Joe Calzaghe – How great is he actually?

By Dominic Sauboorah – To some boxing fans, winning world titles, becoming undisputed and maintaining perfect records doesn’t always translate into them labeling fighters as great. However, this line of thinking doesn’t seem to apply that much when discussing Joe Calzaghe. The British fighter won every version of the super-middleweight world championship, became the Ring Magazine light heavyweight champion, and maintained an unbeaten 46-0 record. On the surface, it sounds great, but when you delve deeper into his resume, is it really?

In his first, meaningful world level fight, he fought Chris Eubank Sr. and beat him comprehensively on points. On paper, a great opponent to say you won against. However, Eubank hadn’t beaten a credible opponent for 3 years and at 31 years old, was viewed as past his prime. Nevertheless, for Calzaghe to beat Eubank so comfortably in only his 24th professional fight is commendable. The outcome of this match-up should’ve been a coming-out party for the Welshman, thereby catapulting him onto bigger things – it didn’t.

Over the course of 9 years, Calzaghe made 17 defences of the WBO super middleweight title he won beating Eubank Sr. The fighters he fought, with the exception of Robin Reid, were either European or fringe World level. After almost a decade had passed of fighting sub-par opposition, Calzaghe finally landed a world title unification against unbeaten IBF champion Jeff Lacy. The fact that it took Calzaghe that long to unify the division is frankly embarrassing. In spite of this, his performance was stellar and he dominated Lacy from the first bell to last. In retrospect, it can be argued that this victory was over-hyped, due to Lacy amounting to nothing for the remainder of his career, as well as being somewhat of an unknown quantity going into the fight in the first place.

Calzaghe went on to defend his unified championship against Sakio Bika, who at the time was viewed as world level, but not elite. The same can be said for his next fight, defending his WBO title against the unheralded Peter Manfredo. Thankfully, it didn’t take Calzaghe as long to unify as it did before. In 2007, Calzaghe fought the talented, unbeaten, and unified WBA/WBC champion Mikkel Kessler. It was a close and competitive fight, but Calzaghe deserved to win and looked good doing so. Unlike his victory over Eubank Sr., his triumph over Kessler propelled his career and it took him into the American boxing market, whereby he faced Ring Magazine light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins.

Calzaghe won by a split decision in a fight where neither guy was impressive. The Brit threw flurries of punches, however, didn’t seem to land clean all that often. The opposite applied to Hopkins, who landed clean shots, but his punch out-put was extremely low. Overall, it was the work rate of Calzaghe that saw him come out on top. You could make the case that neither guy deserved to win, as both of them couldn’t establish any form of dominance over the course of the 12 rounds. Following this, instead of Calzaghe chasing a live Light Heavyweight, he fought faded, past his prime legend Roy Jones Jr. and beat him by a comfortable unanimous decision. Similar to Eubank Sr. another good name to have on your resume, but one that doesn’t come with much credit, due to the American being a shell of his former self. At the pinnacle of his career, Calzaghe decided to retire after victory over Jones Jr.

When you reflect on Calzaghe’s unbeaten 46-0, he, in theory, only beat two world-class opponents – Kessler and Hopkins. The other well-known fighters were either fringe World-class or past their prime. He may have won multiple World titles, become a 2 weight world champion and maintained an unbeaten record. But in spite of all that, for there to have arguably been only a couple of threats to those triumphs being thwarted over the course of nearly 50 fights, it begs two questions. 1) have his achievements been amplified? And 2) does he have a padded record? Based on my analysis, regardless of how much of a talented boxer I believe he was, the answer to both of these questions is a resounding yes.