Classic clash in division of intrigue

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00

British boxers have dominated the world super-
middleweight division during the past 15 years and another memorable chapter in that history is set to be written on Saturday night. Welshman Joe Calzaghe, the World Boxing Organisation champion, takes on American Jeff Lacy, his International Boxing Federation counterpart, in an eagerly anticipated title-unification bout at the MEN Arena, Manchester.

The British first established control of the 12st weight in 1991 when Chris Eubank, arguably one of the most successful and enigmatic fighters, beat Michael Watson in dramatic and subsequently disturbing circumstances in front of 30,000 people at White Hart Lane, London, and a 17m live-television audience. Eubank won in the 12th round, Watson needed brain surgery and British boxing’s fascination with the division began.

Since that night, more than a dozen British boxers have fought for versions of the title and seven have held a variety of baubles that the various sanctioning bodies award to their champions.

In addition to Eubank, who had 18 WBO fights, Nigel Benn, Robin Reid and Calzaghe comprise the most dominant quartet. The four have taken part in 65 world championship fights at super middleweight.

If the Watson-Eubank fight was the precursor to a series of exhilarating contests, then Benn’s encounter with Gerald McClellan for the World Boxing Council championship in early 1995 was without doubt the best at the weight but also the most tragic.

It was a magnificent contest, with Benn, who had been on the canvas twice and on the brink of expected defeat, suddenly turning matters in his favour and bringing McClellan to his knees in round 10. McClellan subsequently had to undergo brain surgery and has been partly paralysed, blind and deaf since, paying a terrible price for his participation in the brutal sport.

It was two years after Benn’s win against McClellan that Calzaghe first emerged, when he won the vacant title over 12 rounds against Eubank. At the time, Eubank was obviously not as fresh as he had been half a dozen years earlier but he was still a test for any young fighter. At the fight’s conclusion, he recognised Calzaghe as one of the best at the weight and even implied that he was better than both himself and Benn.

Since then, Calzaghe, now 33, has steadily but not always smoothly built his reputation on the consistency of his wins. However, in 17 successful defences there have been several fighters who were not truly of world class and Calzaghe, who is an understated and honest man, has acknowledged as much.

Oddly, he has denied that Saturday night’s fight represents a career-defining contest for him and easily the toughest he has faced. Instead, Calzaghe has pointed to the statistics that appear to expose a wide gap in quality and experience that he insists exists between himself and Lacy. The American has, it should be said, compiled his record of 22 fights without defeat largely at the expense of men who had no realistic chance of beating him. There have been one or two impressive wins but in general Lacy’s reputation has been created steadily in the time-honoured boxing tradition of careful matchmaking.

But of course, Calzaghe, who is unbeaten in 40 fights, has been accused of the same.

On Saturday night contest expected to be a truly intriguing one, a mixture of styles and different egos. Lacy, 28, has the speed and the power to put an end to Calzaghe’s reign, but the Welshman has the skills and ring knowledge to halt Lacy’s progress.

That is what makes the fight so fascinating and a worthy successor to the great super-middleweight division clashes of the past.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't copy articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.