I’ve always been a boxing fan. I’m unsure how it came about as my father or other male members of my family had no interest in the sport.
At aged 10, for a primary school project I compiled a dossier on a fictional Tyson v Ali super-fight (including awful spelling and artwork). Even then though, I was always football first. Football training, local teams, Scottish Premier League, World Cup 98′.
It wasn’t until 2006 that one fight truly grabbed my attention and swung my allegiance permanently.
Joe Calzaghe had been a world champion since I could remember. The fast hands, the excellent footwork and everlasting cardio of the Welshman had impressed me. Up against Jeff Lacy though, he was a massive underdog, pitted against a man who was dubbed ‘the next Mike Tyson’.
For me, Calzaghe v Lacy marks the first time I remember following the build-up to a fight. Lewis v Rahman, Tyson v Savarese, Harrison v Chacon had all been fights I was excited to watch on the night but I’d never been interested in the press-conference or the weigh-in.
We had just moved house, I had just moved school and it was all change. I’d paid more attention to boxing as I spent less time out and about in my newest habitat. The internet had been a friend to me. I wasn’t a loner, don’t get confused, I was just settling in… honestly.
I remember making sure I watched the clips from the weigh-in. I placed such importance on the back story and the lead-up to the fight in order to avoid feeling left out. Lacy rocked up to the press-conference in an England shirt. Gary Shaw, his promoter, was waving St George’s flag at every opportunity! The American looked big, strong and confident at the weigh-in and I recall many thinking he would blow Calzaghe away.
Now, if I missed that and something wild happened, how would I ever cope?! This is the same obsessive behaviour I carry into most weekends even now.
For anyone who hasn’t seen this fight, it’s a must. Calzaghe was simply on a different planet that night in Manchester. He was 34 years old, was known as a ‘slapper’ (boxing version, not Saturday night in high-heels version) and had delicate hands which had plagued him his whole career.
What I loved about Calzaghe was his output. He threw an incredible number of shots with barely any single shots in an attack. The master of the flurry, just overwhelming opponents constantly over twelve rounds. He threw 1,006 punches that night, as a super-middleweight.
Now, I had seen boxers perform well. I had witnessed some big, scary knockouts. But this was different. I felt myself watching Calzaghe v Lacy and absorbing every round. I understood the game in a way I hadn’t before and could sense the patterns evolving. I started to think of the Calzaghe gameplan and how Lacy could adapt his to match the Welshman. I listened to the corners between rounds and began to wonder what I would say in their position. It all started to make sense to me as a sport. I can remember it vividly. Instead of watching men punching other men, it became a science that night.
Sugar Ray Leonard said following the fight, “Within two rounds, I was a Calzaghe supporter. I stood up infront of the TV shouting ‘Wow! Look at this guy!”.
Lacy plodded forward throughout, hunting Calzaghe down. He was cut by round four and his eyes started swelling grotesquely. He just couldn’t figure it out. Never knocked down before, Lacy was sent to the canvas in the last round and somehow managed to stumble across the finish line. It should have been stopped in my opinion, but it wasn’t the worst continued beating we have witnessed in recent years. Lacy looked bemused throughout the contest, just alone. Somehow, alone in a room full of 20,000 people screaming and cheering.
The scorecards read 119-105, 119-107 and 119-107.
Jeff Lacy would never be the same fighter again. Sad to see the shell of a man carrying on, after having his heart so badly damaged on the biggest stage. He fought on and has lost 6 times in total, most recently in January 2015.
Calzaghe went on to massive fights against Mikkel Kessler, Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. He retired with a record of 46-0, 32KO. BBC Sport recently released an article naming the Calzaghe v Lacy fight ‘the best performance from a British boxer’ and it would be hard to disagree. His legacy is much more than that night, but it’s the cornerstone of a career unblemished. One of the best Brits to ever lace up the gloves.
For me, it sparked the beginning of an obsession. Every weekend I would stay up late to watch fights across the globe. I would bet money on men like Pacquiao beating the De La Hoya’s and Hatton’s of the game and my friends would oblige me with a vague knowledge of their own.
Boxing takes up much of my time, whether reading online or writing at home. Attending events, sometimes interviewing fighters and following the sport across all forms of media.
I can’t forget where it made the transition from part-time hobby to spare time passion, it’s crystal clear: 04/03/2006 – Manchester.
Calzaghe v Lacy was it for me, I’m sure you all have a version of your own. As I venture into another year, it feels good to know where it started.