Calzaghe: Avoider or Avoided?
By Jamie Eskdale: Joe Calzaghe retired from boxing in February 2009 so I am perhaps going over old ground here. However I am still interested to know people’s opinion on the Welshman.
Joe Calzaghe was WBO Super Middleweight champion for 10 years. He successfully defended the title 21 times. Throughout his career he also held the WBC WBA and IBF versions of the Super Middleweight title and also held the ring title at Super Middleweight and also Light Heavyweight.
In 1997 Joe fought Chris Eubank for the vacant WBO Super Middleweight title.The title was vacated by Steve Collins claiming injury. Though many people at the time claimed he wanted nothing to do with Calzaghe. Collins later retired.
Calzaghe won a unanimous points decision against the tough but faded Eubank. Even putting him down in the 1st round. Eubank was full of praise for the young Welshman afterwards saying Calzaghe was ‘a true warrior’. Calzaghe still says it was his toughest fight. I think he has probably had tougher fights but I think the point he was making was that at the time Calzaghe was fighting as the young prospect against the ring smart veteran and really fighting for his future. As defeat would have been utterly disastrous for Calzaghe and there was a lot of pressure on him.
Calzaghe would go on defending the belt over the years. Fighting in Denmark on the Mike Tyson Brian Nielsen undercard against American Will McIntyre and also in Germany against Mario Veit. Although the bulk of his fights were in the UK particularly Wales. Calzaghe maintained that as the champion he could fight wherever he wanted.
Glen Johnson was vocal in repeatedly calling out Calzaghe. Johnson was fighting at Light Heavyweight at the time so I suppose Calzaghe had no need to fight him though when Johnson called him out for the 3rd time, Calzaghe turned down the fight claiming he had injured his back. Johnson instead fought Roy Jones Junior. A month later Calzaghe would fight Kabery Salem seeming to contradict the injured back explanation.
On April 2007 Calzaghe was due to defend his IBF strap against Robert Stieglitz. Instead Calzaghe vacated the title and would instead take on Peter Manfredo Jr, star of the tv show the Contender. This did seem strange though it was explained that HBO wanted to screen the fight but were concerned that Stieglitz wasn’t well known enough in the states so instead promised Calzaghe a date against Jermaine Taylor in exchange for taking the fight.
The Taylor fight never happened with many claiming Taylor didn’t want it and instead stayed at middleweight while Calzaghe was reigning at Super middleweight and didn’t move up until 2008 when Calzaghe had moved up to light heavy.
Joe and Sven Ottke reigned in the division At the same time and were fighting against the same guys. A fight between these 2 seemed almost inevitable. Again it never happened with claim and counter claim by both camps. Joe Calzaghe’s promoter at the time claimed they had offered Ottke 1 million US Dollars for the fight. A claim backed up by Ottkes advisers although they claimed they could make more money elsewhere without ever providing any proof.
Calzaghe would later face Jeff ‘left hook’ Lacy in a unification fight for Calzaghe’s WBO belt and Lacey’s IBF strap. It was also for the ring super middleweight title.
Lacy was hyped up as the big punching American who was going to expose the Joe Calzaghe myth. He was the overwhelming bookies favourite and most fans and pundits alike were tipping lacy to win.
Calzaghe produced an absolute master class in the fight and utterly dominated the bewildered Lacy. Joe won every round on the way to a unanimous points decision.
Lacy was very vocal in the build up saying there was no way he could lose or even be hurt by ‘slapper joe’. Calzaghe rocked him several times during the fight and afterwards said ‘How’s that for a slapper’. Joe earned himself a lot of new fans after the fight with even Sugar Ray Leonard who admitted knowing nothing of Calzaghe beforehand saying ‘Within 2 rounds I was a Calzaghe supporter, I stood up in front of the TV shouting ‘wow look at this guy’!
Lacey would slide into oblivion afterwards he would win his next 3 but then lost to Jermaine Taylor and never looked the same again.
There are 2 schools of thought on the fight. 1 is that Lacey was never that good to begin with and was an overmatched hype job. The other being that Joe destroyed him and knocked the will to fight out of him.
Calzaghe seemed at his most confident ever at this stage of his career and took on another unification bout this time against WBC and WBA champ undefeated Dane Mikkel Kessler.
The fight started with Kessler seeming to be the aggressor and landed some good shots particularly in the 4th round. From round 4 onwards Calzaghe took the fight by the scruff of the neck and simply overwhelmed the Dane with work rate and volume of punches with Kessler looking confused at times.
Calzaghe would win via unanimous decision making a statement that he was the number 1 Super Middleweight in the world. He would hint at moving up to Light Heavy in the aftermath saying it would be his last fight at Super Middleweight.
He would fight Bernard Hopkins next in a fight that really should have taken place years earlier. The pair were supposed to fight in 2002 with Then showtime senior Vice President of sports and events Jay Larkin revealing
‘A teleconference was set up in July 30th in New York, on the call was myself, Don King, Frank Warren and Bernard Hopkins lawyer Arnold Joseph. Along with Arnold was a women named Linda Carter who was there on behalf of Bernard. Arnold was asked how much it would take to set up a fight between Calzaghe and Hopkins and responded $3 million and the fight would have to be in the United States. Frank Warren immediately agreed, Don King agreed and as far as we were concerned all parties were singing from the same hymn sheet.
Arnold excused himself with Linda which I assume was to call Bernard. They came back with a new figure, $6 million, the deal collapsed.
Joe gets criticized sometimes for not fighting the big name Americans but in this case the fault never rested with him’.
The fight was a horrible fight with Hopkins putting Joe down in the first round with a right hand. Calzaghe rallied and took a few rounds to work Hopkins out and upped his work rate and punch output. Hopkins was continually clinching and leading with his head but although he was throwing a lot less punches he seemed to be landing the more meaningful shots. Though it has to be said the stats showed on average he was throwing 18 per round and landing 6.
Calzaghe’s best round was the 8th where he was well on top and actually looked like he could stop Hopkins. Hopkins used his savvy and feigned a low blow and bought himself a full 2 minutes.
Calzaghe won via split decision. Some people claim he got lucky but I suppose it depends on whether you preferred work rate and punch output or picking your shots, conserving energy and landing more accurate punches.
After the fight Calzaghe could have retired but said he would have 1 more fight. There was real excitement over who he would fight but most people were left baffled and deflated when it was announced he would face an over the hill Roy Jones Jnr.
The fight would take place at Madison square garden on PPV and as expected didn’t generate a lot of buys. Joe won a lopsided unanimous decision and seemed to take it easy in the latter rounds out of respect for Jones.
I feel that Joe shouldn’t have taken this fight. He should’ve fought against Kelly Pavlik who at the time was highly regarded and unbeaten and seemingly willing. Taking that kind of fight and winning it would’ve perhaps put to bed the claims that Calzaghe only took on opponents he could soundly beat. Fighting against Jones only fueled this.
Again Calzaghe said he had the right to go out on a high on his last fight against a legend. Sure he did and it was his right but had he taken a fight against an up and comer it would’ve surely sent out a better message.
I think at times it would appear that Calzaghe has taken on soft opponents. Looking at his record it is quite clear he often fought against guys who shouldn’t have been anywhere near a ring with him. Also the whole Glen Johnson episode of claiming an injury only to fight a month later does arouse suspicion.
Then again he seemed to peruse Ottke only to be told no. And also seemed to have been perusing Hopkins for a number of years before the fight actually happened. To then go and fight Against Hopkins in the states with an American referee and 3 American judges doesn’t portray an image of a man who was lacking in confidence.
He also fought a unification bout against the much hyped Jeff Lacey. For the same people who hyped him to then turn around and say he wasn’t that good after all after Joe dismantled him isn’t Calzaghe’s fault. When he took the fight Lacey was feared.
To then unify against Kessler who is still seen by many as the number 2 Super Middleweight on the planet today says a lot about him as well.
I think in conclusion there were times when he could’ve fought stronger opposition but also at the same time there were fighters who were avoiding the super middleweight division by staying at middleweight (Taylor) and jumping to light heavyweight (Hopkins). At the end of his career though what cannot be doubted is that he was without doubt the man at Super Middleweight and then to jump up a division and beat Hopkins who is still beating big names today shows he could have perhaps gone on a bit longer.