Boxing In The First Half Of 2006 Deserves Recognition

05.07.06 - By Justin Hackman: As the second half of 2006 has begun, we take a look back at the gifts we as boxing fans have received in the year’s first half. We witnessed, first and foremost, a couple steps toward heavyweight clarity: something 2005 sorely missed. While we do not have a Mike Tyson or Lennox Lewis, and while the puzzle has not been solved completely, no one can be dissatisfied with the performances of Sergei Lyakhovich against Lamon Brewster: a spirited battle by two hungry big men. Wladimir Klitschko’s pummeling of Chris Byrd also gave the Ukrainian another big helping of credibility, as coming off another impressive victory against Sam Peter last September, Klitschko is beginning to fulfill his potential, no longer making the mistakes he did against Corrie Sanders and Brewster: he is becoming the dominant fighter, under Emanuel Steward, everyone knew he could become.

Jermain Taylor proved his worth, as he battled the purest, most frustrating, southpaw-technician in the sport, in Winky Wright. Though the fight left us with no winner, it certainly did not leave us without thrill and recognition: these two clearly confirmed they are the two best middleweights in the world in a tough fight in which the fans were the ones awarded the victory.

The younger crowd spoke loudly in the first half of 2006, as Miguel Cotto passed yet another test as he dismantled a slick, quick southpaw with a bright future ahead of him as well in Paulie Malignaggi. Manny Pacquiao handed Erik Morales his first ever knock-out loss in a tough, hard battle which evened the score between these two great warriors. The older crowd, namely Bernard Hopkins, gave us plenty to cheer about as he treated us to an awe-aspiring farewell fight as he became the light heavyweight champion of the world.

The most brilliant performances, however, are awarded to two boxers whose skill-display are far superior to any fighter, in an already stellar show put on by the aforementioned fighters in 2006. Joe Calzaghe’s thrashing of Jeff Lacy gives him the most dominant win of ’06, while Floyd Mayweather’s break-down of Zab Judah awards him the most impressive victory of the first half of this year.

Perhaps the threat posed by Jeff Lacy makes the most dominating win of ’06 even more impressive. A minute and fifteen seconds into the fight was the precise moment in which Lacy knew just what he was in for: Lacy pressed forward in attack mode, as he thought he smelled blood, just like he had done to every other opponent in his young, formerly undefeated career. Calzaghe promptly stepped back to create space on the inside, and landed a beautiful left uppercut on the jaw of Lacy, putting him on the immediate defensive. This exchange is the 12 rounds in microcosm. Calzaghe consistently positioned himself in safe zones through the footwork of a tap dancer, and the punches from all angles with the precision of a surgeon. The heart and determination of Lacy was the only thing which kept the fight going past the 7th round: three minutes in which the 2000 Olympian was nearly defenseless against the ropes, taking numerous blows to the head while missing his own target wildly. The final five rounds were simply more target practice for Calzaghe as his stamina and punch output never seemed to dissipate. The only real scent Lacy picked up in this 12 round thrashing was not the blood of his opponent, but rather the back of Calzaghe’s gloves.

For the first quarter of the Mayweather/Judah fight, Judah’s quickness, naturally-awkward southpaw style, and new-found focus off the heels of his embarrassing decision loss to Carlos Baldomir was enough to frustrate Mayweather, as the ease to which he utterly controls his opponents was non-existent. Without warning, and seemingly unprompted by any specific momentum shifter, Mayweather found his zone and proceeded to give Judah a boxing lesson. What makes this the most impressive performance to date in ’06 is not the ease to which Mayweather, in the second two-thirds of this fight, handled a very determined, very dangerous southpaw, but rather the way in which he inexplicably shifted priceless momentum, which, in the dynamics of sport, not only allows the bearer to KNOW he is invincible, but in turn also saps the confidence from the opponent. Mayweather displayed definitively that he has this gift. In a recent boxing magazine publication, Luiz Collazo was quoted as saying “Zab exposed Mayweather” in the early rounds, therefore showing weakness. The only thing Mayweather exposed in this fight is his unprecedented, super-human ability to overcome adversity systematically against a worthy opponent. So if by “exposed” Collazo meant Mayweather’s uncanny ability to shift tides from frustration to absolute domination, then yes, Mayweather was exposed: by further cementing his status on a planet all his own called “Number One Pound For Pound.”

In their unique ways, neither fight can be deemed “better” than the other as the criteria are boundless. However, each fight deserves an exclamation mark of equal stress, yet for different reasons. Mayweather built on his already-established physical gifts by displaying his mental guile and savvy equal to that of a veteran champion, while it was Calzaghe’s flawless clinic on, arguably, to that point, the most dangerous young champion in the sport, Jeff Lacy, which gives him, alongside Mayweather, one of the two highest honors in the first half of boxing’s 2006.

Article posted on 05.07.2006

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