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Boxing

It's a hook that sticks

"Left Hook": It's on Jeff Lacy's car, jewelry and body, and it's the punch that helped get him this far.

By JOHN C. COTEY, Times Staff Writer
Published August 5, 2005

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[Times photos: Willie J. Allen Jr.]
Jeff Lacy works on his hook with trainer Dan Birmingham. Lacy had such a good feel for the punch, he was trained to use it earlier than usual.


The "L" and "H" tattooed on Jeff Lacy's neck stand for "Left Hook," the nickname that stuck with him after only two professional fights, both of them knockouts on, you guessed it, a left hook.

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Jeff Lacy's pride in his bread and butter shows in the grille on his Chrysler 300 convertible.
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TWINKLETOES: Jeff Lacy skips rope at the 49th Street Boxing Club in Midtown.
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BODY BLOWS: Lacy uses a punching bag filled with water to approximate better how a human body reacts to punches.
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BUILDING STAMINA: Boxers traditionally run on area streets and fields. Lacy runs on streets, fields and the treadmills of his local gym, where he'll stay dry.
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NO PAIN... : Lacy does crunches to strengthen his neck while preparing for Saturday's bout.

TAMPA - The career of Jeff "The Heat" Lacy lasted just one fight.

When the St. Petersburg Olympian made his pro debut in 2001, his ambition to be a firefighter and his swarming style prompted promoter Gary Shaw to give his prized boxer a nickname that never stuck.

"That nickname, it flew one fight," Lacy said.

"Two fights," Shaw said.

"No, one fight ... it was on its downhill flight before that second fight."

Between the first fight, in which he knocked out Jerald Lowe with a left hook, and the second, in which he knocked out Tommy Attardo with a left hook, Lacy had settled on a new nickname.

Left Hook, of course.

Now, it's everywhere. His voicemail message starts with "This is Left Hook ... " The nickname is on his license plate, his clothes, the grille of his custom Chrysler 300 convertible and his Range Rover HSE, stitched into the headrests on his seats. The initials LH are in diamonds hanging around his neck and inked on his neck.

There's no turning back, even if Shaw admits he remains fond of the Heat.

"When you tattoo it on your neck," Shaw said, "you're Left Hook."

* * *

From the day Lacy showed up at the St. Pete Boxing Club, the hook was his favorite punch.

Usually, a budding fighter will be taught footwork first, then the jab, then the right hand, then, maybe, the left hook.

With Lacy, trainers Dan and Mike Birmingham saw the young fighter's love for the punch and started with the hook.

"He would just crunch them," Mike Birmingham said. "He made our heavy bag look like a peanut."

The Birmingham brothers were fond themselves of the hook, so it was a perfect marriage. Dan Birmingham had learned its importance from his trainer in Youngstown, Ohio, Art Mayorga, and Mike had learned it from his brother, who was his first trainer.

It might be the hardest punch to throw correctly, relying heavily on a combination of torque, whipping action and hip rotation. Delivered correctly, it is one of boxing's most devastating weapons.

Most boxing analysts agree that Joe Frazier threw the best left hook. Mike McCallum was nicknamed the Body Snatcher for the effect his hook had on the midsection. Bernard Hopkins dropped Oscar De La Hoya with a perfect left hook last year. Mike Tyson's left hook was powerful and underrated.

But there has been only one Left Hook.

"When I started out, I just liked throwing them and people started calling me Hook," Lacy said. "As I got better and better, then they started calling me Left Hook. It's not because it's my strongest punch. It's just one of the punches I like to throw."

* * *

It dropped Lowe to his knees for good. It knocked Adime Bawa flat on his back. It opened a cut that required 35 stitches on the head of Tony Pope. It went so far into the side of Andrew Greeley, it hardly seemed possible he'd be able to pull it out. And it landed so flush on Attardo, Lacy was sure he had killed him.

If the left hook is not Lacy's best punch, it's certainly the best finisher in his arsenal.

Even when Lacy won his IBF super-middleweight title against Syd Vanderpool, it was a left hook to the body that cut a swath through his opponent's defense and made way for the left uppercut that started Vanderpool's downfall.

Saturday's opponent, Robin Reid, said he's well aware of the left hook, though not all that impressed with it.

"He's got left hook written all over the place," Reid said. "Now, that's either a big clue to what you do, the left hook, or is he trying to kid you into thinking that's what his big punch is? Yeah, he does have a good left hook, but it's not like a Joe Frazier left hook."

For Lacy, "Left Hook" is one part punch, one part marketing tool.

Besides, every boxer needs a good nickname. Some, like Marvelous Marvin Hagler, change their names legally to reflect the moniker.

"I don't think we'll see him do that," Dan Birmingham said. "I don't think he minds being called Jeff. But Left Hook, that is catchy."

JEFF LACY VS. ROBIN REID

TODAY: Weigh-in, 3 p.m. (closed to public).

SATURDAY: Doors open at 6 p.m., first bout at 6:05. Lacy and Reid will fight at about 10 p.m.

AT STAKE: Lacy's IBF super middleweight title and Reid's IBO title.

TV: 9 p.m., Showtime.

TICKETS: Some additional sections have been opened, and $25 and $35 tickets are now available, as well as tickets priced at $100 and $50 prices do not include service charges or facility fees. They are available at the Times Forum box office and all Ticketmaster outlets. Visit www.stpetetimesforum.com or call Ticketmaster at (813) 287-8844 or (727) 898-2100. A portion of proceeds will benefit MacDill Air Force Base charities.

[Last modified August 5, 2005, 01:08:13]

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