Friday, August 14, 2009

Right Here, Right Now

In happier times, Jeff "Left Hook" Lacy had a championship belt and the boxing world was at his feet.

The great fight writer, Jimmy Cannon, once described boxing as “the red light district of sports.” With that in mind, it can easily be said that Jeff Lacy has seen the best and the worst of that seedy neighborhood.

After a successful amateur career that saw him compete in the 2000 Olympic Games, Lacy burst onto the professional scene eight years ago. He was a darling of the Showtime network as many of his early bouts were telecast on their airwaves. Lacy's style was well-suited to the rigors of the pro game and it seemed he was scoring one highlight-reel knockout after another as he blazed to certain stardom.

And Lacy did meet with much success. After 16 victories he won the vacant IBF super middleweight title in 2004 and by the end of the next year he had already defended that belt four times.

For Jeff Lacy the sky seemed to be the limit. He had appeared on nearly every television network that still broadcast boxing on a regular basis and he even appeared in an ESPN television commercial. It was thought that with the careful guidance of Shelly Finkel, Jim Wilkes and Gary Shaw that Lacy would be the new face of boxing and that he would develop into a crossover star capable of carrying the beleaguered sport of boxing on his thick shoulders.

But it wasn't to be.

In March of 2006, Lacy was matched against the undefeated WBO titlist Joe Calzaghe in Manchester, England. It was a super middleweight clash for the ages as it pitted two undefeated belt-holders in an international unification fight that would answer the burning question of who reigned supreme at 168-pounds.

Lacy suffered in his twelve rounds against Joe Calzaghe. It was the beginning of a fall from which he has yet to fully recover.

For Lacy it turned out to be a disaster from the start. He was battered from pillar to post by the much more experienced, better schooled and supremely confident Welshman.

After the first round, Calzaghe sat on the stool in his corner, looked at his father and trainer Enzo and said of Lacy, “He ain't shit.”

Calzaghe then went out for the next eleven rounds and literally boxed circles around Lacy. He bloodied Lacy, battered his face to the point where it was a swollen mess and then decked him in the twelfth and final round. Calzaghe fired over one thousand punches, destroyed Lacy's aura of invincibility and annexed his world title all in one fell swoop.

Lacy was promptly stamped “damaged goods” and shipped back to the USA a shell-shocked loser unable to come to grips with the reality of what had so quickly happened.

And ever since, Lacy has been struggling to get back.

In subsequent fights he hasn't been the same pugilist he was prior to meeting the “Pride of Wales”. In his first comeback fight his doctor said "He tore the rotator cuff in his shoulder ninety-seven percent from the bone.” Lacy then had to endure a year-long layoff to allow the the career threatening injury to heal after surgery.

Comeback wins in bouts against fringe contenders Peter Manfredo, Jr and Epifanio Mendoza were unimpressive as Lacy appeared shaky and at times very vulnerable. His punches didn't seem to have the same punishing effect anymore and his nickname “Left Hook” no longer seemed appropriate either.

Lacy lands his signature punch against former "The Contender" reality show participant Peter Manfredo, Jr. However, Lacy's win did little to silence the skeptics.

In November 2008 he dropped a lackluster 12-round unanimous decision to former Olympic teammate and one-time middleweight champion Jermain Taylor. Lacy managed a slight rebound in April of this year with a too-close for comfort majority-decision win over Otis Griffin.

But for Jeff Lacy, nothing has been the same since the March night in Manchester when Calzaghe soundly thrashed him. And ever since that night, Lacy has been engaged in a crusade to elevate his status to its former promise. He figures that tomorrow's fight against Roy Jones, Jr., which will take place at the Gulf Coast Arena in Biloxi, Mississippi, will be his chance to get back all that he has lost.

The years and the career have gone by very quickly for Lacy. Now age 32, and with a record of 25-2, 17KOs with 1ND he must show himself and the public that he can defeat the 40-year-old Jones who, earlier this year, was similarly taken to the woodshed by Calzaghe. It was a fight after which many called for Jones to retire.

“You're only as old as you feel and I feel young,” says Lacy of his mindset. “I feel if I had to put a number on it, I feel 23. I feel like, you know, it's just it's mental problems that I've been dealing with. When you're a mental person you deal with things a little bit differently. And now I'm coming around to being able to understand the business of boxing and understanding it a little bit better so I can deal with it. And that's what you've been seeing.”

In a clash of former Olympic teammates, a listless Lacy dropped a 12-round decision to Jermain Taylor.

After the shocking defeat at the hands of Calzaghe, Lacy began to question everything and he viewed most everyone with a very suspicious eye. It's a time that he chooses not to talk about. His personal relationships in boxing were all strained to the breaking point and he trusted no one. He eventually stopped returning telephone calls to all of his long-time confidants. Promoter Gary Shaw was ousted as eventually were managers and advisors Shelly Finkel and Jim Wilkes and even trainer Dan Birmingham.

After scrapping all that he had ever known, Lacy managed to get his affairs into some order. He threatened to retire and said he was retired before he faced Jermain Taylor last year but he later acquiesced. He went through a period of being hooked up with Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions before turning to the self promotion route. Then former trainer Roger Bloodworth was brought on board. After years of turmoil. Lacy has righted his floundering ship and says his mission is now a simple one.

“To find out who's the best,” he says. That's the reason we get involved with boxing. That's the reason why we do this.”

Lacy single-handedly managed to get Jones to agree to fight him. He invited Jones to sit ringside at his fight against Griffin and after he was declared the victor he grabbed a microphone and in front of an arena full of people he called out Jones to fight him. Jones explained that “I couldn't say no,” and now the two will face off tomorrow night in a fight that could likely mean curtains for the loser.

“This fight is a very, very interesting match-up between the both of us and for the boxing fans that really want to see this fight,” said Lacy earlier this week. “Roy Jones, I think he made the biggest mistake by taking this fight. I'm very serious and I'm putting it all on the line on Saturday night. I'm getting choked up because I'm serious about it.”

In an effort to drive pay-per-view sales and drum up interest, Roy Jones, Jr. decided to change his outfit - and his persona.

The fight has been named “Hook City” and at pre-fight press conferences Jones has shown up dressed in a Captain Hook costume. Jones, a decent promoter in his own right, said “I was insulted that Jeff Lacy would think he has a better left hook than me. So we gonna' see who Captain Hook really is.”

For Lacy, it's a chance to fight a fellow Floridian on a pay-per-view show that is gaining some hefty coverage in the mainstream press. Jones hails from Pensacola while Lacy calls St. Petersburg home and the fight is expected to perform well in the south where both men have fought many times.

“I always followed Roy Jones. I mean he's a guy that you could grow to love in and outside the ring,” says Lacy of the man that he claims he grew up watching and who he looked up to. “He's a gentleman outside the ring and he goes in there and takes care of business inside the ring. So yeah, how could I not like him?”

But that admiration hasn't stopped Lacy from whittling himself into magnificent physical condition. He has a body that appears as though it was carved from a slab of mahogany and in a show for the press earlier this week he demonstrated he is on weight and is a very muscular 175-pounds. When asked if he thought a knockout win was a possibility for him, he didn't hesitate with an answer.

“There's a chance. I mean, I'm coming to win,” he declared. “I'm coming to win the fight if it's by knockout or if it's by decision. I will be the winner in that fight. I'm in great shape and I'm coming to fight. Roy knows it, everybody else knows it. If you've watched me fight before – I bring it – no matter what. Come Saturday night it's going to be a brawl.”

Lacy hopes to return to form on Saturday night against Jones. Another loss could spell the end for his boxing career.

If Lacy should lose to Jones it's difficult to see a viable future for him. He's already been relegated to fighting off television against top-30 types. He would be viewed as little more than fodder for young guys on the way up and for existing belt-holders looking to bolster their resumes with a name.

“This is a serious fight for me,” says Lacy in an understatement. “I've been taking this fight very seriously. Roy Jones is an eight-time world champion. I'm very up for this fight and that's what it takes for me. It's hard to get up for a fighter that don't really pose a stiff challenge. Roy Jones poses that challenge and that's the reason why I'm in the best shape of my life. On Saturday night I'm in there to knock some heads off and that's what I'm coming to do.”

So for Jeff Lacy, like the lyrics in the Van Halen song “Right Now” - there is no tomorrow. It's right here, right now.

August 2009

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