Total Control: Calzaghe Blows out Lacy for World Championship

By Karl E. H. Seigfried
March 4, 2006

Almost a year ago, southpaw boxer Winky Wright gave big puncher Felix Trinidad a boxing lesson in a middleweight fight that most witnesses saw as a complete shutout. Tonight, England played host to a repeat performance, but with Joe Calzaghe and Jeff Lacy playing the lead roles in a super middleweight update of the story.

This match was a long time coming. Lacy fought in Cardiff on the undercard of a Calzaghe defense back in 2002, and the idea of the two undefeated fighters facing each other was rolling around promoters' heads even then. Lacy began publicly challenging Calzaghe as far back as October 2004, when "Left Hook" was coming off of an eighth round KO of Syd Vanderpool to win the vacant IBF super middleweight belt. At the time, the Welshman was searching farther afield. Following his decision win over Kabary Salem the same month, he said, "I'm still looking to move up and land a big fight at light heavyweight in 2005." After his December 2005 decision win over Omar Sheika, Lacy baldly stated "I need Joe Calzaghe," and Gary Shaw, his promoter, said that he had already made an offer to Frank Warren, Calzaghe's promoter, but had been turned own. Almost a year ago today, after his seventh-round KO of Rubin Williams, Lacy said, "Of course, I want Joe Calzaghe by the end of this year."

By May 2005, after Calzaghe's sixth-round stoppage of Mario Veit, the British press had started talking up the unification fight. Warren had come around to the idea, and said, "We're looking to get Joe in the ring with Jeff Lacy next and I believe that fight will be done in the autumn." In July, in England for the Hatton-Tszyu fight, Lacy held a press conference to promote the Calzaghe match (completely insulting poor Robin Reid, who had already been lined up as Lacy's next opponent). In August, the date was announced as November 5 at the Excel Arena in London, Calzaghe began using words like "showdown" and "superfight," and Lacy did his bit of Hollywood drama by sticking his face right in the camera after his TKO of Robin Reid and saying, "I'm coming, Joe!" Everything seemed right on track to unify Lacy's IBF and IBO belts with Calzaghe's WBO belt and determine the first Ring magazine super middleweight world champion since the division's creation in 1984. Then everything went out the window.

Calzaghe decided to squeeze in a mandatory defense of his belt against Evans Ashira in September. By the fourth round, the "Italian Dragon" was a one-handed fighter, having broken the third finger of his left hand by landing one too many uppercuts on the crown of the challenger's head. Amazingly, left-handed Calzaghe went on to win a unanimous shutout with only his right hand to work with. However, the Lacy showdown had to be scrapped, and a battle of words began. Although Lacy himself had fought through to victory with a broken hand (winning a 10-round decision over Bobby Jones in 2002), he immediately accused Calzaghe of trying to duck out of the fight. Warren then offered to set up a February match, but Shaw turned up his nose at the rain date, calling Calzaghe "a disgrace" and insisting, "I don't believe the injury is legit!" Calzaghe sniffed back, "[Lacy] needs me more than I need him." Lacy ended up using the November date for a defense of his own against Scott Pemberton, knocking him out in the second round. There was talk for a time of Lacy moving up to light heavyweight and facing champ Antonio Tarver, but the March date was finally settled on by both camps by the end of the year. The hype began in earnest, with both sides (of course) predicting a decisive victory.

Even before he began training, Lacy was telling everyone, "I'm going over there to knock him out," and that was the line he stuck to right up until the opening bell. Shaw joined in the hyperbolic build-up and said, "He fights with Tyson's fury in the ring, and he's on Holyfield's skill level." Most observers swallowed the bait. The Lacy love-fest took hold of the press on both sides of the Atlantic, seeing the Floridian on the covers of both the US Ring and the UK Boxing Monthly. Showtime's Steve Farhood got it exactly backward in his pre-fight predictions, insisting that Lacy's aggressive attack "doesn't let you breathe in there," and that his two-handed power and his hunger would overwhelm Calzaghe. Boxing Monthly's Graham Houston used almost exactly the same words, writing that Lacy "doesn't give the opponent room to breathe" and that he sticks on the other fighter like glue. In fact, all these traits perfectly describe Calzaghe's performance and his domination of Lacy. Omar Sheika, a boxer who has fought and lost to both Lacy and Calzaghe, joined the pre-fight deprecators of Calzaghe's ring strengths, talking about the Welsh fighter's "pitty-pat" punches. In the end, it was Lacy's pawing, falling, pushing punches that would have no effect.

Long before fight night, Calzaghe accurately predicted how it would all work out. He insisted that his fast hands and ring experience would enable him to counter Lacy's big shots with quick combinations and to dodge out of harm's way before the American could respond. Enzo Calzaghe, his father and trainer (whose corner instructions tonight included the colorful "He's got f***-all!"), told Boxing Monthly that Lacy is "a one-hit wonder. Joe will take him to school and destroy him." This, it turned out, was exactly how every round of the fight would play out. Trainer and commentator Teddy Atlas said in late 2004 that Lacy "has moments where he struggles if a guy doesn't come his way, if the guy isn't in front of him," and said that he was particularly inconsistent on the inside. Robin Reid, another boxer who has lost to both Lacy and Calzaghe, insisted last August that the Welshman's hand speed and strength far surpassed the American's. Turns out the Calzaghe supporters and Lacy critics were right on the money.

As Lacy made his march down to the ring at the MEN Arena in Manchester, England, it was after 2 a.m. local time. Calzaghe said that trying to prepare for the late hour of the bout had thrown off his sleep patterns, but Lacy had managed to stay on a US schedule while training in England, planning his meals, training, and sleep so that fight-time still felt like 9 p.m. Florida time. Lacy was clearly booed as he entered the ring in a metallic USA flag robe and trunks, yet he was still a slight favorite in the betting. Calzaghe, in black and white, entered to a raucous standing ovation. Both fighters were almost in the middle of the ring as the opening bell rang out.

The American seemed to take the lead in the very opening moments. Fifteen seconds in, Calzaghe tied him up after the 2000 Olympian landed a solid right, and continued a pattern of holding to smother incoming attacks. The "Pride of Wales" then began tossing off quick jabs but was caught with a big right to the midsection. He started throwing bunches of punches, continually hitting and holding, and landed a powerful right hook in the last half-minute. With fifteen seconds to go, Lacy got in his own strong right, but was blasted by huge Calzaghe combinations of punch after punch in the last ten seconds.

Lacy came out for the second round with a bloody nose and missed with a wide right uppercut. Calzaghe swung him around into the ropes and proceeded to tag him with multiple combinations. Lacy managed to land some uppercuts to the body in the clinch and scored with a couple of nice left hooks right at the midpoint of the round. Calzaghe, fleet of foot, spun out of the way of another Lacy attack and tagged him with his southpaw jab. With thirty-eight seconds left, Calzaghe hit the American with an impressive flurry while wearing an enormous grin on his face. Lacy managed to get Calzaghe on the ropes in the last fifteen seconds, but ended up eating a series of strong uppercuts as the Welshman made all the shots.

In the third round, Calzaghe was quickly put in the corner, yet he was the one landing the combinations as Lacy missed everything he threw. Still quick on his feet, Calzaghe managed to maneuver Lacy into the corner, but referee Raul Caiz, Sr. soon separated them and moved the action back into the middle of the ring, where Calzaghe began landing one uppercut after another. With ninety seconds left, Calzaghe hit Lacy with a big right, then another, followed by a flurry of combinations. At the one-minute mark, Lacy managed only a weak shadow of his signature left hook, and soon had his head rocked by Calzaghe's combinations. Lacy then ate a jab before wildly missing another left hook. With ten seconds to go, and in the first instance of what was to be repeated showboating, Calzaghe stuck his left arm straight out to the side and then popped Lacy in the face with his right. In Lacy's corner between rounds, trainer Dan Birmingham urgently pleaded, "C'mon, Jeff! You're just trying to bomb everything! C'mon!"

Lacy managed a good left uppercut at the start of the fourth round, but Calzaghe immediately began throwing everything he had. In the clinches, the best Lacy could do was muster some pitty-pat uppercuts. By this point, blood could be seen around both of Lacy's eyes as Calzaghe landed every combination he attempted. The replay later showed a head butt, but the ref, standing on the other side of the fighters, ruled that the cuts were caused by punches. Lacy's left eye was also ripped open on the way to winning a 12-round decision over Richard Grant in 2003 and was blown up before he knocked out Donnell Wiggins in the eighth round of their fight the same year. Lacy continued to miss head shots and jabs, and now he was the one initiating the holds. Calzaghe rocked Lacy's head with a left uppercut and the American's only response was to lean into and miss a weak jab. The final ten seconds saw another flurry of combinations that bounced Lacy's head around before he headed to his stool, where his corner frantically worked to stop the blood coming from cuts over both eyes.

At the start of the fifth round, Lacy managed to get a couple of good ones in before Calzaghe started backing him up with combinations. Both fighters worked the body in the clinch, but Lacy's blows looked weak. He blew past Calzaghe as he missed a wild left hook and continued to eat multiple combinations to the head. The last half-minute saw more big misses by Lacy and more head-bouncing combinations by Calzaghe. The very end saw further Welsh showboating as the WBO champion finished out the round with both of his hands all the way down at his sides. During the pause, rivers of blood poured from Lacy's nose, and his eyes were bloody. Someone in the corner was yelling, "Don't panic! Don't panic!" and there was a frantic look in the fighter's eyes. The ring physician could be seen leaning over to check on the state of the cuts. Lacy had promised a war in his pre-fight interview, called this the biggest fight of his career, and insisted that he would get stronger with every round to win by KO. Instead, he was facing a slaughter, the biggest defeat of his career, and his strength was continually ebbing away.

Round six began with a wrestling match. Calzaghe punched, held, then spun around behind Lacy, who responded by throwing weak uppercuts on the inside. Calzaghe came back with flurries, and Lacy missed with a right, subsequently complaining to the referee during a clinch. Calzaghe was, by this point, landing combinations to the head at will, and Lacy looked trapped and frantic in the clinches and was subsequently warned by the referee for throwing a ridiculously huge and obvious overhand rabbit punch. In one of many amazing moments in the fight, Calzaghe threw a left-right combination to the sides of Lacy's head that sounded like two raw steaks being slapped on a marble countertop. Understandably, Lacy looked freaked-out between the rounds.

In the seventh round, Calzaghe repeatedly beat Lacy to the punch. Lacy's head seemed wide open to everything that was thrown at it, bouncing around with the impact of constant combinations, and his right-hand punch had deteriorated into a slap. He was openly wincing in pain at head clashes in the clinches. In another Kodak moment, the thirty-second mark saw Lacy trapped in a corner, with Calzaghe teeing off on him with powerful straight left hands. Lacy managed to get out, but Calzaghe went to work on him so intensely in the final seconds that the Florida native looked lost and confused, bumping into his opponent on the way to his corner after the bell.

The eighth round saw Calzaghe throwing totally unanswered combinations and multiple straight lefts, with Lacy resorting to a sort of pushing jab. Calzaghe was shuffling and bouncing, completely light on his feet, as Lacy plodded heavily after him around the ring. Calzaghe has always said he loves fighters who come straight in at him, and he sure got what he wanted tonight. Lacy missed with a hook and got tagged and spun around before having his head rocked by another final flurry. By this point in the fight, it was clear that Lacy had absolutely no defense happening at all.

After a brief time-out to fix some loose tape on Calzaghe's right glove, round nine began with Lacy getting his head knocked all the way back on his shoulders. He continued to fall into his punches and widely miss his uppercuts and wild rights. In the clinches, Lacy was wincing again, and his left and right body shots were totally ineffective at slowing down his opponent. After further combinations to the head, Calzaghe did some more showboating, winding his left hand around from the wrist like a cartoon boxer and socking Lacy with his right. Lacy's head could be seen popping up over the fighters' shoulders from uppercuts in the clinch. With thirty-five seconds left to go, Lacy was again trapped in the corner as Calzaghe teed off on him, managing to get out but missing a gigantic left hook and not being able to get any work done before the bell. Between rounds, he sadly sucked on a big pink sponge and looked lost on his stool.

Lacy started the tenth round by walking straight into Calzaghe's jabs with no defense at all. Calzaghe landed a sweet left uppercut as he walked in on Lacy, who visibly sighed as the referee separated them, like a coal miner wearily heading back to the mines. Halfway through the round, Lacy was warned for drifting low in his punches. He tried to avoid Calzaghe's relentless head shots by bobbing and weaving but was much too slow. The round ended in more disaster for Lacy, as he was warned again for low blows, ate a one-two combo and some popping jabs, then fell off-balance and face-first into the ropes as Calzaghe spun him around. He looked exhausted in his corner, saying, "Every time I start punching, he tells me to stop."

The eleventh round didn't start out any better for Lacy. After being pushed to the canvas, he fell into a big miss, then missed with a wild left hook. The corner seemed incapable of stopping the blood, which continued to pour down his face and fly into the air as his head was battered around. He finally managed to land a nice uppercut in a clinch, but it was just an isolated punch, and he seemed bizarrely open to the combinations that Calzaghe relentlessly threw at his head, like he had nothing left to give. The referee managed to make this Calzaghe's only nine-point round of the evening by taking away a point for a headlock.

The final round started with an "Oh, my god!" moment as Calzaghe simply wailed on Lacy's head, going all out. In his pre-fight interview, when asked what he had to watch out for, Calzaghe had said, "I can't afford to drop my hands and leave my chin in the air," but that's exactly what his opponent did throughout this and all the preceding rounds. Lacy was knocked to the canvas, bouncing up to shake his head and complain as Caiz gave him the count. His first career knockdown was shown in replay to be a combination of punching and pushing. Maybe this was just ring karma for another career-first knockdown miscall; in his fight with Robin Reid, Lacy had pounded the Brit to the floor with a right hand thrown well after the referee had shouted for them to stop fighting. In both fights, the one-point deduction didn't matter at all in the end, anyway. Lacy then held onto and pinned Calzaghe's right as the Welshman pounded away with his left. More loose-tape time was called, now on Lacy's left glove, and then it was back to Calzaghe bouncing his opponent's head around as Lacy pitty-patted some light body punches in the clinch before being flurried and turned around. At the bell, Calzaghe burst into a huge smile of pride and joy in his complete shutout and total domination.

I scored the fight 119-107 for Calzaghe, like everyone in the judging box and press row (except the Puerto Rican judge, who scored it 119-105). Calzaghe, without a doubt, won every single round. Lacy said afterwards that Calzaghe "fought his fight and he fought a perfect fight tonight... I came up short tonight," and he claimed his loss came from the fact that Calzaghe "threw me off my game on the inside." He admitted, "I need to work on my boxing skills more," but insisted, "I'll be back, baby, I'll be back." Calzaghe himself said, "I needed a fight like Jeff Lacy to show my skills... I always thought I was faster and better than Jeff Lacy... I showed everybody I'm an exciting fighter." He sure did. He went on to say that, although his problematic hand was a "bit sore after eight or nine rounds," that he felt in "total control" throughout the fight. "I'm over the moon," he concluded, "I'm ecstatic."

Before he went into training for the match, Lacy insisted, "I'm not gonna be exposed in this fight." As each round went into the books as a carbon copy of those before it, that is exactly what ended up happening. Lacy bet his whole game on landing that one magical, Marciano-like punch, but it never came together, and he was completely out-boxed. Fighting five times in thirteen months, this was the fifth defense of his IBF belt, the third of his IBO, and the last for both. Calzaghe now has all the marbles: the IBO, IBF, WBO, and Ring championship belts. This was his eighteenth defense in eight years, making him today's longest-reigning world champion in any weight class, and, after Ricky Hatton, England's second contemporary champ.

Denmark's undefeated Mikkel Kessler, owner of the WBA belt and ranked right behind Calzaghe and Lacy by most scribes, was at ringside tonight. He's the logical contender for Calzaghe's titles, but the paying American audience for a Welshman versus a Dane in a weight class heretofore dominated by Europeans and therefore ignored in the US is not exactly overwhelming. Calzaghe said after the fight that he wants to move up in weight and challenge Antonio Tarver to be a world champ in two weight classes, and that seems like the most logical course of action, especially given the "Italian Dragon's" recent struggles to make the 168-pound limit. Whether or not the "Magic Man" can be convinced to make the match is an open question.