Tuesday, April 3, 2007


From left: Peter Manfredo, Jr. and Joe Calzaghe announcing their fight

In boxing as we know it today, all it takes to become a title challenger is to make an appearance on a reality television show, have a touching story and a photogenic family behind you, as well as the ability to garner a few Nielsen ratings points in the 18 to 35 year-old demographic.

And presto, the flesh peddlers will reward a young man with a title fight.

So as “The Contender”reality show television personality and relative novice Peter Manfredo, Jr. prepares to face WBO Super Middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe in Cardiff, Wales on Saturday night at Millenium Stadium he does so without ever having defeated a top-ranked fighter and with only two fights in the 168-pound division.

HBO boxing analyst Larry Merchant, in talking about fighters that are perceived to be unbeatable, once said so eloquently, “Their ain’t a horse than can’t be rode or a rider that can’t be throwed.” However, Peter Manfredo, Jr. and his braintrust deciding to challenge Joe Calzaghe is like the winner of the local chess club tournament deciding to take on Grandmaster Gary Kasparov in a winner take all match.

You must know there’s a reason why Manfredo is a 6-1 underdog at the betting parlors in the United Kingdom and around the world. Calzaghe is undefeated in 42 professional fights dating back to 1993 and has made 19 successful title defenses. Along the way, Calzaghe has defeated most of the major names in his division and has held his WBO title for nearly 10 years. He recently humiliated Jeff “Left Hook” Lacy in a unification fight that many experts figured he would lose. He is also the longest reigning champion the sport of boxing has and at age 35 he shows no signs of slowing down.

After all of these years at the top, it’s another day at the factory as “The Pride of Wales” goes about his work in blue-collar fashion. Calzaghe relishes the opportunity to prove the naysayers wrong again. Last week during a media conference call, he was matter of fact about his latest challenger from across the pond. “We chose Peter because he’s an exciting fighter, an improving fighter”, said Calzaghe. “He’s a big name, so regardless of how he performs in the fight, he’s got a big career ahead of him. But, like I said, this is my 20th defense. I’ve trained tremendously hard, and I’m looking forward to it.”

With his dark features and quick tongue, Calzaghe is overflowing with confidence and he claims his brittle hands haven’t been a problem during the training camp leading up to this fight. He just doesn’t seem worried about what might happen on Saturday. He’s philosophic about fighting and about his opponent and he has an attitude grounded in knowledge about the game and about himself. The stadium where the fight will be held is less than a five minute drive from his home and as of this week at least 35,000 tickets had been sold. It will be one of the largest indoor crowds ever assembled in Great Britain.

When asked if he feels any pressure about fighting in his hometown and putting his championship on the line for the 20th time he answers honestly. “Yes, obviously there’s pressure in every single title defense. But, I think pressure is a good thing. You know, one of my strengths is that I don’t take any fighter lightly. I take all of them very seriously indeed. But, Peter’s got a massive step-up and he’s a big underdog. He’s got a massive opportunity, an opportunity of a lifetime. I know what it’s like to be a challenger and to want to win. So we have to match that with the same intent and the same desire as if I were the challenger. And for this fight, I’m paid tremendously well. I trained very hard to go 12 hard rounds, if need be.”

Calzaghe gave an honest assessment of Manfredo, and also of himself, when asked for his opinion. “I think he’s a good fighter. He’s a solid fighter. I mean, he’s got a big heart. He’s a fighter and that makes him good. Obviously, fighting me is a big step up from the likes of Sergio Mora and Joey Spina. He’s definitely improving, but it’s the next step up for him. I’ve prepared for a tough fight and I’m ready for anything. I can’t afford to have an ‘I been there, done that’ attitude when I train for a title defense. A lot of people may think I’m getting a bit long in the tooth but I’m still leaving the bodies in the gym and fighters who are ten years younger than me behind in running. My hand speed is just as fast. It doesn’t get much bigger than this.”

Manfredo, of course, is best known for being the runner-up on “The Contender” reality show and for losing two close fights to the eventual show winner, Sergio “The Latin Snake” Mora. Manfredo was somewhat gnarly and ill-tempered during last week’s chat with reporters. But, arduous training camps, time spent away from home and mundane questioning have a tendency to bring that out in fighters. “The Pride of Providence” Rhode Island has a stunning facial resemblance to the great Rocky Marciano and was sporting the remnants of a black eye - evidence that he took his training for this fight very serious.

Manfredo has Sugar Ray Leonard in his corner as a special advisor as his regular trainer, Freddie Roach, is locked away in Puerto Rico preparing Oscar De La Hoya to fight Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Manfredo is a likable enough young man, but over the course of the past three years his opposition has been mainly comprised of other reality show participants who were all less than world beaters. He brings a record of 26-3 (12)KO and it’s tough to say just who the best fighter Manfredo ever defeated was. However, to his credit he looked sparkling in knocking out regional rivals Scott Pemberton and Joey Spina in his last two fights.

Clearly, this is the biggest fight Manfredo has even been involved with, but he shrugged off reporters’ suggestions that he may freeze up on Saturday night. He tried to come off as self-assured when asked how he feels about fighting outside the United States for the first time. A trace of uncertainty and trepidation could be heard in his voice when he claimed, “I’m very confident going into this fight. The pressure is definitely on him. I have no pressure. I mean, I’m going into his backyard in front of 35,000 people screaming his name. He’s been the longest reigning champion for almost ten years. He’s undefeated and hopefully all the pressure will be on him.”

Even Manfredo didn’t seem to believe that answer by the time he finished stumbling over the words.

Whatever the case, Peter Manfredo’s unlikely path to Saturday night in this era of boxing is certainly an interesting one. It makes for an entertaining television story, but Saturday night Peter Manfredo is in for an episode of reality television - the likes of which he’s never seen before.

April 2007

No comments: