Rarely has a fight seen beforehand as a genuine 50/50 match turned out to be so brutally executed. Mayweather-Gatti was a whitewash, but then we expected that. Wright-Tito was a 12 round drubbing, but that was a boxing lesson. This one was pure hurt from opening round to final bell.
28 year old Jeff Lacy, the undefeated IBF Super-middleweight champ, came into the MEN Arena, Manchester, England ring looking like a Greek statue fashioned of brilliant onyx. His chiselled features rippled under the spotlights, and he paced menacingly around the canvas during the introductions, looking meaner than a bucket of scorpions. 12 rounds later, he was more like a sagging punch bag with half the stuffing knocked out of it. Joe Calzaghe, the 33yr old division leader (and holder of the lesser recognised WBO belt) put on a master-class of precision combination punching, tearing Lacy’s face to shreds with blistering flurries. The St.Petersburg, FL puncher could do little but amble after the lightning quick Welshman, eating jabs, hooks and uppercuts before letting go with a wild swing that would invariably miss, harmlessly flying over the top of Calzaghe’s head. As the rounds went by, Lacy grew more and more disconsolate, and by the twelfth and final round, he was a sorry state…and Joe Calzaghe knew it.
The unbeaten Welsh warrior poured on the pressure even more in the last stanza, flooring a beaten Lacy with another whirlwind combination. The American made it up onto his feet and fiddled his way to the final bell, but rarely has an undefeated champion conceded his belt so easily and so painfully. This, as a beating, was only a notch below the horrendous Roberto Duran–Davey Moore drubbing of 1986.
And for the majority of non-British boxing fans who beforehand had viewed Calzaghe with a certain scepticism must now welcome him with open arms to the mythical ‘pound for pound’ rankings. In this fight he showed everything…power, speed, boxing ability, toughness, defence, fitness. Of course, we’d seen it all before when he defeated the likes of Charles Brewer, Omar Sheika and Byron Mitchell, but we’d never seen it in such a high profile fight against such a high calibre opponent. This truly was Joe Calzaghe’s breakthrough performance.
From the opening bell, Lacy, 21-0-0 coming in with 17 ko’s, looked uncomfortable with Calzaghe’s speed. In previous fights he was able to stay on top of his opponent and set his feet to land his clubbing, hurtful blows. Rubin Williams, Robin Reid and Scott Pemberton were all unable to keep the bull-like American from them, and lacked the defensive nuances to avoid those whooshing left hooks and overhand rights when they came. They soon found themselves on the canvas looking up at Lacy’s snarling features.
Joe Calzaghe, however, was too quick from the outset. His southpaw jab popped into Lacy’s face, and he would follow it up with bursts of hooks and uppercuts as the American tried to step in to him. Initially, whenever Lacy tried to punch it out, Joe would hold and tie him up. After tasting a few of Lacy’s shots, though, the Welshman decided he could outfight his young opponent on the inside, too. From then on it was a slaughter. Lacy was popped and pot-shotted from long range, and then mauled and battered on the inside, too. His slow return fire was easily ducked or blocked, and Joe gave him just enough angles to stop the short, squat Lacy from setting his feet to get the leverage in his shots he’d need for a knockout blow.
Joe had obviously done his homework. If you look back at all the great beat-downs administered to a big puncher, it usually involved a good jab, combinations and movement. The jab keeps the puncher off balance, the combinations stop them timing the counters and the movement doesn’t allow them to plant their feet properly. Joe executed all of this to a tee.
By the seventh, Lacy was forlorn. He gave a big effort in that round, fighting on roughly even terms until Calzaghe suddenly upped the pace with a minute to go. A slashing series of punches backed the American champ into a corner, and a follow up southpaw left stunned him for a split second. Seeing his man hurt, the Newbridge, Wales hero poured it on, and Lacy was suddenly wilting. It is, in fact, testament to his bravery and toughness that he not only saw it through the round, but actually had his best spell in the next.
Calzaghe, who’d spent a lot of energy in the 7th, took his foot slightly off the gas, and if any of the one-sided rounds could be called competitive, it was the eighth. I thought Lacy may have just done enough to share it, but by the ninth Joe was back on top. The fight was becoming painful to watch, and I was concerned for Lacy’s safety. It was exactly the type of fight where a brave, young man receives injuries he may never recover from. It was horribly one-sided, but Lacy was never in quite enough trouble for it to be stopped, which led to a long, drawn out beating. Luckily, Jeff’s only injuries afterwards were a bruised face, body and ego.
After strong rounds in the 10th and 11th (despite being docked a point for holding and hitting in the latter), Calzaghe came out to finish it in the 12th. Lacy, with virtually nothing left to give, came stumbling forward in a brave but vain attempt to somehow turn the fight around in the eleventh hour. It was not to be. Instead, Joe’s flashing fists flurried across his face, and Lacy tottered back and fell onto the canvas. It was more down to exhaustion and the accumulation of punches than it was down to being hurt, and the Floridian gamely got to his feet. Joe came wading back in to his man ruthlessly after the mandatory eight count from referee Raul Caiz, but a tired Lacy hung on him like a huge piece of meat to see out the remaining few seconds.
As the final bell went, Calzaghe threw his hands up in immediate celebration, whereas a disconsolate Lacy could do little except acknowledge the new IBF champ-to-be. His face was cut and swollen, and his bulging muscles now had a more flaccid look to them, as if they represented the fallen warrior’s whole mindset. The scores also reflected the one-sidedness of the bout…119-105, 119-107 and 119-107, which presumably must have included several 10-8 rounds for Joe on Nelson Vasquez’s card.
It was a sweet victory for new IBF titlist Joe Calzaghe and promoter Frank Warren, who had been relentlessly accused by Lacy and manager Gary Shaw of ‘ducking’, (although it was Lacy who could have done with ‘ducking’ a bit more during the fight). Afterwards, he told ITV Sport, “I put in a great performance tonight. I proved I’m a great boxer.
“I’m a top ten pound-for-pound fighter now and I think I proved that tonight. I want the big fights now.”
One name that repeatedly cropped up in the TV interview was that of Antonio Tarver, the light-heavyweight division’s unofficial ruler who takes on Bernard Hopkins in June. Calzaghe, who is known to be in a constant struggle at the 168lb super-middleweight limit, let it be known that he’s willing to move up to 175lbs if the Tarver fight is put on the table for the right money.
Two days ago, Calzaghe would have been a major underdog for an Antonio Tarver match. After the display he put on at the MEN Arena on Saturday night, and the punishment he inflicted upon Jeff Lacy for doubting him, those odds have shortened considerably.
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