By Ron Borges
The Reality Hero understands what the reality of his situation is. It’s simple. Few people in boxing believes he’s real.
Peter Manfredo, Jr. knows he did little to change that perception with his non-performance against undisputed super middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe last year. Even though he believes the match was stopped too soon he cannot argue that he did anything to prevent that by lying on the ropes with his gloves around his ears as Calzaghe assaulted him.
Whether it was Calzaghe or the moment that really overwhelmed him, the fact is Manfredo didn’t fight back and when you don’t punch back you don’t punch for long. That is what makes his Dec. 8 fight against former IBF 168-pound champion Jeff Lacy so critical and so intriguing. It will be a career-defining moment for both Manfredo, who lost to Calzaghe for not putting up much resistance, and Lacy, who lost to him for the same reason but with far more calamitous consequences.
Manfredo’s fight was stopped in the third round as he was being slapped but seldom hit. Lacy’s ended after a 12-round decision so one-sided he didn’t win a round and left with his face beaten to a pulp after finding his backside on the canvas in the final moments of the fight. Which was a better way to go? The reality is it was better to be Manfredo than Lacy when they met Calzaghe but who will it be better to be on Dec. 8 when they meet each other on the undercard of Mayweather-Hatton?
Both have much to prove and perhaps only this fight to do it. Lacy must show he didn’t have all the fight beaten out of him in one night while Manfredo has to prove he has real fight in him after receiving his acclaim for losing three times on reality TV.
Manfredo admits he’s a product of The Contender series, a reality show that has produced more household names in U.S. boxing than all the real fights of the past two years. Yet that reality gnaws at him as well for he sees himself as more than that.
“We want to show everybody we’re not just “Contender’’ reality fighters,’’ Manfredo (28-4, 13 KO) said. “We want to show we’re real fighters. That’s why this is a must-win fight for me.’’
The same is true for Lacy, who has fought only once since losing to Calzaghe 19 months ago and didn’t look good. He claims an injury was the problem. Surely it was, but was the injury mental or physical? That is an issue he and Manfredo must decide.
Although both believe they are real, many others aren’t sure any more. For Lacy (22-1, 17 KO) that’s less of a problem because he is at least a former world champion and ex-Olympian who once was looked upon as a 168-pound version of Mike Tyson. Manfredo (28-4, 13 KO) has walked a different road to his notoriety.
Manfredo lost his first fight on The Contender series in its inaugural season only to be invited back when another fighter became ill. Given a reprieve, he won over millions of fans who fell in love with the show when he fought his way to the finals only to lose the first of two hotly disputed decisions to Sergio Mora, a debatable contender himself.
Manfredo’s Q rating was higher than his boxing rating by the time he faced Calzaghe and his failure to respond aggressively has been attributed by some to being overwhelmed at the sight of 33,000 Welshmen screaming for his blood. Now he is on a lesser, but no less important, stage where he must defeat Lacy to prove he ever belonged in the company of someone like Calzaghe. Anything less and the consequences will be dire.
“I told Peter the truth,’’ said trainer Freddie Roach, who has been preparing Manfredo at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood. “’If you don’t win this fight you’ll just be a journeyman.’ It’s a must-win situation but Peter should beat this guy.
“Lacy has a lot of power but that’s pretty much all he has. If he hits you he’ll knock you out but he’s very beatable. If Peter uses his jab and his boxing ability he can win easily. If he lets his tough guy mentality get the better of him he could have problems.
“That’s hard to control in the middle of a fight but he has to do it. If he doesn’t he’ll hear from me when he gets back to the corner. I just hope he makes it back to the corner.’’
Lacy possesses the kind of one-punch power that can turn any fight his way while Manfredo must win with a methodically controlled approach that uses angles and quick punches to keep Lacy turning and unable to set his feet. The Contender understands this, just as he understands this is a fight that will either cement his reputation as a TV creation or convince his critics he’s for real. The problem is it’s a long road from understanding to execution.
“Lacy and me are in the same boat,’’ Manfredo said. “I have to win. So does he but we both can’t win. I have the style to beat him. I just have to listen to my corner.
“He’s definitely dangerous. He can hurt you at any time with one punch. I accept that. It’s in my blood to fight but I’ve come to a crossroads. I have to do the right thing to make money for my family. I have to fight smart. I have a tendency to forget to box sometimes but Freddie will straighten me out.’’
Roach was not in England for the Calzaghe fight because he was preparing Oscar De La Hoya to face Mayweather but he’s back now and has been readying Manfredo both mentally and physically for a fight everyone associated with Manfredo admit is one where losing, though a possibility, is not an option.
“It’s obviously a very important fight,’’ said Manfredo’s father and co-trainer, Peter, Sr. “I believe we have the style and the game plan to beat Lacy. He was exposed by Calzaghe. If Peter follows the plan Freddie has for him and fires quick, short bursts and gets out he’ll look good and beat the guy. A lot of people believe (Vitali) Tsypko beat him (in his only post-Calzaghe outing, a majority decision Lacy was awarded in his hometown) but we can’t go by what Tsypko did.
“Peter has to be strong minded enough to use his boxing skills. Freddie doesn’t want him against the ropes. I don’t want him against the ropes. Freddie doesn’t want him to bang with this guy. I don’t want him to bang with this guy. But what does Peter want? If he wants to win, he’s got to listen.’’
Listen to what’s real and act accordingly. If Peter Manfredo, Jr. wants to ever be considered more than a reality TV creation that’s the only reality that counts any more.