Lacy possesses a reliable chin and is unlikely to be deterred by Calzaghe’s cuffing two-fisted volleys.
The Welshman will be forced to fight for three minutes of every round and seldom is prepared to take a backward step, which will leave him invitingly in punching range. If Kabary Salem and Byron Mitchell can drop Calzaghe then the likelihood is that Lacy can too. And unlike the aforementioned opponents the IBF champion is unlikely to let Calzaghe off the hook when hurt. Younger, fresher and the in-form fighter going into this one I feel this fight has come at exactly the right time for Lacy. I expect him to withstand Calzaghe’s opening barrages to force a stoppage somewhere around the seventh in a thrilling battle.”Lacy KO7
“In my opinion there’s more hype than substance to Lacy’s performances thus far. Reid was well past his peak and had looked disinterested in his previous performances, Pemberton was vastly over rated, and labouring past Sheika was hardly impressive. But I sense the force is with Lacy. Calzaghe’s own opponents of late haven’t exactly been A-list, but where Lacy has at times looked awesome; Calzaghe has been for the most part lacklustre. Although Calzaghe tends to perform better against aggressive fighters, his defence has appeared worryingly open in recent fights and Lacy often appears frighteningly concussive. It should be close, but Calzaghe’s protracted residence in the comfort zone should prove costly against young and hungry Lacy.” Lacy W12