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Calzaghe now a superstar

MIKE HOUSER
Appeal Sports Writer

Back on July 1, 2003, I wrote a column about WBO super middleweight titlist Joe Calzaghe and even went so far as to share my belief that the Welshman had the potential to become a superstar.

In my column two weeks ago, where I wrote about fantasy matchups, I picked Lacy to stop Calzaghe within eight rounds.

So why did I jump off the bandwagon? I never really did.

In discussions I had with several people following Lacy’s Nov. 5 demolition of Scott Pemberton at Caesars Tahoe, although I agreed that the 28-year-old Lacy looked like a small Mike Tyson, I always added the caveat that the 33-year-old Calzaghe could win – and if he did, he’d deserve the credit of being a called a superstar like everyone was calling Lacy.

So let’s give credit where credit is due. With his comprehensive decision-victory over Lacy Saturday night (Sunday in England) Calzaghe isn’t just a WBO and IBF titlist after the unification match.

He’s a full-blown world super middleweight champion, and he’ll be recognized as such by the The Ring magazine, which considers all alphabet belts – be they IBF, WBC, WBA or WBO – irrelevant.

And he’s officially a superstar.

A post-fight postmortem of why I selected Lacy over Calzaghe reveals the power (or lack thereof) of perception.

After Calzaghe climbed off the floor and stopped the dangerous-punching Byron Mitchell – a former WBA super middleweight titlist, for what that is worth – in two rounds on June 28, 2003, I knew Calzaghe had the potential to be something special.

He was quick, a southpaw and he could punch. The only thing separating him from superstardom, I wrote, was a matchup with another top fighter, along the order of a Bernard Hopkins.

Calzaghe, now 41-0, with 31 knockouts, hasn’t lost a fight since he was an amateur in 1990. But following his TKO of Mitchell, Showtime quit televising his fights and Calzaghe’s subsequent four title defenses against Mger Mkrtuchian (TKO 7), Kabary Salem (W 12), Mario Veit (TKO 6) and Evans Ashira (W 12) were nothing to salivate over.

The visual perception of Calzaghe had become warped over the years after Showtime deemed his opposition unworthy of television, while the perception of Lacy was not only reinforced by his performances on television (and by watching him steamroller over opponents in person), but by fellow writers in the media, who anointed “Left Hook” a star.

Add all of those factors – and that Calzaghe had aged nearly three years since he beat Mitchell – and you get my erroneous prediction of Lacy winning and the subsequent manifestation of my caveat.

Now, here are some various observations on Calzaghe and some other boxing fodder:

– Yes, Calzaghe took Lacy to the woodshed and surprised the majority of viewers who believed that Lacy was invincible. But in spite of the unexpected one-sided nature of this fight, I would’ve gladly shelled out money to watch it on pay-per-view.

Both fighters had a realistic chance of beating the other and it was a fight I thought about nearly every day, which is what a PPV fight should be all about.

– So what now for Calzaghe, who notched his 18th title defense? The now-retired Sven Ottke (who for whatever reason chose not to accept Calzaghe’s challenge) holds the super middleweight division record of 21 consecutive title defenses, so breaking that record is one possibility for Calzaghe.

Denmark’s Mikkel Kessler, 37-0 (28), is a solid option (and yes, he holds a belt – the WBA’s), as is WBC strapholder Markus Beyer, 33-2 (12). There’s also Anthony Mundine, 25-3 (20), who is rated No. 5 by The Ring. And then there’s undefeated prospect Chad Dawson, 22-0 (15).

But with exception of Kessler, none of these fighters really has a chance. And then there’s the matter of Kessler, who’s never appeared on American television and thus is an unknown commodity (translation: who would watch it outside of rabid fans and boxing media)?

– Let’s look at a more realistic and palatable scenario, one deserving of a superstar. Instead of watching former middleweight champ Bernard Hopkins robbing fans of PPV money by fighting world light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver, how about gaining only 8 pounds and fighting Calzaghe at 168?

In his last two fights with new champ Jermain Taylor, the 41-year-old Hopkins has been far from impressive. But he still has a legacy and as long as he’s going to continue to fight, why not make it worth our while and fight Calzaghe?

– Here’s another two options at 168: Taylor and/or Winky Wright. Superstars fight each other and both of these fights would be PPV-worthy.

– Calzaghe, who is recently divorced, said he’d like three more big fights before retiring. He’s also expressed his desire to fight at 175. OK. Fight the winner of Tarver-Hopkins at 175.

And while he’s waiting for the winner, he can get acclimated to the weight by fighting and defeating IBF light heavyweight beltholder Clinton Woods, 38-3-1 (23). Then there’s “The Road Warrior,” Glen Johnson, who knocked out Roy Jones and has split a pair of fights with Tarver.

Did I mention Jones? Hey, the egomaniac still hasn’t admitted he’s finished, so why not throw him in against Calzaghe?

– Although Calzaghe has indicated he’d like to come to America to fight, I don’t think it should be necessary. When the shoe was on the other foot, Jones never left his home country to defend his strap, so why should Calzaghe?

– Is there a manual somewhere that says in order to become a superstar, you must first fight in America and/or on HBO?

No, there isn’t. Just ask junior welterweight champion Ricky Hatton, whom most of the media overlooked until he hammered Kostya Tszyu into semi-retirement. It doesn’t matter which country you are from. If you can fight, you can fight. If you beat the top fighters, then you are a top fighter. Period.

– And here’s a belated thank-you to the little kitty-cats at HBO, Larry Merchant and Jim Lampley, who followed the orders of their superiors by announcing the winner of Calzaghe-Lacy on air (Cotto-Branco was televised at 7 p.m., Calzaghe-Lacy at 9 p.m.). Like they were really doing everyone a favor, right?

– Memo to HBO: You were foolish to put on an inferior matchup like Miguel Cotto-Gianluca Branco on TV, much less in competition with Showtime’s broadcast of a real fight like Calzaghe-Lacy.

– Did anybody really think Branco had a chance of winning? Why didn’t HBO make it another PPV extravaganza? HBO’s quality of fights is slipping, as is its broadcasting team, which acted like a group of spiteful little girls who had to go tell everybody a secret by revealing the winner.

Guess what? I knew HBO would pull something stupid, so I taped the Cotto-Branco fight and waited to watch the superior Calzaghe-Lacy fight on the superior boxing network. Finally, a boxing fan gets the last laugh – and I didn’t even need to spend any money. Stick that in your ear, HBO and PPV.