By JOHN C. COTEY, Times Staff Writer
Published August 5, 2005
TAMPA - The final news conference was held Thursday at the Downtown Hilton, and by the expression on both fighters' faces, they were grateful.
Robin Reid refused to stand on the podium and speak, though he took questions afterward, and Jeff Lacy appeared less than enthused.
"I'm just a fighter ready to fight," he said.
The news conference did have its moments, though.
St. Petersburg's David Santos provided the saddest and funniest. Santos, who has said he will retire after his Saturday bout, struggled with his emotions while thanking Lacy for putting him on the card. His eyes welled with tears when talking about the sport and what it has meant to him, Lacy and Winky Wright.
When he regained his composure, he reminded the crowd of 50 to 100 that he'd be out of the boxing business but was still selling diamonds at Diamonds Direct. Flashing a big smile, he held up a sign with the store's name, his name and the phone number.
He reminded people to come out to the store, or he'd have to hold up another sign, flipping over his original to reveal: "Need help. Have daughter, will work for food."
R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Promoter Gary Shaw insisted that despite Reid's claims, he respected the Briton immensely.
To prove it, he presented Reid with a shirt that read, "I visited the United States and all I got was knocked out by Jeff Lacy" written in white letters over an American flag.
Reid wasn't amused. Though he initially accepted the shirt, when he left the news conference it remained draped over the podium.
"They had to make a lot of effort to go and get that (T-shirt) made," Reid said. "I'm not one of those fighters who gets fazed by that. All that does is make me want to go out there and do a better number on him than I was going to do in the first place.
"By making everything sound like it was all right, I told (Shaw) I have no hard feelings. Then he goes and spoils it all by doing that shot."
IN THE FLESH: Lacy trainer Dan Birmingham might have been the only one in the room, aside from Reid's entourage, who has seen Saturday's challenger fight in person.
On May 3, 1997, Wright, who is trained by Birmingham, fought on the same card as Reid at the Nynex Arena in Manchester. Wright was defending his WBO junior middleweight crown against Steve Foster, and Reid defended his WBC super middleweight title against Henry Wharton.
RISING STAR? You think Wright and Lacy haven't paved the road for the rest of Birmingham's fighters?
Consider that light heavyweight Akinyemi Laleye (1-0) will be fighting on a card that could attract 12,000 fans after making his pro debut last month on an ESPN Tuesday Night Fights card in St. Petersburg.
Laleye, nicknamed AK47 while in the military and because it's easier to pronounce than his name, could be the next champion out of St. Petersburg. A native of Lagos, Nigeria, he moved to the states in 1997. After getting out of the military in 2003, he was walking around the mall when his career took a sharp turn.
"I met Winky Wright that day at the mall," Laleye said. "He told me I should go to the gym and learn to box."
As an amateur, Laleye was 8-1. Under the training of Birmingham and the management of Birmingham's father-in-law, Andy Lockhart, he turned pro and knocked out Howard Gatch in one round.
SAY CHEESE: Tampa resident and artist Arcadio Casto painted the cover of Saturday's program, and a limited number of prints are available. Measuring 18x24 with an edition size of 40, they are signed and numbered by Lacy and Arcadio and cost $160. For information, call 813 541-7507 or visit www.ArcadioArt.com
TICKETS: Shaw said 8,000 tickets are in circulation and he expects Saturday's crowd to top 10,000, with $25 and $35 tickets now available.