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Comparing Legacies: Hamed and Calzaghe

Joe Calzaghe Naseem HamedBy Matthew Thomas Potter: Writing in his online blog for The Ring Magazine website, columnist Michael Rosenthal gave his opinions on the ten best British fighters of all time. At number four on the list was Joe Calzaghe (46-0, KO 32). Naseem Hamed (36-1, KO 31) was only granted an honourable mention, essentially a footnote; an afterthought, on the list of the greatest British boxers.

It is interesting to compare the career, resumes and legacies of both Calzaghe and Hamed. The assumed logic of conventional and popular opinion on this subject often opens up a gulf in class between the two fighters. However, a more methodical and objective approach to this analysis hints at a closer level of achievement, but not recognition.

Aged just 20 years old, Hamed won the European Bantamweight title, and then added the WBC International Super-Bantamweight title to his ever growing collection of honours. He then moved up to featherweight. The next year, Hamed became the youngest British world champion ever when he knocked out the WBO belt holder Steve Robinson, in the eighth round to win the Featherweight title. In his first defence of his new title, Hamed disposed of his opponent inside forty five seconds of the opening round.

At the age of 23, Hamed went to America to fight former two-time world champion Kevin Kelly, a man with only one defeat on his record prior to facing Hamed. In comparison, Calzaghe’s first fight in America came at the tender age of 36.

Before conquering America, Hamed disposed of Tom ‘Boom-Boom’ Johnson, a man who had made ten successful defence of his world title before being knocked out by Hamed in the eighth round.

Hamed also beat an unbeaten Argentinean contender in Remigio Molina, a multiple world champion in Manuel Medina, a man with a glittering amateur career in Daniel Alicea, and a British, Commonwealth and European Champion in Billy Hardy, who Hamed knocked out in the first round.

During his illustrious career, Hamed went on to spectacularly beat other world champions like Wilfredo Vasquez, Cesar Soto, Vuyani Bungu, Paul Ingle and Wayne McCullough.

Joe Calzaghe was 26 years old when he first won a world title, and it was a full nine years before he attempted to add another, or make any concerted effort to unify the super-middleweight division.

During these nine years, Calzaghe defended his significant, but still somewhat lightly regard title, in his home country, against less than stellar opposition that included the likes Juan Carlos Jimenez, Branko Sobot, Rick Thornberry, Will McIntyre, Mger Mkrtchian, Evans Ashira and Tocker Pudwill.

However, not all of Calzaghe’s opposition during this period was so underwhelming. He did face some credible opponents and tough challenges in world champions like Byron Mitchell, Ritchie Woodall and Charles Brewer. Calzaghe also won a very close split decision over Robin Reed and beat a good domestic talent in David Starie.

From becoming a world champion at the age of 26, it took Calzaghe ten years to fight in America, and nine years to challenge anyone for another major title. Hamed became a world champion at the age of 21, he challenged Tom Johnson for the IBF world title, less than two years later – and he fought in America, that same year, in 1997.

These facts are important because they highlight the mentality of the two men, and their approach to their boxing careers. While Calzaghe was happy and content to be a permanent resident of the Cardiff Ice Ring, fight nobodies and give rematches to men he knocked out in the first round (Mario Veit), Hamed was chasing belts, knocking out credible opponents and travelling to America for the biggest fights against the best competitors.

Both Men’s resumes are comparable. But it is perhaps Calzaghe’s whose has the slight edge, with an excellent win over Mikkel Kessler and a good win over Jeff Lacy. Calzaghe also has a perfect unbeaten record, while Hamed has the blemish of one points-decision loss to a prime version of an all time great fighter, in Marco Antonio Barrera.

While Calzaghe arguably has the better resume, Hamed certainly has a more impressive collection in the manner of his victories, most of his wins came by way of early knock outs, with a few wide unanimous decisions thrown in for good measure. One of Calzaghe best wins, against a 43 year old Bernard Hopkins was a majority decision in a fight that many people felt Calzaghe lost, including one of the ringside judges in Las Vegas.

In the longevity stakes, Calzaghe’s relative inactivity at the highest level for most of his fifteen year professional career is in sharp contrast to Hamed; who was hungry and eager to fight and beat the best the sport had to offer in his decade long career. Both men cleaned out their respective divisions; the difference is; Hamed did this inside three years; he captured the WBO, IBF and WBC titles, and beat the WBA champion (Vasquez) to unify the featherweight division and become the liner champion. It took Calzaghe ten years to unify, and rival what Hamed did in three.

In recent years Calzaghe has taken on a better quality of opponent, with wins over Lacy, Kessler and two ageing American legends in Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. (a man half a decade past his best; and unable to physically or mentally compete at the highest level). However, his reluctance to take on credible opponents during the decade he spent defending his WBO title in his backyard has damaged his legacy significantly and irreparably.

Hamed is a controversial and divisive figure, and this often leads to him not being given the credit he deserves, for what was an impressive career. Hamed left behind him a strong legacy. This legacy might not be as revered or celebrated as Calzaghe’s, but equally, it is certainly not as distant or incredible in comparison as some would have you believe. If Joe Calzaghe is the fourth best British fighter of all time, then Hamed deserves to be close behind, and not merely as a footnote in the history of the sport.

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