Pemberton proposes he can win title |

Pemberton proposes he can win title

Nevada Appeal Boxing Columnist


What: Eight-bout boxing card, including two world title bouts

Where: Circus Maximus Showroom in Caesars Tahoe

When: Saturday. Doors open at 3 p.m. First bout at 3:45

Television: Showtime Championship Boxing, 9 p.m., delayed telecast on West Coast

Ticket info: $200, $100, $50 & $25. Call (888) 829-7630 or log onto [ ] for more information

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Just before his July 25, 2003 bout with contender Omar Sheika on ESPN, super middleweight Scott “The Sandman” Pemberton was struck with an epiphany.

After an 11-year-relationship with his girlfriend, Margaret Sylvia, Pemberton knew he was with the woman he wanted to marry. So he planned an elaborate proposal, which he delivered on the telecast before a worldwide audience.

“I had the whole speech in my head,” Pemberton said Monday in a phone call from his room at the Eldorado hotel-casino. “I came out and screwed it up. I was going to say it was the most important night of my life and would she marry me, but I ended up saying it was the most important fight of my fight or something and blew it.”

Even though he flubbed his lines Pemberton was nonetheless successful in his endeavor: Sylvia said yes. And his 12-round split-decision over Skeika wasn’t bad either, earning him the network’s fighter of the year award and instant respect in the 168-pound division.

After another exciting win over Sheika, another fighter of year award and nearly two and a half years later, Pemberton, 29-3-1 with 24 knockouts, will finally get the shot he’s been working for. He’ll challenge 28-year-old IBF super middleweight titlist Jeff “Left Hook” Lacy, 20-0 with 16 KOs and one no-contest, for his belt Saturday at Caesars Tahoe in a Showtime-televised bout.

“It’s better late than never,” Pemberton said of his golden opportunity. “I’m happy (Lacy’s promoter and the show’s promoter) Gary Shaw and Jeff Lacy gave me this opportunity. I just can’t thank them enough.”

Pemberton said various injuries and misfortunes played significant roles in his getting the shot against Lacy, of St. Petersburg, Fla.

“I was supposed to fight Sheika for a third time, but it fell through,” Pemberton said. “Then I was supposed to fight Danny Green and he broke his back. Then when (WBO champ) Joe Calzaghe broke he his hand against Evans Ashira (ending the possibility of a unification bout with Lacy), the fight fell in my lap.”

But don’t call Pemberton a lucky guy just yet.

“I was two-time ESPN fighter of the year and The Ring magazine’s honorable mention (for his and Charles Brewer’s six-round war in 2002, a TKO victory for Brewer). I was ranked No.1 in the WBC for over a year and my promoter (Jimmy Burchfield) never got me a fight.

“Here I am, No.1, and then (the WBC) wants me to fight a box-off. Come on. It was politics. They wanted two Canadian guys, Otis Grant and Eric Lucas, to fight (for the shot at WBC titlist Markus Beyer). I was No. 5 in the IBF. Do I get even one fight in a year? (Burchfield) fumbled the ball on that one.”

Pemberton hasn’t fought in more than 13 months – a three-round TKO of journeyman James Crawford. Six weeks ago Pemberton enlisted the services of his former sparring partner, friend and now trainer, John Scully, a former fighter who unsuccessfully challenged Henry Maske for his IBF light heavyweight championship in 1996.

Pemberton arrived in Reno to acclimate himself to the altitude only a week ago, but Scully said there’s no cause for worry.

“I don’t think where he fights is going to make a difference to him,” Scully said of Lake Tahoe’s 6,200-foot altitude. “He’s focused on the fight and his family. He had a week at 4,500 feet (in Reno). Sea level to 1,500 is not much of a difference. It didn’t affect Felix Trinidad, who trained at about 3 feet above sea level in Puerto Rico. He beat Fernando Vargas, who trained in Big Bear. Altitude (problems are) mostly a myth.”

Translation: It’s mind over matter. In his Massachusetts brogue Pemberton described himself as a “wicked night owl” and said his only problem has been getting used to the three-hour time difference between here and his home in New Bedford, Mass.

“It’s more mental than anything,” he said. “Things are going all right in camp.”

By contrast Lacy showed up a month early.

“Of course it benefits him,” Pemberton said. “But he has deeper pockets than I do. I’ve never made a six-figure payday before (he’ll reportedly earn $150,000 for this fight). I’ll just do the best I can do.”

Pemberton said his goal is to win the fight, give Lacy an automatic rematch and buy his family a home. Pemberton and his fiancée Sylvia have a 3-year-old girl, Rylie, and he has custody of his 14-year-old son, Jarel, from a previous relationship.

“I’m tired of renting,” said Pemberton, who has worked as a lumberjack and a laborer for a construction company. “I want to own a home and raise my family. I want them to know it’s their home. My wife – I call her my wife – is a good cook. I’d like to buy her a little restaurant.”

Even though the aggressive Lacy is a daunting foe, the 2000 Olympian doesn’t impress Scully.

“Take away his mentality of going to war and Lacy’s not brilliant,” Scully said. “He’s overrated. I don’t believe the hype on him. I’m not sold on the whole thing.”

And Pemberton remembers his success the last time it was the most important night of his life.

“I’m going to try to kick ass,” he said. “All I can do is go in and fight a smart fight. God willing, I’ll be victorious.”

Also featured on the card will be IBF bantamweight titlist Rafael Marquez, who will defend his belt against undefeated Silence Mabuza, and Reno’s Joey Gilbert, who will challenge James North in a six-round super middleweight bout.