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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Joe Calzaghe, man of mystery
He's 40-0 and a WBO champion, but is he for real? Answers may come Saturday vs. Jeff Lacy.
By JOHN C. COTEY
Published March 2, 2006
MANCHESTER, England - Joe Calzaghe still burns from his first loss. He remembers the fight as if it happened last week. He can't forget that his opponent's father also was one of the judges. He remembers covering up his face on the way out of the ring to hide the tears.
Calzaghe would go on to whip the unknown Chris Stock many times in a 140-fight amateur career, but it never really erased the memory of that defeat.
"It was devastating," Calzaghe said. "I always remember the loss, never the four times I beat him."
It was that feeling, in the pit of his stomach, that drives him 20 years later.
And maybe has driven any claim to fame right off a cliff.
Calzaghe, the remarkably anonymous WBO super middleweight champion, is 40-0 with 18 straight defenses. His distaste for losing has served him well in the ring.
It has not, however, won him as many fans and as much acclaim as those around him think he deserves.
His perfect record may have led to a reluctance to take chances, including one as simple as fighting in the United States. Many say he and promoter Frank Warren have carefully constructed it by using subpar material with names like Tocker Pudwill.
Or is Calzaghe, a half-Welsh, half-Italian puzzle, merely a victim of his era, just missing out on the glory days of the round-robin battles between heroes like Chris Eubank, Nigel Benn, Michael Watson and Steve Collins?
It has been forever since he outpointed Eubank for the title in 1997. Since that night, he has been intermittently brilliant and maddening, leaving everyone to wonder about his greatness.
Only now will the 33-year-old finally get the career-defining fight that made Eubank, Benn, Watson and Collins so beloved in England when he meets St. Petersburg's Jeff Lacy Saturday night at the M.E.N. Arena in Manchester.
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The paint peeling from walls specked with old fight posters, including some hyping his previous exploits, Calzaghe answered the same old questions Wednesday at Shannon's Gym.
Why, at such an advanced stage of a career, did it take so long to be in this fight, one that people finally care about?
"I never got the opportunity," he said, a simple answer to what has been a complex problem. "People say things, I read things. They say you pick your own opponents; all of a sudden they say "he doesn't want to fight the top guys,' which I've hated ... At the end of the day, I've always fought the best I can beat."
The best, however, never included Roy Jones Jr. or Bernard Hopkins, two fights often talked about but never realized. Twice Calzaghe pulled out of fights with Glen Johnson due to injury. He now talks about moving up to face Tampa's Antonio Tarver, who won't be any easier to negotiate with than Jones and Hopkins were.
Instead, Calzaghe has chosen fights against a veritable "who's not" of boxing - Evans Ashira, Mario Veit, Kabary Salem, Mger Mkrtchian and the aforementioned Pudwill.
"There's been no defining fight for him because he's been the guy defining the division," said his father and trainer, Enzo. "For those guys, Joe is their defining fight."
Quiet by nature and allergic to the red carpet, Calzaghe is not your typical champion.
Lacy has a mini public relations machine behind him. He has been on Showtime 14 times, to just seven for Calzaghe. He is trumpeted in the media by Gary Shaw, and has crack public relations ace Fred Sternburg drumming up interest with a barrage of e-mails quoting Lacy saying things he almost certainly hasn't.
"Joe has no cheerleaders, he has no Gary Shaw, he's coming here for a job," said Enzo Calzaghe. "He doesn't need a cheerleader, or people telling him, "Man, you're the best since chocolate.' "
Inactivity, some caused by recurring injuries, failed to give Calzaghe's career any momentum, as has a lack of television coverage.
Since 2001, Lacy has fought 15 times; Calzaghe has fought eight times.
And while Lacy is willing to travel to market himself, Calzaghe has fought once in Germany and once in Denmark, otherwise never traveling far from home.
Enzo admits that marketing and packaging drive the sport today, but he doesn't agree that his son has to take part in it, even if that means turning down short money for a big exposure fight in the United States.
"Joe don't need the promotion without the money," Enzo said. "It's been 10 years as a champion, isn't it time he got recognition and got paid the money he's worth? So why move on and change something that's not broke for the sake of nothing. What's in it for him at the end?"
Still, Calzaghe's lack of starpower seems to irk Enzo, who points the quick finger.
"I condemn you lads for that," he said. "You keep him on the back pages. Your boxing magazine don't even mention him. You did this to us, he didn't."
He says those in America care only about American fighters, and respect only those who fight in the states.
He said his son has beaten good American fighters, like Byron Mitchell and Charles Brewer and Omar Shieka.
"A boxing ring is a boxing ring," Enzo said. "What's all this bitching about fighting in America? You've had your best Americans here?"
Enzo said his son is the champion and fighters should come to him.
Now that Lacy has, Calzaghe will get his long-awaited opportunity, and fans can finally solve the puzzle of his career.