‘It was either me or him. That’s boxing’: Joe Calzaghe reflects on the most important win of his career and how it almost destroyed his opponent
It’s been 12 years since the fight that changed both fighters’ careers forever. They would each take very different trajectories after that night
It has been 12 years to the day since Joe Calzaghe claimed the most important win of his glittering career, and his eyes still light up at the very mention of the night. But the unbeaten former super-middleweight champion’s joy is tempered ever so slightly when he reflects on the devastating affect that night has had on his opponent, Jeff Lacy.
Calzaghe revealed to the Post that he held a reunion with his former foe just last year at his home in Newbridge, a small town in Caerphilly, south Wales and was sad to hear how the American’s life had unravelled since the night he was consummately outclassed by the Welshman.
Calzaghe, 45, said at that time he was struggling to gain respect from many in the boxing world after a series of underwhelming title defences, and it was the Lacy fight that propelled him to superstardom and the eventual fulfilling of his lifetime ambitions when he unified the super-middleweight division before conquering the boxing promised lands of Las Vegas and New York’s Madison Square Garden.
A post shared by Joe Calzaghe (@joe_calzaghe) on Mar 4, 2018 at 3:27am PST
He made the startling admission that just a week before the fight he was advised by a specialist that his chronically injured hand was in such bad condition, that he should withdraw from the fight.
“Bear in mind that was the biggest fight I’d trained for in my career,” Calzaghe said. “I was going to pull out. I’d hurt my hand and I went to Harley Street [to meet a specialist] and get it injected. I was told I can’t fight.”
It was devastating for the Welshman but far more than he feared Lacy, the formidable Florida fighter who had been pulling up trees across the Atlantic on his way to 21 straight wins, Calzaghe feared a blemish on his perfect record.
“Dad [Enzo Calzaghe, Joe’s trainer] told me: ‘You need to fight this fight or they’re gonna call you a chicken’. He said: ‘You’re gonna fight. You’d beat this guy with one hand!’
“Dad said this was going to be my easiest fight, but I thought, ‘What are you talking about? This guy is knocking everyone out.”
Enzo Calzaghe, a renowned judge of fighter, had seen something in Lacy: a way his son could prevail against a ferocious fighter that nobody in boxing gave him a hope of beating.
Calzaghe Snr was right. A week later, Joe gave a performance that is still often rated among the finest by a British fighter when he secured a unanimous points win over the shell-shocked Lacy, with all three judges in agreement that Calzaghe had totally overwhelmed the American.
Up to that point, Lacy was regarded in the US as a champion-in-waiting and his 21 wins, 17 coming by knockout, did little to dampen the hype surrounding the 28-year-old.
But instead of the launching of America’s latest world champion, the bout would prove to be the catalyst for Lacy’s life spinning out of control.
“Jeff came to Newbridge last year,” Calzaghe said. “I didn’t realise how my fight affected him. But he said he finished with his girlfriend, he finished up with his trainer. He said he hid in the house and sank into a really bad spiral of depression [after the defeat].
“He lost a lot [of fights], then he found God. He come over [to Wales] saying he had to find closure, so he met me for closure. It was lovely to speak to him.
“But at the time it was either me or him. That’s boxing.”
Calzaghe went on to claim career-defining wins over WBA and WBC champion Mikkel Kessler, the fearsome Bernard Hopkins and boxing great Roy Jones Jnr before calling it a day and claiming his place among the sport’s legends in the Boxing Hall of Fame.
But more importantly for him, the Lacy victory earned him the respect he felt he deserved.
“I think out of all of my wins it was the most relief,” said Calzaghe. “The euphoria, the buzz, and I was like, ‘I’ve finally shown what I can do’.
“It was the dynamics – going into that fight injured, I was the underdog, which I’d never been – I was always favourite. A lot of people expected me to lose, so you can imagine how sweet it was.
“In the press conference afterwards I was like: ‘Don’t ever doubt me again.’”
Meanwhile, a troubled Lacy fought on after the loss to Calzaghe. His 12 further professional contests yielded six wins and six losses. His last professional fight was a one-sided knockout loss to Cuban Sullivan Barrera at the age of 38 in 2015 at a casino resort in Mashantucket.
He was last heard of fighting on a white collar boxing exhibition bill at a leisure centre in Bristol, UK. He quit on his stool.
Joe Calzaghe was in Hong Kong to support the St. David’s Society of Hong Kong and Operation Breakthrough.