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Stumbling Blocks and Joe Calzaghe

BY Michael Woods ON March 02, 2006
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Betting on boxing is not one of my vices.

Were I more successful at it, I’d quite probably add it to the list of no-nos that I indulge in.

But betting on boxing outcomes, such as the Joe Calzaghe/Jeff Lacy Saturday night scrap, is too often complete guesswork. Most of the time, there are few or no concrete variables to compare and contrast.

But boxing bets are subject to so many intangibles and unknown factors. Like, maybe a fighter, we’ll call him Hoover Oreck, was out the night before the big bout in Vegas, engaging in “stress relief” with a paid escort, who just happens to have a little pixie dust on her person, and Oreck, who swore off the devil’s dandruff after that incident when he was picked up by the authorities after nodding off in his hometown Quiznos, takes a little toot.

And another little snort.

And next thing you know, he finds himself in a hot-tub with Paris and Kate Moss, and the next thing he knows, the sun is rising, and his chances of winning are falling.

But I have no way of knowing about Oreck’s “stress relief” orgy. The next thing I know, I’ve dropped a $100 big ones because Oreck’s foe, we’ll call him Arthur Allan – he goes by the initials AA – is a teetotaler who got the proper amount of Zs the night before the big fight.

And come fight night, Oreck is fighting like a man who hasn’t had an ounce of sleep and just finished a session of quail hunting with the Veep. AA Allan gets the nod after the final bell, and the fight is then dissected by the pundits. They scrutinize the Compubox numbers, and then offer their semi-educated guesses why AA Allan came away the winner. And not being Paris Hilton or Kate Moss, the pundits have no way of knowing that on this night, Oreck had a snow cone’s chance in hell to come out on top.

So this is why I don’t squander my hard-earned cash by betting on boxers. This time, however, I’m going to make an exception. I’m going to go out on a limb here, and say that Jeff Lacy is going to beat Joe Calzaghe on March 4.

And I’m not going to share my reasoning for picking Lacy in the battle of undefeated super middleweights by delving into technical comparisons between the two fighters.

I won’t attempt to find opponents for each fighter who fight in similar styles, and then extrapolate from there based on how Lacy and Calzaghe handled those foes.

I won’t try to discern a foe from Lacy’s list of 21 victims who most resembles the 33-year-old Welshman, Calzaghe. Nor will I scan the list of 40 men who Calzaghe has bested, and try to find one that most mimics the attributes of Lacy, the 28-year-old Floridian power puncher. Instead, I’m basing my choice on a gut instinct informed by a hunch.

This is the same anti-scientific methodology I used when picking up a few shares of XM and Sirius. My gut tells me, based on feedback I’ve heard from users, that satellite radio is here to stay and that sector can be compared to the infancy of cable.

Here’s my hunch: I think Lacy is going to beat Calzaghe because Calzaghe hasn’t fought anyone in the same ballpark as Lacy with a comparable package of speed/power/hunger. Calzaghe has had the opportunities to sign on the dotted line with fighters of equal merit. An Enquirer’s worth of rumors have been printed about possible Calzaghe foes since 1998. But always, there have been stumbling blocks why the Welshman hasn’t stood toe-to-toe with the best and brightest in and around 160-175 pounds. It was always something.

The first major test foe that never came to fruition was Roy Jones, back in the late spring of 1999. The Italian Stallion himself started the rumor ball rolling when he said, in April 1996, “I have a dream that I can take on and beat Roy Jones Jr.” It didn’t happen. The impediments? The usual suspects. Money. The site. Nobody blamed Calzaghe or his pop Enzo for this one not coming to fruition. RJJ’s distaste for going overseas, where he felt he would get jobbed on a decision, was well documented.

It looked like Calzaghe might be gearing up for a US invasion in January 2000, when he was preparing for a fight with Brit David Starie on the Tyson/Julius Francis-topped card: “Now I want the glory – and the money,” he said.

To Calzaghe, that meant Omar Sheika.

Yikes.

OK, you might argue, Sheika had only one loss on his ledger at the time, against 21 wins. But the lone loss was the Brit pushover Tony Booth (28-44-7). That appearance gave Calzaghe promoter Frank Warren all the appraisal time he needed to decide that Sheika was a worthy opponent for his man Calzaghe. The money came. As for glory, well, Calzaghe did look good dropping Sheika.

After Sheika, Warren and the Calzaghes didn’t make the Jones fight, the ultimate glory gatherer, top priority. Instead, they tabbed Richie Woodhall as Calzaghe’s next foe. That fight did indeed make perfect business sense in the UK. Woody had had a 1½ year run as WBC super middle champion before dropping the strap to Markus Beyer in Oct. 1999. Could Calzaghe have made more money elsewhere? Probably. Could he have draped himself in more glory fighting someone other than Woodhall? Absolutely. But it looked like fight that would prove Calzaghe’s confidence in himself would be in the making after he beat Woodhall on Dec. 16, 2000.

Roy Jones, who weighed 173½ when he beat Eric Harding on Sept. 9, 2000, was making noise about dropping a few pounds and making a run at some super middle belts. That made sense, since he’d cleaned out the best and brightest at the 175 mark. Calzaghe seemed excited at the proposition of proving himself against the best fighter in the world, RJJ. "It's the ultimate fight for me,” Calzaghe told The Associated Press. "Roy Jones is one of the best in the world, pound-for-pound, and that's the sort of opponent you need to prove you're a great fighter.” Calzaghe also hinted that it was getting too hard for him to make 168, so maybe he would gain a few pounds to make it happen with Roy if Roy didn’t want to diet. But Jones didn’t drop down, instead continuing his OCD-level cleaning of the division. He hammered out Derrick Harmon, Julio Gonzalez, Glen Kelly and Clinton Woods, which brought him to Sept. 2002. And  Calzaghe didn’t head for the all-you-can eat chip shops, or whatever they have over there. He instead occupied himself with fights that certainly did make him money, but as for the aforementioned hunt for glory…

Mario Veit, another super middle with a 30-0 record, came next. But his record was padded with stiffs and he had nothing that could likely hurt Calzaghe. In other words, he was a perfect little risk/decent reward opponent chosen by Warren. Coming into this fight, the pundits were making more noise about Joe needing to come to America to make an indelible mark on the sport and maximize his stature and legacy. Barry McGuigan, the former featherweight titlist, weighed in: “To get the right kind of sparring I believe he needs to head to America. I know he is reluctant to leave the close-knit Valleys community. That can be a powerful force, but Joe has come as far as he can in present circumstances. His future is in America. He should take his father Enzo with him. There is no need to split that training arrangement. They would both benefit from exposure to a more intense boxing culture, the kind they can find only in the States.” McGuigan would know. He exploded in the States and cemented his legacy with his 15 round classic Vegas battle with Steve Cruz, named the fight of the year in 1986 by The Ring. Warren knew the yellow brick road aimed to America, and promised JC that they’d have something set by summer 2001. Didn’t happen that way…

Calzaghe smashed Veit (TKO1) on April 28, 2001 and had some momentum going for a run at States and the attendant popularity boost. So who'd Warren and the Calzaghes choose to capitalize on that momentum? Jones, right?

Nope.

Or how ‘bout Daruisz Michaelczewski, the Polish-born light heavy king? Because, remember, Calzaghe had talked about how hard it was to make 168?

Nope.

Why, the braintrust chose none other than Will “Kid Fire” McIntyre. Hacine Cherifi, who at least was a gamer, and James Butler, the notorious Harlem Hammer, were also in the running. But the least threatening and least powerful option was instead chosen.

You starting to detect a theme here, readers? Me too.

At the time, Calzaghe didn’t mitigate the weak choice of opposition. He could have talked about the difficulty of finding an agreeable catch-weight for the bigger-named opposition out and about. Instead, he talked about staking a claim for himself on our pound-for-pound lists. By taking on Will McIntyre, a man who had performed absolutely disgracefully in a fight for a bubblegum machine title against Dana Rosenblatt a year earlier. That’s how you want to prove your mastery in the sport?

Readers, remember that theme we talked about last paragraph? Same thing happened this time around. Warren couldn’t come to terms with Antwun Echols, a vastly superior opponent in credibility and talent, than McIntyre. Kid Fire himself was surprised to get the chance, after his stinkeroo on ESPN2 against Rosenblatt. He didn’t have much better luck this time, Calzaghe doused the Fire in the fourth on Oct. 13, 2001.

But again, there was momentum, and the smart money said that would propel Calzaghe to cross the ocean and make his mark on our bigger stage. After all, Showtime was building him up, and he’d built up four KO wins in a row. For a guy with constant elbow and hand woes, that was some stretch.

David Reid, the Olympian from Philly, was the latest rumored opponent. He’d already been damaged by Trinidad, but was climbing back up the ladder, and was moving up in weight. After he was done away with, Bernard Hopkins was supposedly next on the To Do list. Didn’t happen.

Yes, theme spotters, you are correct. Same crap, different diaper.

But Showtime, it was said, was keen (hey, I’m starting to write like those UK scribes now after poring over all the clips to assemble this overview) to bring Calzaghe to our supersized shores, but not until spring 2002. So another steppingstone fight was set up by warren and Co. They chose Charles Brewer, a former IBF champ who was 5-3 in his last eight fights and had been KOd by Echols the previous year. To be fair, The Hatchet was highly regarded in the division, which was not well stocked with top level merch.

But, was Brewer THE GUY if you were truly about challenging yourself, determining your true spot on the pound-for-pound lists, if you really wanted to shut up the yappers who thought you were full of it when you crowed about being the pound-for-pound best?

What’s your guess, theme spotters? In no way, shape, or form? Me too.

But there was an excuse, sorry, an explanation for the delay in JC’s US debut. It seemed that Showtime’s camera equipment for any boxing showcast were instead being deployed in Salt Lake City for the Olympics. That was the story, anyway.

Points for originality, definitely.

On to Brewer. The bout was set for Feb. 9th, 2002. Unfortunately for the pound-for-pound contender, the flu interfered. Calzaghe postponed the clash until April 20th. There was no fly in the ointment this time, as Calzaghe stayed flu-free, and the Welshman took a UD12 win from Brewer.

Time for Hopkins! Right?

‘Wrongo reindeer,’ as my high school senior year math teacher Mr. Roberts used to say when I paraded my “prowess” algebraic prowess.

Negotiations took place and Warren said at the time that he thought a deal could be reached.

Wrongo reindeer, Frank!

It’s not by accident that English promoter Frank Warren has left his peers behind and risen to the top of that nation’s heap among fight game impresarios.

He’s shrewd, and cunning and charming when he wants and/or needs to be. And since late 1996, he’s used all those qualities while steering Joe Calzaghe’s ship. A capable captain, Warren has been. After all, Calzaghe’s made more than enough to retire on, and provide for him and his extended family. Calzaghe, the best-known Welsh fighter of the last 30 years, earned those funds fighting opposition that can charitably be described as “solid.”

I could go on, but we’re in the 2100 word range and your eyes may be glazing over. But we, you and I, must finish this project. After all, we’re only up to 2002. There’s still Tocker Pudwill to assess and who could forget Mger Mkrtchian, the pride of Armenia, who tussled with Calzaghe in 2004. So, in Part II, we’ll delve into those other immortals that are the Foes of Joe, and hear from the best boxing analysts in the world with their take on Calzaghe, his prospects against Lacy and why it is that he’s never jumped the pond to the States for that one career-defining bout.

(End of Part I)

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