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Lacy looking to unify, glorify class

Sole control over the super-middleweight division could come after Saturday's clash.

By JOHN C. COTEY
Published March 3, 2006


MANCHESTER, England - The final news conference for Saturday's megashowdown between St. Petersburg's Jeff Lacy and Wales' Joe Calzaghe was held at the the rustic old Midland Hotel, with everyone in attendance agreeing on one thing:

The winner will be in control of the 168-pound super-middleweight division.

Which at the moment is somewhat like your parents handing over ownership of the family's extra car. You know the one: missing hubcaps, ripped seats, fading paint job, AM radio.

Knowing Lacy's penchant for souped-up muscle cars, chances are he's looking forward to restoring some glory to a division that Calzaghe and the now-retired and equally-as-reluctant Sven Ottke have ruled.

"Calzaghe is the gatekeeper, but I believe Jeff has the key," promoter Gary Shaw said. "When he wins, he becomes the gatekeeper at 168 pounds. After that, he fights who he wants to fight, when he wants to fight, where he wants and how he wants to fight."

While Lacy has often talked of branching out of the division - last year he pursued a bout with light heavyweight Antonio Tarver but was rebuffed - his long-stated goal has been to unify the division in which he has fought all 21 of his pro fights.

Saturday against Calzaghe, he can knock off the division's most prominent and respected champ, and add the WBO belt to his IBF title. He could then set his sights on champs Marcus Beyer (WBC) or Mikkel Kessler (WBA).

With Tarver hesitant and getting older, the stage is set for Lacy to bring his growing popularity to a division badly in need of a boost.

"This is about control, that's really what it is," Lacy said. "I don't like the fact that he has some control right now. That's the way I feel we are having the fight, so I can be released. I can go off and do my own thing. I'll be the gatekeeper. I don't like having to take orders from someone in the U.K."

Between Roy Jones' long light heavyweight reign and Bernard Hopkins' even longer reign at middleweight, the super-middleweight division has struggled for an identity. It's filled with European champions who don't like to travel far for fights.

Beyer, who first won the WBC title in 1999 and has held it almost continuously, has only fought four times outside of Germany.

Kessler, WBA champ since 2003, is an up-and-coming fighter and potential rival of Lacy's, but has fought just once in 37 fights away from his home in Denmark.

And Calzaghe is famous for his reluctance to venture far from home. He ruled the WBO while Ottke ruled the IBF, a six-year stretch in which the two never met, even after Ottke added the WBA belt.

Hence, Lacy in Europe, hunting belts.

"Look at (former German light-heavyweight champ) Darius Michalczewski," Shaw said. "Roy Jones avoided him and didn't come over here, and still claimed to be the single best fighter in the division. I don't think Jeff ever wanted people to say you had the opportunity (to unify) and you avoided it.

"The world knows that Jeff Lacy is available. These belts represent the world champion, not the U.S. champion. That's the duty of the world champion. If you want the other belts, go get them."

A relatively new division, super-middleweight was created in 1984 when Murray Sutherland won the IBF title before losing it in his first defense to Chong-Pal Park. It has never had a unified champion.

The division's biggest fights were in the late 1980s, when Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns battled for the WBC and WBO titles, followed by Leonard against Roberto Duran. But all three once-great fighters were past their primes, even if the fights did huge box office numbers.

And the biggest fight since was only for the IBF portion, as Jones made a stopover on his way to light-heavyweight dominance by beating James Toney in 1994.

Not since Britons Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank and Steve Collins traded the WBO and WBC titles in the mid 1990s has the division had a popular champion recognized worldwide.

Lacy's stated goal since turning pro has been to fill that void. He has been waiting on Calzaghe for two years, and had to endure another delay when the Welshman broke his hand last fall. But his quest for unification has always centered on the toughest trinket to start with - Calzaghe's treasured WBO belt.

"I told Gary, don't let anything get in the way of this fight happening," Lacy said. "I don't care if I walk out first, or get introduced first. I don't care ... just make the fight."

Calzaghe has said he is leaving the division after this fight. Whether he does so after handing the keys to Lacy is a question to be answered Sunday morning, Manchester time.