By Scott Foster
Jeff Lacy is a risk taker. Never one to fight from the backseat, Lacy is most comfortable with his foot lodged firmly on the gas pedal, walking down his opponents like a beefed up BMW barreling down the autobahn. So rather than settle for the customary tune-up in the wake of the Taylor loss, Lacy chose to roll the dice instead, forming his own promotional company with an eye on illuminating the burgeoning Florida fight scene. “Left Hook Promotions” will kick-off it’s inaugural event this Friday night at the USF Sun Dome when Jeff Lacy (24-2, 17 KOs) takes on Otis Griffin (19-4-2, 7 KOs), winner of Oscar De La Hoya’s boxing reality show, “The Next Great Champ.”
As a business venture, “Left Hook Promotions” was a long time in the making. Lacy’s goal is to create a small stable of fighters who he can personally attend to, offering up real world experience with a focus on the fighters needs, as opposed to the bottom line.
“The difference between ‘Left Hook’ & Golden Boy or GSP is the attention paid to the fighter,” Lacy promised. “You have promoters and managers who come into the sport because there is a lot of money to be generated in this game. From what I’ve experienced, when you are not seeing eye to eye with your promoter or manager, I feel money is the thing that breaks you away from them.”
After aligning with two of the largest promoters in the sport, Lacy intends to utilize those experiences and translate them into a more amiable working relationship, one attuned to the specific fighter and his day-to-day needs.
“It’s that feeling of having some one-on-one attention. Not knocking what Golden Boy is doing, they are providing for a lot of fighters — I have nothing bad to say about them — but at the same time, from my experience, I didn’t feel there was a lot of attention there. I’m looking to reach a fighter from the perspective that I felt I wasn’t getting from these marquee promoters and managers. I don’t want to feed fighters BS, I want to tell them what it is, straight up. What I’ve seen on paper, from other promoters, it wasn’t the way it really went.”
For a fighter still very much invested in the sport, Lacy is of the opinion that spreading himself thin, at this stage of his career, will add to his longevity, not detract from it. After a brutal stretch relegated him to clawing his way back up the ladder, Lacy hopes to regain the mindset that forged his reign at super-middleweight, focusing on his love of the game and the assertive style that once flowed freely from that.
“When I first came out from the amateurs,” Lacy admitted, “I was doing it because I wanted to go out and look my best. And you got that. But once I stared to understand the business of boxing, that’s when I started to get a little bit less connected. My focus wasn’t always just going in there just to look good. I gotta worry about huge things like, ‘is the number right, is this person trying to do this to me…’ That’s when I started to understand. When I got [further] up the ladder I started to see certain things like, ‘Wow, why is this like this now, how come it ain’t like that?’ I started to see the business side of boxing, and once I got the chance to see the business, it took my focus off me just trying to look good, like before. By forming Left Hook Promotions, now I get to go in there and be the person I was before. I just need to go in there and look good.”
This transition couldn’t have occurred at a more opportune time. Post Calzaghe and Taylor, the next 12-18 months may come to define Lacy’s overall career, and for a fighter whose only losses came at the hands of arguably 2 of the most dangerous champions in the sport, Jeff appears primed to undertake a legitimate stretch run befitting such an ex-champion.
“The way I feel to this point, I feel like I have all that behind me. I was taking a lot of pressure on my shoulders, after the Calzaghe fight all the way to Jemain Taylor. I feel a breath of fresh air right now. And I’m going to prove that on April 10th.”
Sandwiched between the 2 losses, Lacy’s trials were further magnified by injuries sustained inside the ring. Just as the chronic eye injury had lapsed into a virtual side-note, Lacy tore a rotator cuff in the early rounds of his return bout with Vitali Tyspko. Jeff valiantly fought through the injury to earn the win, but it resulted in an extended layoff that couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time, or so many thought.
“The one year layoff was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Lacy said, laughing. “I was so caught up in people taking about the Calzaghe fight, and when I tore the rotator cuff against Vitali Tsypko, and still came out with the unanimous decision win, it opened some eyes in the press and gave me the chance to take a vacation. I hadn’t taken a vacation my entire career. I was fighting every 3 months, but the injury helped me step away from boxing, to have fun a little bit. When I came back, I came back & fought a guy that was active, and I got the unanimous decision. Then I fight Jermain Taylor, after he had 3 brilliant fights with Hopkins and Pavlik, and I shut him down for 7 of the 12 rounds we fought.”
While the judges awarded Lacy only 2 of the 12 rounds in the Taylor bout, many ringside felt Lacy showed some of the fire that once defined him as a world champion, consistently pressing the fight even as Taylor countered effectively. Granted, Jermain Taylor earned the unanimous decision, but he did so outside of the box, tabling his vaunted jab by electing to mix it up with the free-swinging banger.
“I wasn’t so down on myself after the Taylor fight, I know Jermain like the back of my hand. Jermain was scared to death every time I got close to him. I don’t hang my head down from that performance. I felt I was pressing the fight; that the fight was a lot closer than how [the judges & commentators] had it. I’m not blaming anyone else, shame on me — but let’s do this now. I’ve got all this behind me, my mind is clear. The business part of boxing, with me promoting the marquee names, and myself, everything is behind me now. All the problems I used to have — the things I never said anything about, that people don’t know about — that’s all behind me now.”
Less than 5 month removed from the Taylor loss, Lacy now turns his attention to Otis Grant, another southpaw whom many believe could trouble Lacy, stylistically, much in the same manner as Tsypko, or to a lesser extent, Calzaghe.
“Otis Griffin is a southpaw and he’s a boxer,” Lacy observed, “and being that he is a boxer it is going to allow me to go out there and prove it to all the people who think that I have difficulty with boxers. They have no idea who I learned to fight from; I learned how to box by being in the ring with Winky. I learned how to box from a southpaw — I have no problem with southpaws.”
If successful, Lacy has several options on the table, most notably an all-Florida showdown with future hall-of-fame inductee Roy Jones Jr [53-5 w/39ko]. With both Jones & Lacy heading their own promotional companies, many of the typical hurdles have been removed, and while the purse-split looms as an obvious obstacle, Lacy already has a venue in mind.
“The Jones fight would be a huge fight for the Tampa Bay area. I have a huge fan base here. I’ve put up numbers in the past that rival Vegas, and with the economy the way it is, the fans need something to take their minds off that. What better than 2 local fighters from the same state willing to put it all on the line, scratching at it before you find out who is the best. I’m doing this to bring the attention back to Florida. I’m doing this to bring big-time boxing back, and it’s going to help out everyone in the long run, it’s not just about me.”
A catch weight has been proposed for the Jones bout, and although Lacy has spent his entire professional career at super-middle, the jump to light-heavy comes as a blessing, offering a more mature Lacy yet another added advantage.
“I feel that being at 175, I could still weigh in at 173, and I feel at my best at 173lbs. My hand speed will be good at light-heavy. I start camp at 175 to get down to 168; that is the perfect weight for me. I’m a smaller framed 168lb fighter moving up to 175, and those guys being a little slower at 175 will make me even quicker. This is going to be a great fight, should it come off in the future.”
Also looming is an all Florida grudge match, with Tampa’s Lacy vehemently calling neighboring Orlando’s favorite son, ex-champion Antonio Tarver [27-5 w/19ko]. Tarver insists that Lacy is not on his level, and while this match may be 3-4 years past it’s due date, both fighters now find themselves on a more even footing, granting the fans less technical gamesmanship and more bell-to-bell electricity.
“That is another fight that’s gonna be a great fight, should it happen,” Lacy proffered. “Should he come down off his high horse — off his cloud — that’s gonna be a great mega-fight in Tampa. It’s another fight people want to see. At the end of the day, they know I’m coming in there to fight; I’m not coming in there to tap dance, I’m coming to fight. Tarver is not willing to make that fight happen because he has his head stuck in a cloud. He knows what would really happen…”
Jeff Lacy’s eventual endgame entails a return to his roots, bookending his career with the technique that paved his way to a world title. Make no mistake, Lacy has inherent skills inside the ring, and the home-run attraction that has recently supplanted his Olympian pedigree was simply a layer masking what has always resided beneath. With boxing, as with life, you are only as good as your last performance, but Lacy cautions all those who would doubt his ability in the ring: “Left Hook” is much more than just that.
“Doubt just fuels me more; it pushes me even harder,” Lacy confided. “That’s the main thing about me, I thrive off of doubt. It makes me work hard in the gym, and coming off this last fight, with people saying, ‘Jeff’s done, he’s only won 2 rounds…’ What I feel inside me right now, I’m sparring with 3 different guys and I’m beating the hell out of them. From what I feel inside of me, nobody has seen me box this well. My camp hasn’t seen me box this well, establishing my jab with confidence. They haven’t seen me this good, ever.”