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Wednesday, September 4, 2002
Max: Lucas might be on verge of great things

By Max Kellerman
Special to ESPN.com

A couple of years ago USA Today's Dan Rafael and I were having a conversation on the phone about our pound-for-pound ratings. I was defending Roy Jones' position atop mine (what else is new?). As we were going over Roy's opponents of the not-too-distant past, up came Eric Lucas' name. At the time Lucas was in the lower half of the super middleweight top 10, and I argued that Roy's win against Lucas was at least equivalent to Shane Mosley's win over John Brown. I think Dan agreed at the time, to be honest I don't remember.

Roy's win over Lucas -- Roy fought him after playing a game of semi-pro basketball that morning -- is looking better every day. Should Lucas beat Omar Sheika on Friday Night Fights this Friday, he will establish himself as one of the top five fighters at 168 pounds.

Joe Calzaghe is rated the No. 1 super middleweight in the world by The Ring Magazine. His two biggest wins have come against Sheika and, recently, Charles Brewer. Considering that Brewer seems to be on the downside of his career, it is fair to say that Calzaghe enjoys his lofty status in large part due to his win over Sheika. That win, by the way, was an excellent action fight in which the referee seemed to stop things a bit prematurely.

Because of his heart and punching power, Sheika poses a threat to any super middle in the world. Lucas, who has had success against the likes of Antwun Echols, Glenn Catley and an old but inspired Vinny Pazienza, has of late demonstrated a crisp jab and effective right hand counter. I called his fight against Catley from ringside and Lucas used that straight counter right hand so effectively he reminded me of Max Schmeling. Calzaghe was able to counter inside Sheika's often wide power punches, and Lucas will no doubt attempt the same.

In terms of their styles, therefore, Lucas seems to have the advantage. But I just can't get the image out of my head of Lucas seemingly shaken up in the last round against a very old Pazienza. Sheika hits much harder than Paz ever did. I am going with my gut: Sheika, down on points, wins by middle rounds knockout.

Speaking of super middles, why is anyone concerned with giving Joe Calzaghe exposure in the United States? The two best fighters in that division both ply their trade in Europe - Calzaghe, who is Welsh, in England and Sven Ottke, who is German, in Germany. They both fight in front of sold out arenas, meaning they sell tickets (something Roy Jones and Bernard Hopkins have not consistently done in the U.S.), and as far as television money goes, after the U.S., England and Germany are the world's richest boxing markets.

A fight between Ottke and Calzaghe would determine the best 168-pounder in the world. As for gaining notoriety on this side of the Atlantic, The Ring Magazine's crowning of the winner as the super middleweight champion would accomplish that. Not to sound isolationist, but why is it these Europeans always have to drag us into their conflicts? In this case they do not need us. Settle your differences over there, and we'll send you challengers from time to time. Like the winner of the Lucas-Sheika fight this week.

Max Kellerman is a studio analyst for ESPN2's Friday Night Fights.