26.10.05 – By Gabriel DeCrease: Jeff Lacy’s meteoric rise to stardom has brought more attention to the super-middleweight division than anything else in recent memory. The young champion has succeeded where a host of others including Markus Beyer and Joe Calzaghe have failed. He has made 168-poud fighters look like part of a legitimate weight class that is more than a pit stop between the middleweight and light heavyweight divisions. The division has not seen this much exposure since a prime Roy Jones Jr. was wrangling with fan-favorites James Toney and Vinny Pazienza. Lacy is undefeated in 20 fights, with 16 wins inside the distance, going into his rumble with the rugged veteran Scott Pemberton who owns a record of 29-3 with 24 knockouts to his credit.
Though the tendency is to want to make a case for his chances of pulling off an upset in the twilight of his career, Pemberton looks to have bitten off a great deal more than he will be able to chew, despite his granite jaw.
The challenger is within shouting distance of his 39th birthday while the champion is a young 28. Pemberton has had 32 fights as a professional, twelve more than Lacy, and many of his battles have been give-and-take wars. The Sandman has most often come out on top, but he has had to walk through untold blizzards of punches in the process. In his recent pair of wins over always-a-bridesmaid-never-a-bride contender Omar Sheika, Pemberton ate more than his fair share of knuckle sandwiches.
Scott is no defensive genius. That is a fact. And he is slower now than early in his career, and he was not lightning-quick to begin with. But even if Pemberton could effectively dodge enemy fire, he might not want to. The Sandman is a banger, a brawler who knows no other way. John Scully, Lacy’s trainer, called Pemberton “a true fighter, a Mickey Ward-type.” Scully went on to say that “guys like that can adjust with their age.” Scully hit the nail on the head with the first part: Pemberton is quite like Irish Mickey. However, I fear Scully was off-point with the next bit. The only adjustment Ward made as he got older was making grudging peace with getting hit even more and more cleanly as his reflexes slowed. Pemberton has followed suit and basically done the same. Warriors of their breed do not care much to try the savvy, slick boxing style that aging fighters often use to prolong their careers and salvage their bodies. In his last two outings, against so-so opponents Rick Camlin and James Crawford, Pemberton still took some leather before scoring hard knockouts.
Jeff Lacy has almost nothing working against him going into this fight. Pemberton’s experience advantage will likely add more to his ring-ware than it will to his ability to cleverly confound Lacy. The only other disadvantage Lacy could potentially be confronted with is his height. Lacy gives five-inches to Pemberton. However, Scott is not a range-fighter, and the supreme power that rests in Lacy’s compact, heavy frame will likely enable him to overcome any attempt the challenger might make to keep him at any beneficial range. Jeff is definitely the harder puncher in the fight, and arguably the hardest puncher in the division.
One could argue that Lacy’s performance against Omar Sheika was no better than Pemberton’s against Sheika in their first fight, and decidedly worse than Pemberton’s strong-showing against Omar in the return that found Sheika down for the count in the 10th. But it should be remembered that Lacy looked sluggish and uncharacteristically hesitant against Sheika, who fought unusually well. In his two fights since, Lacy has looked sharper and more mature. He floored Robin Reid, who had never been down in 43 fights, in his last outing, and dominated Reid to the extent that the Englishman’s corner thew in the towel. Lacy is getting better with every fight. Conversely, Pemberton has showed signs of slowing down in his own pair of fights since his stoppage of Sheika.
As the boxing public has seen, Jeff Lacy brings a lot more firepower into a fight than his legendary left hook. He has knockout power in both hands, and lands with surprising accuracy when he strings punches together, which he sometimes fails to do. Jeff needs to stay busy in this fight and apply constant pressure. Pemberton has proven that he will take as much punishment as is thrown his way. Any lack of productivity will be a failure on Lacy’s part. Lacy must also remember to move, use the ring, and fire from all angles. Pemberton’s best chance of stealing the fight will come if Lacy decides to stay and bang. If that happens, Pemberton can rely on his strong chin, which may hold up through enough punishment to give Pemberton a clean shot at wobbling Lacy and making a mad rush at the champion whose chin is not fragile, but not made of iron. Lacy was wobbled, albeit momentarily, against Syd Vanderpool, Omar Sheika, and surprisingly by the lightly-regarded Rubin Williams, who, incidentally, was at one point in negotiations to fight Anne Wolfe. All things considered, if Lacy gets tagged and staggered, Pemberton is the right kind of fighter to have a decent shot at taking him down in the following seconds. Lacy needs to use his superior skill set to control the tempo of the fight and wear Pemberton down before he mixes it up. If Jeff works the body early, trades solid counters against deflected shots, and uses combos when he has his opponent cornered or stunned, the fight is a lock. If Lacy’s trainer has done his job, this scenario is likely to unfold just as I have described it on fight night.
On the other end, Scott Pemberton should stop at nothing to try to bait Lacy into fighting in the proverbial phone booth. Lacy does his best work when his big punches come on the heels of well-placed set-up shots. He has never consistently landed meaningful shots in close-quarters. If The Sandman shrugs off a left hook and waves Lacy forward with a mocking look of disrespect he may well get the eager, young champion to break form and trade digs chest-to-chest. This would take Lacy out of his comfort zone and, as earlier noted, give Pemberton the chance that his chin would hold up to superior power longer than Lacy’s would hold up to less devastating shots. In this case, anything is possible. But no matter how you slice it, Lacy is the clear favorite. If he fights intelligently and sticks to his game plan, Left Hook will triumph. Even if Pemberton can throw Lacy off his chosen course, the champion still has a good shot at winning in a free-swinging fracas.
If Jeff Lacy passes this test, he can begin looking toward potential unification matches with Mikkel Kessler, Markus Beyer, and the infamous, lily-livered Joe Calzaghe. The four coveted straps are held by four different champions, but the quest to unify the division will prove thornier than the rankings indicate. The smart money is on Calzaghe retiring in infamy before he ever thinks of putting himself in a position to close his career by letting Lacy threaten his flimsy, fatty, flawless record. And if the fight ever materializes, age, injuries, and a lack of willpower will likely disarm Calzaghe before the first bell. If Joe vacates, there is no telling where the title will end up. Only time will tell. Beyer is 34, and clearly past his peak despite the fact that he continues to fight by compensating for his diminishing skills with determination and careful planning. He may be hard-pressed to justify a risky duel with Lacy at this juncture in his career. If he does wrangle with Lacy, he is probably sentencing himself to a painful sendoff. Beyer takes left hooks like they are going out of style in almost all his fights, and as Lacy’s moniker indicates, that may spell doom for the German champ. All things considered, a clash with WBA champ Mikkel Kessler may be the only viable unification match readily available to Lacy. This fight would also surely be the most perilous. The dangerous Dane, unbeaten at 36-0, is proving himself as a slick boxer and a quickdraw puncher with venom in both mitts. Kessler has looked great in his last three outings against Andre Thysse, Manny Siaca, and most recently Anthony Mundine. A fight between Kessler and Lacy would be the realization of what seems to be the best match up in the division.
Never mind the classics to come, we as fans, cannot look past a fight any more than the fighters themselves can. Despite what I have written in support of an easy victory for Lacy, there is no such thing as a sure thing in boxing. After watching, mouth agape as Zahir Raheem tactically overpowered the legendary Erik Morales, and sitting in silent shock as a near-indestructible Humberto Soto handed Rocky Juarez a one-sided loss on such short notice, I cannot count Scott Pemberton out in advance against Jeff Lacy. And if Lacy wants to better his odds, he won’t either.