Peter Manfredo Jr.: Journey Into The Belly Of Wales

peter manfredo jr.05.04.07 - By Michael Demmie, It was March 4th, 2006 at the M.E.N. Arena in Manchester, England. Undefeated IBF/IBO Champ, Jeff Lacy, began to make his way down to the ring. Lacy was a dominating, concussive puncher comparable to a young Mike Tyson. He was the favorite in the bout that was supposed to be his coming out party. This was to be a mere formality to confirm to the world that the true king of the Super-Middleweight boxing division was indeed the St. Petersburg-born, red-blooded American Lacy.

It was a classic scenario of young lion killing old lion to take over as the head of the pride. It was nothing personal, just business, or law of nature, if you will. The packed arena looked dark and gloomy as he continued his march to the ring apron. Even amongst the jeering and boos, the walk was nothing new to Lacy. He was born for this. It was his time. But, as the camera zoomed in on Lacy’s face, something was different.. The usually hard, rugged, focused stare was replaced by, what appeared to be, an artificial and forced scowl. Looking deeper into his eyes, he appeared to be almost afraid. As Lacy entered the ring, seemingly trying to shake off nerves, his opponent’s music began to blare. Complete with fireworks, cheers and singing from the home crowd, undefeated WBO Champ, Joe Calzaghe made his way down the walk, and looked nervous, but confident. Entering the ring he appeared to be focused on the task at hand.

The stare-down almost looked like a revelation for Calzaghe. They were both looking down, but as Joe looked up and into Lacy’s eyes, it almost seemed as though his whole demeanor lit up. Like he saw something that no one else noticed. After the first bell, what unfolded was unbelievable. Calzaghe systematically demolished Lacy in such a one-sided fashion that it would have been a mercy for him to knock Lacy out. For twelve grueling rounds, Joe made the “American Hero” look like an amateur. He completely neutralized his infamous left hook and thoroughly punished him. Lacy winced in pain throughout the bout, and was knocked down in the 12th round. The only round that Calzaghe lost was the 11th when he was docked a point for an illegal blow.

In what Calzaghe called his “career-defining fight”, Joe showed why he was the alpha-male. It was as though Mighty Joe was sending a message to any ambitious foreign fighter to think twice before making the trip across the water to try to take what was his. Point-taken. Or was it…

Now, let’s fast-forward one year, and three days later. Joe Calzaghe, now (42, 0, 31 KO’s), is set to take on another foreign invader. But, this time, there is no hype surrounding the challenger. No myth about his reputation. No tales of opponents who forfeited during the weigh-ins. No stories of crushing knockouts. No smoke and mirrors. It’s actually almost a David and Goliath-type story. The Goliath would, of course, be the superstar Welshman Calzaghe, and David would be former “Contender” star, Peter Manfredo.

Twenty-six year old Manfredo, (26, 3, 12 KO’s) of Providence, Rhode Island, is making his odyssey across the Atlantic to face thirty-five year old Calzaghe at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, in front of a crowd of over 25,000. In what would seem to be an unnerving task, Manfredo seems to be extremely confident: "I'm a big underdog but I'm not the perfect opponent he thinks I am. Every night I visualize the boxing fight. Sometimes it's hard to fall asleep. He's going to find out I'm not Jeff Lacy. As a kid my dream was to win a world championship and fight on HBO. I can do both those things in one night. I'm ready for this”.

Perhaps Manfredo’s focus, hunger and determination come from the tremendous amount of responsibility that is riding on his boxing future. He and his wife, Yamilka, have two daughters, Alexis Marie and Mercedes Marie, and a son on the way. A victory could ensure a more than comfortable life for the young family. And after struggling for most of their lives, this could be just the type motivation that could help Manfredo pull out an upset. A feat that most people view as being unlikely.

Another factor in Manfredo’s confidence comes from having a new advisor in his corner, all time great “Sugar” Ray Leonard. Leonard stepped in when Manfredo’s boxing trainer, Freddie Roach, got called to Puerto Rico to train Oscar de la Hoya for his mega-fight with pound for pound king, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Ironically, it was twenty years and one day before the April 7th showdown that Leonard himself came off of an almost 3-year layoff to accomplish the unthinkable. On April 6, 1987, in front of a sold out crowd at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Leonard stepped into the ring with then Middleweight Champ, Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Hagler, who was a 3-1 favorite, was undoubtedly the ruler of his division, having knocked out 12 of 13 opponents since winning the Middleweight title in 1980. Leonard, who, on top of being inactive, had also battled an eye injury, was coming up from Welterweight to try to accomplish what most people thought was impossible.

"People thought I was crazy," Leonard said. "They said, `No way.' "

But after 12 rounds, Leonard accomplished, what he calls, his “personal triumph”. He defeated the man who had appeared to be unbeatable.

Leonard, reflecting on the similarities on the situation said: "A major similarity is I heard some of the boxing writers ask Joe Calzaghe what's next, or ask (his promoter) Frank Warren what's next, which totally overlooks Peter Manfredo," Leonard says. "Same thing was asked about Hagler: 'Hagler, who's next after Ray?' They gave me no shot whatsoever, and I think there's such a parallel."

Though Calzaghe adamantly claims that he is not overlooking Manfredo, he has made it abundantly clear that after this fight, he is going after the American superstars like Bernard Hopkins, Jermain Taylor, and even Roy Jones, Jr.

Speaking on the subject of being overlooked by Calzaghe, Manfredo says: "I know he's looking past me, talking about fighting other guys. That's fine. It's perfect for me. I'll be everything Lacy wasn't. I'm a big underdog but I'm not afraid of him. I got nothing to lose.''

A man with nothing to lose is always a very dangerous boxing opponent for someone who has really nothing more to prove. Case in point, Jones/Tarver II. Does Manfredo have what it takes to pull off an upset? Leonard seems to think so: “Everyone has to deal with that pressure of competing but most people can't do it. Calzaghe has to deal with that in front of 35,000 Welsh guys who are expecting him to win. Peter can deal with that. He has a bravado that gives me confidence in him. We'll see how Calzaghe deals with the pressures on him but I'm confident how Peter will handle it.''
We’ll see on April 7th.

Joe Calzaghe vs. Peter Manfredo, Jr. and Amir Khan vs. Steffy Bull can be seen live Saturday, April 7 at 5:00 PM ET/2:00 PM PT, and replayed later that same day at 10:00 PM ET/PT, from Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales on HBO. The World Championship Boxing team will be ringside for the event, which will be presented in HD-TV and in Spanish language on HBO Latino.

HBO2 playdates: April 8 (10:00 a.m., 4:30 p.m.) and 10 (10:30 p.m.). Times are ET/PT.

Article posted on 05.04.2007

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