Call this week “Joe Calzaghe’s Super Middleweight Leftovers And Rejects Week.” Which is not as bad as all that, really. Calzaghe has established himself as the top man at the weight (168 lbs.) of all time, and in and of itself, it’s not so terrible to be felled opponents of the great Welshman, as Jeff Lacy, Sakio Bika and Peter Manfredo are, or a guy whose train got derailed before a heavily-hyped fight with Calzaghe could be made, as Jermain Taylor is. All four men are fighting this week, following closely on the heels of Calzaghe’s defeat of Roy Jones, Jr. at light heavyweight (175 lbs.) over the weekend. Taylor is squaring off with Lacy Saturday night on HBO and Bika and Manfredo putting up their dukes against one another Thursday on Versus.
Both bouts are compelling in their own ways. Taylor is still credibly viewed by some as one of the 20 best fighters alive, despite the fact that he has suffered two defeats in a row courtesy of Kelly Pavlik, sucking the life out of a potential Calzaghe-Taylor fight. Bika and Lacy remain ranked among Ring magazine’s top 10 despite Calzaghe’s wins over them. Manfredo — well, he might be the most popular of all of them, so there’s that. Taylor and Lacy find themselves on the outside looking in of a sport that, until recently, viewed them as surging superstars. Instead of a hotly-anticipated duel to see who shall reign supreme over boxing in the coming years, they’ll now be fighting, in many respects, for their careers. Bika and Manfredo are joined by their status as contestants who competed on “The Contender” reality TV show, albeit in different seasons. So it’s sort of like a fantasy match-up for the kind of person who might have a fantasy about who would win if contestants from past seasons of the show met.
There are a few other interesting bouts this week — the Versus undercard, and David Haye’s re-debut at heavyweight — that we’ll discuss later. But because these four men share a common link, it was convenient to lash them together. What’s more, with Calzaghe’s defeat of Jones, order has been restored to the universe and I’m ready to stop hibernating after two straight previous weekends of fights going exactly the opposite way I expected them to go. To the predictions and previews I return!
Was it really that long ago that they were throwing ticket tape parades for Jermain Taylor in Arkansas? (Flickr photo by someone named ninjapoodles)
JERMAIN TAYLOR – JEFF LACY
I have some questions about Taylor. Well, one, really, with the possible answers coming in question form. Which Taylor is the real Taylor? The former Olympian who looked like a do-it-all stud — speed, power, skill — prior to his two fights with Bernard Hopkins? The still-potent mixed bag who gave Hopkins real fits with his athleticism en route to two controversial wins but showed troubling signs of being unable to hang with a skilled boxer? The bad habit-laden fellow who drew with Winky Wright? The maddening-to-watch dude who struggled to beat two blown-up junior middleweights (154 lbs.) that he should have smoked? The force to be reckoned with early in his first fight with Pavlik or the one who got knocked out cold later on in the same fight to hand Pavlik his middleweight (160 lbs.) crown? The far-improved 164-pound version who dropped famed trainer Emmanuel Steward for his old coach Ozell Nelson and was very competitive in a rematch loss to Pavlik? I honestly don’t know which is which. I don’t even know if he does. He says he’s had time to reflect on boxing and straighten things out. Could be, could be.
I have some questions about Lacy, but I think I know the answers to those. Was Lacy overrated before Calzaghe smashed him up two years ago? (Maybe a little. I think Calzaghe was more underrated. Our pal SC at Bad Left Hook has a different take, and a very eloquent summation of the day Lacy’s star was destroyed and Calzaghe’s was born on the international stage.) How much did the beating Calzaghe gave Lacy account for how terrible Lacy has looked in all of his fights since then? (It’s probably the major reason. His chin, which used to look pretty good and somehow held up even at the time against a ferocious beatdown by Calzaghe, has been vulnerable ever since, and he looks sluggish in the ring, the way people do sometimes after a career-altering, punishing fight.) How much did the injury Lacy suffered to his right shoulder, which shelved him for a year, affect his career as a whole? (I think it’s the other major reason Lacy doesn’t look like he once did. Watch old Lacy. He wrecked people with his speed and power. He beat real, top super middleweights — from his title-winning knockout of Syd Vanderpool on through Scott Pemberton — usually with shocking ease. Now, he’s slow as all get-out, and nobody cares as much about dodging his punches, because there’s nothing on them.) Can Lacy ever be remotely what he once was?
There’s the most important question of them all. “Can Lacy ever be remotely what he once was?” The way I answer it — and I answer it the way I answer it with great sadness, because I genuinely liked pre-Calzaghe/pre-injury Lacy — it doesn’t matter what the answer to all the Taylor questions are. The answer to whether Lacy can ever be remotely what he once was is “no.” He’s looked awful in three straight fights. He’s shown he still has guts, and maybe that’s enough against some fighters, as it was in each of those three fights, all wins. But that isn’t enough when the other fighter has serious guts, too, which Taylor clearly does. The winner between the two fights another day, and maybe gets himself a big payday out of it; having the other’s name on his resume will still count for something. The loser has a long, almost impossible road back.
My prediction: Taylor by early knockout. The Taylor I saw at 164 looked like all this “I’m having trouble getting down to 160” talk was legit. I think he should be fresher, faster, more skilled and yes, probably even harder-hitting.
Confidence: 80%. It’s possible Epifanio Mendoza had Lacy in all that trouble in Lacy’s last fight because Mendoza’s a pretty big puncher. It’s possible the flashes of his old power that Lacy still sometimes exhibits could be too much for a man moving up in weight. I think the “how” Lacy loses as opposed to “if” is the only real question, though.
My allegiance: None. I have a soft spot for both guys, who, for all their faults, have always been true warriors — wanting to fight the best, then fighting their hardest when they get there. Both deserve some kind of redemption. That the career of one of them will continue its tailspin after this is mildly depressing.
SAKIO BIKA – PETER MANFREDO
This fight, more than anything, is about promoting the switchover of “The Contender” to the Versus channel. I’m down with that, because it has the look of a fight that could dole out its share of action. Self-promote yourself away, Versus, just gimme a good fight and we’ll be cool.
If you judge this fight based on how each man fared against Calzaghe, it’s a blowout. Bika frustrated the piss out of Calzaghe, even though Calzaghe won pretty decisively on the scorecards. Manfredo got stopped in the third round, albeit prematurely. But Bika was in the fight with Calzaghe, and Manfredo never was. On the other hand, if you judge the fight by how each man fared against Donny McCrary, it’s a much closer affair. McCrary gave Bika a few scary moments, although Bika ultimately won pretty decisively on the scorecards. Manfredo, by contrast, blew out McCrary in two rounds. I think the edge here goes to Bika, though, because he won both fights, ultimately.
If you judge this fight based on style and experience, I think the edge here again goes to Bika. Bika, in my estimation, is faster, and his punches far stiffer. Making matters worse, he’s got a hard head — it took huge puncher Jaidon Codrington to knock him down, and he’d been in against Lucian Bute and other hard-hitting types — and he likes to use it. He’s an awkward foul machine who makes life annoying for whomever he fights. Which has included significantly better competition than Manfredo. Manfredo’s average to above average in every category. And his best opponent other than Calzaghe has been… hmmm, the aforementioned faded Jeff Lacy? Sergio Mora, maybe?
Again, this fight doesn’t mean a whole lot. Both men have essentially established their ceiling. But Manfredo can be fun to watch sometimes when he’s aggressive, and Bika presses everyone he gets into the ring with to brawl a little, even if the action it creates is frequently awkward. What it amounts to is another good sign that Versus is for real about boxing, because they took the winner of the last season of “The Contender” and the runner-up from the first season and put them together in a match-up that could be good entertainment and that could bring some eyes to the sport that aren’t usually watching.
My prediction: Bika by a fairly wide decision. I don’t see Manfredo staying out of the way of enough of Bika’s blows, but I doubt Manfredo crumbles when they land.
Confidence: 80%. It’s conceivable I’m underestimating Manfredo’s power, because it was surprising how easily he dismissed McCrary, or that I’m underestimating his skill level, which looks better sometimes than others. I doubt I’m overestimating Bika’s chin, and I didn’t even mention his conditioning, which should be enough for him to overcome whatever quality work Manfredo gets done in there.
My allegiance: If anyone, Bika. The last season of “The Contender” was
the one that won me over, in large measure because his battle with Codrington was a legit Fight of the Year candidate. I’m usually not so thrilled about guys who frequently foul, as Bika does, but then, I’ve never cared enough about Manfredo to become a fan.