LAS VEGAS (March 7, 2006) – A 33-year-old overnight sensation in his 19th world title fight reminded us of why sometimes it’s good to be wrong. Joe Calzaghe shook up the landscape with his plus-perfect demolition of Jeff Lacy, from the mythical “pound-for-pound” list to the very core of boxing. He’s helping to make “championships” meaningless.
I’ve been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again, I hope. The late Pat Putnam used to tell me, and I paraphrase the great man, “We get paid to make picks, not to make them right.”
Thus, instead of apologizing for selecting Lacy to knock out Calzaghe, I take solace in the knowledge that one of the best things about all sports is that brilliant experts like myself are not always right. That’s what makes it so exciting, not knowing the ending. Go to a performance of “Hamlet.” I guarantee you that he and Ophelia will not live happily ever after.
Okay, Calzaghe took most of the drama out of what was supposed to be a two-sided battle, turning it into a brilliant solo performance more worthy of Carnegie Hall than the Manchester Evening News Arena. He also made poor Lacy look like the violinist about whom the critic said “he played Beethoven and Beethoven lost.”
The problem, as usual, is deciphering whether it was Lacy being terrible or Calzaghe making him look that way. The rush to judgment that led us to perhaps overvalue Lacy could compound the error by giving the Welshman too much credit for the magnificent cadenza he played upon the neophyte’s head.
Then, so what if we are wrong again, and allow the undefeated Calzaghe a place in the pantheon that could disappear in his next performance? But I don’t think so.
Yes, Lacy was boy against man. His trainer of the year, Dan Birmingham, would say there wasn’t much you can do when the fighter doesn’t follow either Plan A or Plan B. But it’s very difficult when the fighter doesn’t have a clue on how to break an arm-hold. Every time Lacy got within range, Calzaghe would grab Left Hook’s left arm and tie him up. Game, set and slaughter. Lacy would concede he could never find his “rhythm.” It was tattooed on his face, round after round after round and only his will kept him going back for more.
I was one of many who thought Lacy was “special.” Maybe that heart and his power will one day prove us correct. But at 28, it seems a little bit late to learn how to box and his previously unbeaten pro record now seems as manufactured as Calzaghe’s did before the Manchester Massacre.
Calzaghe, and not only Americans thought he was an underdog, his countrymen also had Lacy as favorite, was believed to be one of promoter Frank Warren’s “protected” fighters. He never wandered too far from home – the excuse was a fear of flying – and every time he seemed about to make a meaningful match, something happened.
Warren has done a magnificent job with his fighters in bringing them carefully to the top, then making a lot of money for them (and himself, of course) by matching them gingerly. But Calzaghe, finally given a chance to show his wares in a major contest, showed that protected or not, he flat-out knows how to fight – though the same Brits who made him an underdog on his home field are now saying he’s the greatest of the great.
He was brilliant in his geometry. He kept Lacy at jab’s length and rattled in combination after combination. Body, head, head, body. The American’s corner let it continue on the theory that just one punch could change things. At this level, I do not disagree. I do not feel Lacy will be “ruined” by the physical beating. Psychologically, the man who escaped the streets of St. Petersburg may face greater problems now that his confidence has been shattered.
Calzaghe, meanwhile, could go on to wipe out the rest of the state of the Florida. He immediately expressed an interest in fighting Antonio Tarver, who meets fellow “dinosaur” (as Bob Arum calls them) Bernard Hopkins on June 10. Tarver, who not long ago was musing about going up to heavyweight before taking on a 41-year-old middleweight, would not mind defending his light-heavyweight championship (the real one) against another smaller guy in the 168-pound Calzaghe.
I’m not sure the Tarver, who will be 38 in November and is in decline, gets by Hopkins, who has already declined. I’d make Calzaghe a big favorite over him. Then the Welshman could also call out someone smaller – the winner of the Jermain Taylor-Winky Wright middleweight title bout, which figures to be Wright (naturally, I could be wrong). Wright’s aptitude and skills, learned from Birmingham, are night and day compared to his Tampa Bay buddy Lacy, but pound-for-pound, he would be giving away too many pounds against Calzaghe.
After Lacy, Tarver and Wright, Calzaghe could go after Glencoffe Johnson and, if he gets that far, maybe convince Roy Jones Jr. to finally fight him.
And he could leave all his belts at home. There seems no longer much intrinsic value to world championships. Proliferation of belts, and weight divisions, have diluted the very idea. Calzaghe doesn’t have a full claim to the super-middleweight title: there’s a couple of other belt-wearers out there, notably the undefeated Dane, Mikkel Kessler. Calzaghe is certainly not the “undisputed” 168-pound king, but who cares? At the highest levels, maybe only “pound-for-pound” should count.
I remember Pernell Whitaker, before fighting Julio Cesar Chavez, who was trying to become the first Mexican to win titles in four different weight classes, saying he didn’t even know where his WBC welterweight belt was, “probably in some closet.”
“If he wants it, I’ll give it to him,” he said. “I’m interested only in my ‘pound-for-pound’ title so I don’t even care about the judges. The whole world will see who the real ‘pound-for-pound’ champion is.”
(Thus, Whitaker didn’t mind so much that he was given only a “draw” against Chavez, certainly not as much as I did since I had bet real, undisputed money on him.)
It’s the same thing these days with Floyd Mayweather Jr. He doesn’t need any phony alphabet, or two-bit magazine, to dress him in belts and titles. He just needs to fight the best out there and keep winning.
Obviously, Calzaghe is too big for him. But he is now a player in the only ratings that seem to matter any more. I didn’t have him in my top 25 (not even 26th), which says more about me than about him. I had Lacy 16th. Calzaghe said he hoped us brilliant experts would move him into the top ten.
Considering the loss of Juan Manuel Marquez over the weekend, there is an opening. Marquez was No. 7 on my list, but I’m going to move Calzaghe even higher, ahead of Rafael Marquez into the sixth slot behind, in order, Mayweather, Wright, Manny Pacquiao, Marco Antonio Barrera and Jose Luis Castillo. I round out my top ten with No. 8 Diego Corrales, followed by Ricky Hatton and Erik Morales (I am quite lenient with losers when they are defeated by top opposition).
And frankly, as long as the top guys fight the top guys, who cares if there’s a belt on the line. Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe some TV network gives a damn.
FOUL PLAY: It was an accident, but so are most headbutts and when unlucky Kirk Johnson, inadvertently tripped when Javier Mora stepped on his left foot, tore up his right knee upon falling, he should never have been declared loser by TKO in the seventh round on the Worst Damn Decision last Friday night in California. Johnson was ahead on two cards, even on the third and, in the seventh round, when the accident occurred was scored, he would have been ahead on all three. As in the case when an accidental butt causes a fight to be stopped because of a cut, it seems rather logical that this bout should have gone to the scorecards where Johnson would have won. But John Hornewer, Johnson’s attorney, said there seemed to be a rush to clear the way for the main event featuring Sam Soliman, and he said a protest had been filed with the California commission. At the very least, the bout should be changed to “no contest” or “no decision.” The worst news for Johnson, whose only losses were to John Ruiz and Vitali Klitschko, is that he’ll be on another extended injury leave – from six to nine months, said Hornewer, for the dislocated right knee. Johnson will be 34 in June….He had Mora almost out in the third round, but the Mexican rebounded and hurt the coasting Canadian in the fifth and also won the sixth. But Johnson seemed to have gained his second wind and was in charge….It didn’t help that the soles of his shoes were wet from all the water in the ring, especially in Mora’s corner. It’s about time commissions outlawed all the painted commercials on the canvas, a clear and present danger to fighters….Funny, it’s okay for promoters to make an extra buck by putting the boxers at risk, but when the pugs try to get a few extra shekels by tattooing ads on their backs, it’s unfair.
Hornewer, watching Lacy struggle under Dan Birmingham, the man who trains Winky Wright, was reminded by something hall of famer Mickey Duff once said: “I’ve known more great fighters who’ve made great trainers than great trainers who’ve made great fighters.”…Maybe not as funny as what Duff said about his height-challenged countryman, Frank Maloney – “He’s so suspicious he’d walk under a black cat” – but with a bit more wisdom.
PENTHOUSE: Joe Calzaghe, who when his father and trainer, Enzo, suggested maybe keeping away the last couple of rounds, felt compelled to try and close the show. He very much is a real fighter.
OUTHOUSE: HBO, and its spokesperson, Jim Lampley, for letting the cat out of the bag Saturday night in the second round of that ugly matchup between Miguel Cotto and Gianluca Branco. During the second round, Lampley reported that Calzaghe had beaten Lacy, thereby spoiling the ending for West Coast viewers who were to get Showtime’s tape delay of the Manchester fight later. You can’t tell me that this wasn’t a blatant attempt to hurt Showtime’s ratings, though I doubt if that would have been Lampley’s intent. He is a house man, though….The 35-year-old light-hitting Branco did not deserve a fight with Cotto – I don’t care if his only previous loss was to Arturo Gatti. It was also his only previous fight outside Europe. Of course, HBO wouldn’t allow Mayweather to fight Branco when the Italian was No. 1 in the WBC….Cotto seems to be on an Italian diet. He next faces Paul Malignaggi in the Garden on June 10 in a pay-per-view show that goes up against the sickly Tarver-Hopkins p-p-viewer. Then he could face the winner of the Carlos Baldomir-Gatti 147-pound welterweight title bout, and if I’m not wrong, that should be Gatti….This shows exactly why “titles” are so meaningless. Gatti was battered by Mayweather worse than Lacy was by Calzaghe, yet he can be the “real” champion if he gets past Baldomir while his conqueror must be content facing Zab Judah. At the end of the day, who’s the best welterweight of this group? HBO apparently only allows C-plus fighters in its tournaments….Lou DiBella turned down a shot at 154-pound titleholder Roman Karmazin for Ike Quartey, preferring to wait for the oft-injured Vernon Forrest to heal.
So they’re going to take the Tarver-Hopkins show on the road and one of the places the press tour will visit is St. Petersburg/Tampa. The contestants will fit in real well with the shuffleboard set….Hopkins began his career getting decisioned as a light-heavyweight, then kept to the middleweight division until now. Bookends, anyone?…Of course, Tarver will have been off eight months by the time of the old-timers day festivities. He was off seven months from his second-round knockout of Roy Jones Jr. until he lost to Glencoffe Johnson….Tarver chose Hopkins instead of Lacy. Wonder what he’s thinking about that decision now….This is one of those rare times when I’ll be rooting for Bob Arum, well not so much for him, but for his Cotto-Malignaggi show.
DIS AND THAT: Yoel Judah is saying his baby, Zab, doesn’t have to do any interviews before his unearned April 8 with Floyd Mayweather Jr. “Let Floyd do it all, he’s making all the money.” So whose fault is that? Who lost to Carlos Baldomir?…Judah’s side, which includes Don King, is getting $1 million for the bout. Guess Judah will be making somewhere between $250,000 and $500,000….Wonder if King is going to dock Ricardo Mayorga for the promoter’s doctors’ bill. Mayorga began the pushing match on the Oscar De La Hoya tour that resulted in King being shoved off the stage and suffering a painful rib injury. As he said years ago when Mitch Green chased him into the kitchen at Madison Square Garden, “This is getting to be a rough business.”…Victor Darchinyan, one of those 112-pound champions, can obviously punch, but I’d keep him away from Jorge Arce, who not only can hit, but can duck….Adrian Monk caught the bad guy, but we knew that before the show started, didn’t we? Still, Tony Shaloub is a lot more entertaining than listening to the just-as-predictable Brian Kenny or the repetitive Teddy Atlas.