Lacy fighting for post-Calzaghe redemption

By Mark Staniforth Special to PA SportsTicker

Jeff Lacy jetted into Manchester, England in March of 2006 and predicted he would be the man to end Joe Calzaghe’s unbeaten record and establish himself as the world’s No. 1 super-middleweight.

The unbeaten Florida native’s cause was championed by no end of American writers, who bought into the promotional hype that the powerful, attacking Lacy was the new Mike Tyson their sport was so badly looking for.

However, after 36 painfully one-sided minutes, Calzaghe had produced a boxing masterpiece so emphatic it not only ripped away Lacy’s IBF title, but placed major question marks on his fighting future.

As he left the ring, back home in the States there was the scratchy sound of hacks rewriting history. Lacy had always been rugged and one-dimensional, they said, a shot fighter quickly destined for the scrapheap.

Lacy rebounded last December with an unconvincing majority decision points win over Ukrainian Vitali Tsypko but a serious bicep injury delayed his plans to make a quick return to the top level.

Luckily for Lacy, one of the few who still believe in his ability is Oscar De La Hoya. Convinced Lacy can still compete at the age of 30, De La Hoya has signed the fighter to his Golden Boy promotional stable.

Lacy faces another Calzaghe victim, Peter Manfredo, on the Mayweather-Hatton undercard next month with the loser possibly being shut out of top-level boxing for good.

“Jeff deserves to be on top once again,” De La Hoya said. “He was derailed by a great champion and we all know that Calzaghe is a tremendous champion.

“With Jeff being so young, still having that hunger and desire to be world champion, it was a perfect opportunity to make the match. He has all the combinations to make him a fearless fighter.”

Lacy admits the reaction to the Calzaghe fight hurt him almost as much as the countless blows landed by the Welshman. In the aftermath, many supporters rushed to disassociate themselves from a fighter they regarded as a busted flush.

“I’ve learned that I’m a very emotional person when it comes down to what people say about you,” Lacy said. “I’ve learned to understand and deal with emotion a little better than I did before.

“When you’re on that winning stage it’s like everybody’s praising you and everybody’s doing this and that. But when you taste a little of the bad side of boxing, it really turns your stomach a little bit.”

Lacy’s reputation was justified when he fought Calzaghe. He had stopped 17 of his 21 professional victims, and was riding a string of four impressive wins - including those over Omar Sheika, Rubin Williams and Scott Pemberton.

What happened in the early hours of that Sunday morning in Manchester’s MEN Arena was less about Lacy’s lack of ability on the big stage and more of Calzaghe’s complete mastery of his art.

By contrast, ‘Contender’ star Manfredo was never given much of a shot of beating the Welshman. Manfredo can continue to protest the manner of his third-round stoppage loss, but to continue would have been to prolong the inevitable.

Freed from that pre-fight expectation, Manfredo has not noticeably suffered from his defeat. He has since returned with two low-key wins and remains refreshingly honest about his boxing ability.

“Jeff Lacy might be the biggest and strongest guy that I’ve fought but that’s what makes it exciting for me,” Manfredo said. “I’m excited because I’m getting in there with one of the best.

“It’s definitely a must win. I go into every fight as if it’s a must win, but definitely with this fight. I’ve been fighting for my whole life and December 8 is going to be one hell of a fight.”

The Mayweather-Hatton card will also be propped up by the ferocious Mexican Daniel Ponce De Leon, who defends his World Boxing Organization super-bantamweight title against Texas native Eduardo Escobedo.

Ponce De Leon has stopped 30 of his 33 professional victims while suffering just one defeat. His kamikaze style has made him a favorite with fans in the United States.

Promoters have been quick to capitalize on the likelihood of thousands of Hatton fans travelling from the United Kingdom without tickets. On the night before the main event, another show will be staged in the MGM Grand Garden ring.

Optimistically entitled ‘The UK versus the world,’ the show will display a number of British prospects - including John Murray and Lee Meager and the powerful, unbeaten Scot Craig McEwan.

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Updated Tuesday, Nov 20, 2007