Jeff Lacy’s Struggle for Super Middleweight Recognition

By Francis Walker
Updated: August 7, 2005

NEW YORK — The 168-pound, super middleweight division has been one of the least talked about weight classes here in America since Roy Jones, Jr. abandoned the weight division to become a light heavyweight.

Although, hard-punching, IBF super middleweight champion, Jeff Lacy could finally be the one fighter to bring more recognition into the 168-pound class the journey could be endless.

The super middleweight division is one of the youngest weight-classes in boxing. It has only been around for slightly over two decades and it was created to bridge the 15-pound gap between middleweight (160) and light-heavyweight (175).

Ray Leonard, Iran Barkley, Michael Nunn, James, Toney, and even Roy Jones, Jr. each won a piece of the 168-pound championship. But since fighting at 168 pounds was not as glamorous as competing in the welterweight, middleweight, light heavyweight, and heavyweight divisions, fighters like Leonard, Barkley, Nunn, Toney, and Jones never focused on establishing their identities as a “super middleweight” champion.

Leonard and Barkley has already been recognized as middleweights and eventually moved up to light heavyweight to win another division title. Jones and Toney would become the only two former middleweight champions in more than 100 years to capture a world heavyweight title.

Only two fighters to have made significant attempts to establish identities as super middleweight champions were Sven Ottke and Nigel Benn.

In Oct. 1992, Benn won the WBC super middleweight championship. Benn would reign supreme as the WBC champion for nearly 3 ½ years before losing his title in Mar. 1996.

Benn actually set the record for most consecutive super middleweight title defenses with 9, but it did not transcend into a boxing legacy for Benn.

That’s because, Roy Jones, Jr. was recognized as the highest-paid, best middleweight fighter here in the United States. Also, a fight between Jones and Benn could never come off. Lastly, Benn was never the same relentless fighter his spectacular title defense against Gerald McClellan (Feb. 1995) left his challenger permanently blind and disabled.

In Oct. 1998, Ottke, in only his thirteenth professional bout, won the IBF super middleweight trophy. Ottke, recognized for his hand speed, tight defense, and hometown favoritism with boxing judges, broke Benn’s super middleweight title record to establish his mark with 22 successful consecutive defenses before retiring g undefeated (34-0, 6 KOs) in 1004.

Benn and Ottke never fought the top American fighters on American soil. They were barely seen or heard of, which is why the super middleweight division is more popular in Britain, Canada, and Germany. Former world champions Benn, Ottke, Eric Lucas, Davey Hilton, Markus Beyer, Bruno Girard, and Richie Woodhall were British, Canadian, or German.

The last recognizable African-American super middleweight champion was Frankie Liles. He was a hard-punching, fast-moving, and an excellent boxer. Liles actually held onto the WBA super middleweight title for more than 5 years.

But during that time, Liles was inactive fighting under Don King, who simply could not find big fights for Liles. Liles ended up looking faded as he was KO’d by Byron Mitchell in June 1999.

At 28, Lacy is significant as a super middleweight because, he is a young, undefeated, world champion. He has a powerful left jab, along with KO-power in both fists. Lacy comes to fight and is exciting to watch.

The problem is that fighters such as Roy Jones, Jr. and Antonio Tarver compete as light heavyweights, Bernard Hopkins and Jermain Taylor as middleweights, and Winky Wright, Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather, Zab Judah, and Shane Mosley all compete from 154 and under. They can fight each other. Lacy appears to be fighting in a boxing ring by himself without having an apparent recognizable foe.

Lacy is an upcoming champion competing in a forgotten weight class. Lacy can stay busy defending his title and even make some money. But as far as becoming a superstar, making history, and fighting in exhilarating “must-see” fights on the highest level on his own terms, that probably may not happen as long as Lacy is in the super middleweight division.

Lacy (20-0-1, 16 KOs) made the third successful defense of the super middleweight title on Saturday, at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Florida, as former WBC 168-pound champ, IBF No. 3-ranked, Robin Reid (38-5-1, 27 KOs) quit on his stool after the seventh-round.

Reid has more experience than Lacy as a professional and had never been dropped, or knocked out in his career. Not only did Lacy make Reid look like an amateur boxer, but the champion also dropped his challenger several times on the mat.

“I took his best shots and he couldn’t take mine,” Lacy said after the fight. “That was the difference of the fight. I get stronger as the fight goes on; he was getting weaker.”

Reid attempted to frustrate Lacy behind clinching, kidney punching, and once took a swing behind the champion’s head. It was not before the third round that it was clear Lacy was too strong for Reid.

Lacy decked Reid with a hard right hook to his chin prior to referee Jorge Alonzo’s call for break. Immediately following the knockdown, Reid was docked a point for head-butting Lacy prior to the knockdown.

Reid, who also repeatedly hit Lacy with kidney punches, was docked another point for holding in round seven. By that time, Lacy’s dominance was apparent.

His resiliency to apply relentless pressure behind crushing body punches, overhand left-right hands, and uppercuts from various angles is what caused Reid’s corner to allow their man to shamelessly quit on his stool.

“I think my performance I put on tonight spoke for itself [on what he would like to say to Joe Calzaghe],” Lacy added. “The shirt Gary gave him [Reid], ‘all he did was come to America and get knocked out by Jeff Lacy,’…we do what we say. We do what we say.”

There is talk of Lacy challenging undefeated Joe Calzaghe of England. The fight would be a very significant fight to determine who the best is at 168. Calzaghe has been an unrecognized WBO super middleweight champ for more than eight years.

He’s hugely popular in Europe, but that success has not transcended onto American soil. Also, Calzaghe has fought in as much obscurity in Europe as the previous champions and he is unknown or “forgotten” here in America.

Should the fight be made, Lacy would have to travel to Europe, instead of Las Vegas, New York, or Atlantic City which is boxing’s biggest and most historical fight markets in recent decades.