Calzaghe vs Lacy must happen because: The super middleweight division needs a super fight

17.08.05 - By Barry Green: Is it on or is it off? Is Joe Calzaghe running scared or playing mind games? Is it really the same pigeon that wakes me up every morning cooing or do they take turns to annoy me? Two of these questions are firmly on the minds of boxing fans this week following Joe Calzaghe's recent quote concerning the much anticipated fight with Jeff ’Left Hook’ Lacy. Writing in his column for the South Wales Argus, Calzaghe said: Lots of things can also happen between now and then to upset the applecart, not least among them injuries, and I am a little bit injury-prone nowadays." Hmm, this hardly something Marvin Hagler or Carmen Basilio would say before a big fight is it?

Critics have already pointed out that this sounds like a man stricken by fear after witnessing Lacy's superb demolition job on Robin Reid on August 6th.

I disagree. If Calzaghe was going to drop out of the fight surely he would have kept his mouth shut. A bit of reverse psychology (or kidology) from the Welshman methinks. But will the fight take place this year? We’ll got back to the big showdown in a moment, let’s get the history lesson out of the way first. Here’s a super-middleweight bluffer's guide for your delectation, after browsing it you’ll maybe understand why Calzaghe-Lacy HAS to happen.

When the IBF announced the inaugural fight for its newly created Super Middleweight title in the spring of 1984 it received fewer column inches than there are paid up members of the John Ruiz Fan Club. The two contenders for this ‘paper’ championship were erstwhile fringe contenders Murray Sutherland and Ernie Singletary. Going into the fight, Singletary had
lost four of his previous five bouts, while his opponent fared little better winning just four of his last eight fights. No one really cared that Sutherland won the bout and became ‘world’ champion that day- as it remained boxing’s least talented division. You see, Marvin Hagler at 160 was too good, Michael Spinks at 175 too big. This weight class, however, was one where lesser fighters could easily put on or lose a few pounds and thrive when rid of their more talented counterparts. Simply put, if the super middleweight division was a member of the Beatles- it would be Ringo.

A few years on, sensing a slice of phoney history, Sugar Ray Leonard states he is to campaign in the division on the condition his debut fight is for a world title, with a light heavyweight crown thrown in for good measure. He even stipulated the ‘exact‘’ weight both fighters should fight at! The only thing he didn’t insist on was how long Lalonde’s hair could be and that a year’s supply of Playboy magazine should be delivered to his residence every Friday. Then again... The point is that in those days this wasn’t a division to be taken seriously. Even his old nemesis Tommy Hearns joined in the fun and the division began to look like boxing’s very own retirement home. Although the world watched when they fought their ‘seven-years-too-late’ rematch, the drawn verdict in a fight Hearns clearly won left a sour taste in the mouth. The fight was a rip-off and so was the whole 168 pound limit. Then, faster than you can say Chong Pal Park, the Hitman and Sugarman chewed it up, spat it out and left the super middleweight division once again as the weight class nobody wanted.

Then, in the early 1990s, a funny thing happened, the super middleweight division became hot property! Many top class fighters, ones that were at their respective peaks, decided they wanted a slice of the pie- The British trio of Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank and Michael Watson were joined by pound-for-pounders like Michael Nunn, James Toney and Roy Jones, who
all jumped ship from 160 pounds, to leave (arguably) boxing’s best EVER division looking a bit like Fredo Corleone when brother Michael took over the family business. This was great stuff and some great match-ups took place: Benn-Eubank, Jones-Toney and so on, which left Bernard Hopkins looking at the welterweights for his biggest fights as most of the talent had gone. Then as the super middles were beginning to make their mark- disaster.

Champions either retired or put on weight for pastures new. The new breed of title holders generally lost their titles in their first defence (Sugar Boy Malinga, Vincenzo Nardiello, etc) and many other champions were only willing to fight on home soil (Sven Ottke especially, who received more gift decisions than Elton John has toupees).

Which brings us right up to date with the division's most established champion Joe Calzaghe, and the new kid on the block, JeffLacy. If truth be known, these are the only two fighters that can make a 'superfight' in the 168 pound division. Mikkel Kessler is good but not in this bracket yet- and Markus Beyer? Well, I’m sure all British fans can remember him being knocked out clean by the very average Glenn Catley in his home town of Cologne in 2000. Beyer would be easy pickings for either Calzaghe or Lacy who would flatten him quicker than you can say In Chul Baek.

The most appealing aspect of the mooted fight for me on a personal level is the fact that it is due to take place in the UK. Still, on a professional level it’s a good idea too, I love hometown crowds as they provide such a great atmosphere that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up (give me that to the passive crowds at Cesar's Palace any day). Indeed, the atmosphere at the Lacy-Reid fight in Florida was crackling (or was that my TV set?). Nah, much credit to the fans that attended the fight at St. Petersburg, they were extremely vocal- yet respectful to the visiting fighters. Their appreciation of young John Murray who made his US debut on the undercard was especially pleasing to see.

This is the kind of loyal, yet fair-minded hometown fans that boxing should have more of. Although staging it in Cardiff on November 5th may not be wise as it would clash with a big rugby international and the sight and sounds of thousands of drunk 'taffies' cheering their man on would be even more intimidating than Mexico City was when Greg Haugan went into the lion's den and became a rabbit t caught in headlines before Julio Cesar Chavez performed a boxing clinic on him. Have you heard these guys sing? They know more songs than the entire Von Trapp family, only with much deeper voices. They will come out in their droves, providing the opposition is good.

There is line said by Woody Allen from the excellent Annie Hall, where he compares his relationship with that of a shark, commenting that it has to constantly move forward or it dies: "... and what we have on our hands is a dead shark."This is how I feel about the 168 pound division, compared with other weight classes (e.g. 140 or 130 pounds) , it is a dead shark. We as fans do not want this relationship to end, we want it to move forward and for that to happen, Calzaghe-Lacy has to happen. The super middleweights have been meandering aimlessly into a pugilistic quagmire for over a decade now and Joe Calzaghe especially has been guilty of taking on a spoonful of substitutes and unworthy challengers.

Recent opponents such as Tocker Pudwill and Kabery Salem sound more like characters from a Charles Dickens novel than combatants of the prize ring. Can you just imagine it: “I'm settling my debts and selling the old curiosity shop, then I shall sally forth to Wales to fight for the super middleweight boxing championship my dear fellow," said Kabery, "In this epoch of belief and incredulity I shall too. But what exactly is it?" replied Mr Pudwill "I don't know either" said Mr Salem but I'm sure we will only have to turn up to be granted this opportunity." Ok, I’m going on a bit of a tangent here but you get my drift. Where did these challengers come from? Calzaghe went up again in my estimation when he travelled to Germany to dominate Mario Veit but with this next defence he seems to be going back into the lull I had hoped he’d gotten out of. He’s too good a fighter to be wasting his time on hand-picked opponents.

If Calzaghe is to become a British boxing legend he has to move fast, beating Jeff Lacy will see him earn, not only our respect, but the respect of our friends across the Atlantic too, and after seeing Lacy destroy Reid with the minimum of fuss, we are big Jeff Lacy fans ourselves. I was most impressed with the man from Florida but Calzaghe is the ultimate test for him and he is the ultimate test for Joe. Is Lacy ready? He sure as hell looks it. Like Dickens' most famous character we “want more” of him. Lacy is a formidable opponent for any boxer, he displays the deadly combination of power and energy that is a rarity in fighters at this weight, but this is just what Calzaghe needs.

He is always at his best against the top guys, which he proved when overcoming the likes of Shieka, Mitchell and Brewer. This is a match made in heaven, not only because it pits the two best fighters in the division but because of the mesh of styles: Lacy's formidable attack combined with Calzaghe's counter-punching skills, this is one that cannot fail to entertain and with the added plus of a hometown atmosphere to boot, this fight has the potential to be the Hagler-Hearns of the decade, even this budget version will do, I’m talking about an explosive 'short and sweet' war, with changing momentum that will end early. That is how I see it. Who will win? I’m not sure, toss a coin if you like but I'll go heart before head and plump for Calzaghe, though it's one of the great 'pick 'em's' of our time. It has been a long, long while since a super middleweight has been ranked in the pound-for-pound Top 10- the winner of the fight will surely belong amongst them. This division needs this fight. This SUPER fight. Hell, there hasn’t been one for over ten years- since the classic and tragic brawl between Benn and Gerald McClellan. Now all we need is for both fighters to sign their names on the dotted line. I’ll even supply the pen if they insist.

Article posted on 17.08.2005

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