Was Calzaghe really as good as his record would suggest?
By Byron Wallin: When reading articles on this site concerning Joe Calzaghe (46-0 32 KO’s) the common themes seem to comprise whether Calzaghe really was as good as his record would suggest, or whether infact he was nothing more than a carefully matched fighter who fought in a weak division in a poor era.
I will offer my own opinions on this matter later in the article. However, first I would like to explore an aspect of Calzaghe which seems to be largely ignored by most writers and which i believe has a direct impact on how we should appraise Calzaghe’s achievements: his brittle hands.
For most of his career Calzaghe was a revered puncher stopping many opponents early in fights. It could be argued that he did not possess the one punch knockout power of a prime Roy Jones Jr, however his quick two fisted attacks were ferocious, and in his prime Calzaghe was an incredibly aggressive fighter, often overwhelming opponents. Evidence of this can be seen in his first round knockdown of the great former champion and granite chinned Chis Eubank, who later told reporters it was the hardest he had ever been hit (baring in mind this is a man who had tasted the power of Nigel ‘the dark destroyer’ Benn). Further examples can be seen in Calzaghe’s demolition of the previously undefeated and highly rated Mario Veit, as well as his heroic coming off the canvass knockout of American hope Byron Mitchell.
There were reports circling in the media even during these high achieving prime years that Calzaghe was suffering with breaks in his hands, even resulting in him pulling out of fights in order for them to heal properly. Brittle hands can be a career ending injury for a fighter as their ability to punch can be so severely diminished that are rendered unable to compete. In the opinion of the author the first real evidence that Calzaghe’s punching power was on a steep decline, was showcased in one of the standout performances of his career against the great American hope that was Jeff Lacy. Coming into this fight few pundits or sports writers gave Joe a chance against this supposed ‘new Tyson’ who was expected to destroy Calzaghe and dominate the division. However, what transpired that night was a boxing clinic, with calzaghe schooling his young challenger in every round to win a shutout decision. It was reported that Lacy was hit with no fewer than one thousand punches during the fight. Well many seemed to revel in this statistic I found it to be a cause for concern that with all these punches landing home the fight still went the distance, and while lacy may have been bewildered at times, resulting in him hitting the canvas once, he was never seriously hurt by a punch.
After an entertaining tear up with Sakio Bika, Calzaghe fought Danish star Mikkel Kessler to become the Undisputed Super Middlewight Champion of the World. In this fight it appeared Calzaghe’s punching power has declined yet further with Kessler landing what were clearly the harder shots throughout the fight. Only Calzaghe’s superb skills and well preserved speed allowed him to outbox Kessler to a relatively easy decision win. Calzaghe now appeared to have the world at his feet, however i feared for Joe and at the time sensed he would not fight on for much longer. Although he still possessed nearly every attribute to dominate the division for another five years his power was almost certainly gone.
The last two fights of Calzaghe’s career came against the men he will forever be compared against: Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. Calzaghe was able to scrape a controversial split decision win against Hopkins in a messy fight. Again it was Hopkins who landed the harder shots and it appeared Calzaghe was able to sway two of the three judges with his still outstanding work rate and little else. Calzaghe at this point seemed barely able to punch at all, merely slapping Hopkins with the inside of his gloves in short flurries. This was not the same Calzaghe whose stunning two fisted attacks used to strike fear into opponents hearts. This was a man whose hands had given out on him leaving him almost unable to defend himself in the ring with any sort of offence.
The Jones Jr fight was little more than a farce. Jones was a shell of his former self, and despite a promising first round knockdown of Calzaghe, he offered little else in the fight. By the later rounds the fight seemed to have transgressed into nothing more than a circus event with both men showboating and neither doing much significant punching. Much like the Hopkins fight Calzaghe was only able to offer flurries of slaps, never able to turn a punch over and hurt Jones Jr. When Calzaghe announced his retirement shortly after the fight it came as no surprise as i felt he had little choice.
If Calzaghe had decided to fight on for a few more years I have no doubt he would of beaten, possibly by a Carl Froch type fighter, a man who could simply walk through Calzaghe’s now powerless punches to land his own. When a fighter advances in age their speed and reflexes diminish, leaving their punching power more vital than ever. Without this is believe Calzaghe would have failed to keep the younger lions of his division at bay resulting in his defeat. It is with this thought in mind that I conclude Calzaghe retired at the perfect time as to carry on would have been doing his legacy and himself an injustice. In his prime men like Froch, Ward and Dawson would not have lived with him. He would have overwhelmed and easily beaten all of them without a doubt. I cannot say the same for a prime Bernard Hopkins or Roy Jones Jr, these men are/were also very special, and i feel in my heart of hearts that a prime Jones Jr would dominate any Super Middleweight division in any era. One thing i am sure of is that we will never see Calzaghe grace the boxing ring again, as in his heart of hearts he knows his hands are as shot as Roy Jones’ reflexes, and he would not want to walk the same sad path that Jones is treading.