It certainly took Joe Calzaghe a long time to become a star as well as a fighter who was safe in the knowledge that he had won over the critics on both sides of the Atlantic. Calzaghe might have won the WBO super middleweight title with an October 1997 decision win over Chris Eubank, and Joe might have made an incredible 17 title retentions since then. But Calzaghe had never fought in America and, aside from wins over Eubank, Charles Brewer and an up from the floor win over Byron Mitchell, the southpaw from Wales had not beaten anyone the average US fan was overly familiar with.
Added to Calzaghe’s lack of respect as far as the American critics were concerned, was his chronic hand trouble, this leading to some substantial delays between his fights (just one fight in 2003, for example). Calzaghe had not yet had what could be referred to as his ‘coming out party.’
Enter Jeff Lacy.
Lacy, a young, heavy-handed puncher who some were comparing to heavyweight great Mike Tyson, had been the IBF champ at 168 pounds since October of 2004, and he had thrilled fans with some big stoppage wins over Rubin Williams, former Calzaghe foe Robin Reid, and Scott Pemberton. Known as “Left Hook,” Lacy was, in the eyes of many, the next big thing.
Calzaghe, 40-0, was actually considering pulling out of the fight just before the rescheduled date of March 4, 2006, this after having pulled out with a damaged hand once already (with promoter Frank Warren literally having to tell his fighter that his career would be all but over if he didn’t go ahead with the fight this time). The fight did go ahead, at last, and when it did, Calzaghe fought the fight of his career.
Calzaghe, aged 33 and at his peak, took Lacy apart before “Left Hook” had a chance to reach his peak. Lacy, 21-0 and the younger man by five years, was never in the fight. The fans inside the MEN Arena in Manchester, as well as those fans watching live on TV, witnessed a massacre. And a masterpiece. Calzaghe, lightning fast and possessing an immense, go-all-night engine, beat Lacy to the punch all night long. Joe outboxed, outfought and out-thought his rival, sometimes to the point where it was embarrassing.
Only Lacy’s raw courage as well as a too-brave corner kept him in the fight for all 36 minutes. During this time, Lacy was hit with over 1,000 punches, most of them to the head and jaw. Busted up and beaten down, Lacy somehow managed to hear the final bell. But upon doing so, the former champ was a ruined fighter. Lacy was never the same again. The scores were as lopsided as could be, this at 119-105, 119-107, and 119-107 again, all for Calzaghe.
Calzaghe had shone like gold, and he was now THE man at super middleweight.
Nobody doubted him now. On either side of the Atlantic. Was it really 17 long years ago?