Lacy courageous, but Calzaghe brilliant in this one

Instead of a super middleweight showdown Saturday night, a clinic was conducted by Joe Calzaghe, who unified the WBO and IBF titles by outclassing Jeff Lacy over 12 one-sided heats in Manchester, England.

But the Welshman did more than just consolidate the belts or stamp himself as the premier 168-pounder on the planet: he cemented his long-awaited pound-for-pound status and thrust himself into the pantheon of men like Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank and Steve Collins, who were European super middleweight standouts.

Move over guys, you've got company.

What Calzaghe showed at the M.E.N. Arena in Manchester was that this sport is still about brains and boxing, not necessarily brawn and brute strength.

From the very first stanza, he would riddle Lacy by going in and out and around the hard-punching Floridian. Using a steady, quick jab, which tamed "Left Hook" all night, Calzaghe was able to easily control the tempo of the fight. He would keep Lacy off-balance with a series of feints, and by the middle rounds it was Calzaghe who was the harder, more authoritative

Despite his impressive, chiseled physique, Lacy's body language said it all as the rounds piled up. Conversely, Calzaghe was a picture of exuberance and self-confidence. Lacy, round after futile round, would merely slink back to his corner searching for answers he'd never find. Early on, the question was whether Lacy could land the big punch that could sway the course of events. By the end, you wondered if Lacy could hit him clean with anything at all.

His lone solace was in going the 12-round distance. It was a moral victory that left him cut, bruised and swollen. It was a courageous effort by Lacy.

But a brilliant one by Calzaghe.

This was the night that he and his father/trainer, the enigmatic Enzo, had been waiting for, the one they had forecasted for years. Now, we're all believers.

But it was also the type of outing that makes you think, "Why is this just happening now?' Why did this take place for Calzaghe at age 33, near the twilight of his career, instead of closer to its apex? This performance against Lacy was Calzaghe's real introduction to the American audience. Yes, he's had other televised spots in the past, but never a bout that had really
captured the interest of the public at large outside of Europe. What he did this weekend makes everyone want to see more -- on both sides of the ocean.

For as every bit a defining moment as this contest was for Calzaghe, you hope that isn't the case for Lacy, whose record falls to 21-1. Lacy was being groomed for pay-per-view stardom in the States and this wasn't just a speed bump he hit, but a brick wall. Seeing the surgical dissection by Calzaghe was akin to seeing a butterfly getting its wings clipped.

Lacy seemed to run out of ideas quickly. His jab was nonexistent, his trademark left-hook was wild and inaccurate, and his combinations pushed out with no real thrust. What he did show was a stout chin and a beating heart.

But on this fateful early morning in England, Lacy wasn't even as competitive as Charles Brewer or Byron Mitchell (who at least had a glimmer of hope versus Calzaghe); instead, he was reduced to being Kabary Salem, Mger Mkrtchian or Miguel Angel Jimenez.

Against Calzaghe, Lacy simply couldn't get off a real shot. Every time he thought about throwing a punch, he'd be hit with a sharp, accurate combination. And if Lacy can't lead, he's in trouble, because a counterpuncher he's not.

Calzaghe would deftly change speeds on his attack and the times that Lacy would engage in an exchange with him, he simply couldn't find him, as Calzaghe would be long gone by the time Lacy threw his own punches.

And while Lacy's head was an unmoving target, Calzaghe's subtle -- yet consistent -- movement of his upper body made him an elusive target all night. What his
good buddy Winky Wright did to Felix Trinidad last year was done to him by Calzaghe.

You can have all the power of an atomic bomb, it doesn't mean much if you
can't find your intended mark.

For years, Calzaghe told everyone just how good he was.

It turned out he was right.

Deja vu, all over again
Many longtime observers of Lacy will point out the similarities between Calzaghe and his amateur nemesis Arthur Palac, who gave him fits in the Olympic box-offs in 2000.

But what this bout really reminded me of is Lacy's Olympic loss in Sydney, Australia, against Gaidarbeck Gaidarbekov in the quarterfinal round of the 2000 Olympics.

I'll never forget being ringside and seeing this Russian just continually beating Lacy to the punch with shots that weren't necessarily hard but accurate and quick. They didn't really hurt Lacy, but it kept him from mounting his own offensive attack.

Gaidarbekov would win, as the fight was halted in the third round because he had built up a 16-1 lead (in the amateurs, a 15-point margin leads to a 'referee stops contest').

After that bout, Lacy really didn't look any worse for wear. But Saturday night, as you saw the damage accumulate on him, you began to wince as Calzaghe started to pour it on late. Dan Birmingham, Lacy's highly respected trainer, was in a tough spot. His boxer is known as a devastating puncher and perhaps he could pull off the miraculous finish a la Mike Weaver-John
Tate. Or does Birmingham pull the plug and think long-term for his fighter's future?

It's a tough choice that many trainers have to make. Like many other Lacy backers, Birmingham opted to cross his fingers for a miracle that never came.