Friday, February 9, 2007


This past Saturday night in Manchester, England, young Jeff Lacy was handed a brutal, twelve round beating by long reigning 168 pound champion Joe Calzaghe. Calzaghe is an undefeated, seasoned professional and the longest reigning champion in boxing. The question many now ask is whether Jeff Lacy, who had less fights than Calzaghe had knockouts, will be able to recover from the sustained punishment that was inflicted upon him. If history is an example, and if the cases of Davey Moore, David Reid and Fernando Vargas are any guide, we may already have the answer.

There is a phenomenon in boxing that I call "The Davey Moore Syndrome" which I define as: "A circumstance in which a young, lesser experienced prospect or titlist is matched against a top quality, more experienced fighter or champion too early in his career. In the course of the match, the younger fighter absorbs tremendous punishment which robs him of strength, a future ability to absorb punishment and confidence. As a result, the young fighter is damaged from that point forward and never reaches his full potential".

In the early 1980's, Davey Moore was a young, promising, "can't miss" prospect from the Bronx in New York City that seemingly had it all. Looks, charm, a winning smile, a body like an Adonis - and he was capable in the ring. In only his ninth pro bout, at age 22, Moore won the WBA Jr. Middleweight title from Tadashi Mihara in Tokyo, Japan. Moore was a good puncher and he went on to defend his title three times, all by knockout, before being matched with Roberto Duran in June 1983. By this time Moore was only 24 years old and he had an inexperienced record of 12-0 (9)KO. Duran was thought to be a washed up veteran and well beyond his best days as a former Lightweight and Welterweight champion.

The fight took place on Duran's 32nd birthday at Madison Square Garden before a near record standing room only crowd of just over twenty thousand. Moore was a 5-2 betting favorite at fight time and it was expected that he would shine against Duran. From the sound of the first bell, Duran schooled Moore is every facet of the game. Duran put on a brutal clinic of bodypunching, infighting and a masterful display of combinations. After eight rounds, the young Davey Moore was beaten almost beyond recognition. His right eye was swollen shut and he had blood pouring from his mouth. Moore's corner and referee Ernesto Magana allowed the fight to continue until 2:02 of the eighth round, and just before the fight was called off, former Light Heavyweight great Jose Torres could be seen yelling and pleading from ringside for the slaughter to be stopped. It was that bad.

Davey Moore would never be the same again. The promise and the anticipation of what would have been was beaten out of him by Duran's "Hands of Stone". Moore would stay out of the ring for nearly a year before coming back from the Duran fight and over the course of the next four years he fought only ten times, winning six and losing four while being knocked out twice. He never reached the heights that were predicted for him and he never obtained fame and fortune. Moore never won another world title, and by age 29 he was dead from a tragic freak accident.

In 1996, David Reid won the Olympic Gold Medal representing the USA in Atlanta Georgia. Reid, who was nicknamed "The American Dream" turned professional in 1997 and in a move that was unprecedented at the time he fought his professional debut on HBO. America Presents, a now defunct promotional company, signed him to a multi-year contract purported to be worth $14 million. At age 25, with only eleven pro bouts and less than two years professional boxing experience, David Reid won the WBA Jr. Middleweight title from Laurent Boudouani in Atlantic City, New Jersey. David Reid had defensive flaws and a droopy left eyelid that tended to swell when hit. However, he was personable, had cleaned up his life from dealing drugs on the streets of Philadelphia and his backers looked past the flaws and figured David Reid was the certain future of boxing.

After making two defenses of his title, Reid was matched against Felix Trinidad in March 2000. The fight was held outdoors at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and it was a blockbuster financial success for all of those that were involved. Trinidad had recently moved up to the Jr. Middleweight division after a long stretch as champion at 147 pounds. The fight for Reid was a disaster. Although he split the competitive early rounds with Trinidad, his inexperience began to show through and Trinidad fleeced him soundly. Reid received a pummeling from Trinidad and he reeled around the ring like a child lost in a department store before losing a twelve round unanimous decision and his title.

David Reid would never be the same again. He came back eight months after the Trinidad loss against a clubfighter who had nearly as many losses as wins and Reid could only eke out a ten round unanimous decision. Reid was matched against two more fighters with sub-novice records and ability. Again, he fought without confidence and again he could only manage to squeeze out unanimous ten round decisions in bouts that were much closer than they should have been.

In November 2001, only 20 months after the Trinidad debacle, Reid was matched with a full-time policeman and part-time fighter named Sam Hill. The fight took place in Elizabeth, Indiana and it would turn out to be Reid's last professional fight. He showed none of the qualities that made him an Olympic and world champion and he was stopped inside nine rounds. David Reid's pro career that lasted less than five years and by age 28 he was seen as damaged goods, his ability seemed to have evaporated overnight and he was out of boxing.
Many now see the same issues with Fernando Vargas as they saw with Davey Moore two decades ago. Vargas turned pro at age 19 and by age 21 he had already won a world title. At age 22 Vargas was seen as the next star of boxing and he was matched against the vastly more experienced Felix Trinidad who had been Welterweight champion for nearly six years before moving to the Jr. Middleweight division and winning another world championship. By the time Vargas fought him, Trinidad had engaged in 18 prior title fights, 14 of which he won by knockout. It was a competitive match and the young Vargas certainly had his moments, but most now agree that Fernando Vargas has never been the same fighter since the night that Felix Trinidad beat him senseless and knocked him out in the twelfth round.

Fernando Vargas would never be the same again. He laid off for several months after the Trinidad loss and his first comeback fight came against Wilfredo Rivera, a light punching former welterweight from Puerto Rico. Vargas won the fight, but in the second round he was decked by Rivera and hurt badly. Vargas went on to win a vacant world title against his former sparring partner Shibata Flores in his next fight, but he appeared rusty, slow and unsteady on his feet. Vargas was then matched with Oscar De La Hoya in a gritty fight and he again took a sustained pounding before being stopped in eleven rounds. Since the De La Hoya loss, Vargas has limped along in his career which has been tainted by a positive steroid test. Vargas has also had a serious back injury, a thyroid gland problem and has had severe difficulty making weight for his bouts.

Vargas's impressive hand speed and snappy punches was never again seen and he was certainly a different beast from the young prodigy that had decisioned big name fighters like Ike Quartey and Winky Wright. Many liken his hand speed now to a man that is punching underwater. Most recently, Vargas was matched with Shane Mosley and was stopped in the tenth round after he suffered a massive swelling that caused his left eye to close. Since the Trinidad loss over five years ago, Vargas has fought only eight times, winning six and being knocked out twice. Many within the boxing community quietly whisper that Fernando Vargas should now hang up his gloves.

The beating that Jeff Lacy endured against Joe Calzaghe has many of the same undertones and plot lines that befell Davey Moore, David Reid and Fernando Vargas. All young titlists, they were matched against a superior, more experienced opponents who robbed them of their titles and undefeated records. Ultimately, however, they lost their ring laurels and a whole lot more.

Will Jeff Lacy be able to reverse the trend?

March 2006

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