By Ken Hissner: When WBO, WBA, and WBC Super Middleweight champion Joe “Pride of Wales” Calzaghe made his debut in the US, he was 44-0 with 32 knockouts meeting former world middleweight champion Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins, then 48-4-1, in April of 2008 in Las Vegas, Nevada, as light heavyweights.
Hopkins made the statement, “no white boy is going to beat me, or I won’t be able to go back to the hood.” Southpaw Calzaghe took it all in stride when he entered the ring. After a minute into the opening round, a lead right from Hopkins put Calzaghe on the canvas. He was up and taking it to Hopkins, who used every trick in the book, holding, spinning him around, getting behind him, butting, and whatever it took to frustrate Calzaghe.
In the fourth round, Hopkins maneuvered behind Calzaghe, hitting him with a right on the face. Later in the round, Calzaghe was again spun around with Hopkins behind him. Calzaghe landed a backhander right, having referee Joe Cortez give both a warning. It was one of the few times the partial Cortez warned Hopkins for anything.
From the fifth through the seventh round, Calzaghe had a slight edge. In the eighth round, he got the best of Hopkins, who would hit him after the bell. Calzaghe swaggered back to his corner. In the ninth round, Calzaghe nailed Hopkins with a lead left on the chin. Hopkins came back with a right of his own. When Calzaghe hit him with a combination, Hopkins immediately tied him up.
In between rounds, Calzaghe’s father-trainer Enzo urged him, screaming to take it to Hopkins. In the tenth round, Calzaghe spun Hopkins around, pumping him from behind with his body knocking Hopkins to the canvas. Hopkins took the time to re-coup as if he was hurt when referee Cortez gave him five minutes to get back into action.
Calzaghe started jumping up and down with his hands held high, getting the crowd excited. Hopkins came back using his head while holding Calzaghe. Calzaghe’s hand speed was taking its toll, and at the bell, Hopkins again hit him after the bell.
At this point, Richie Woodhall, the ring commentator, had it 95-95. In the eleventh round, Hopkins faked getting hit low, biding his time. He landed a good right after this, and Calzaghe came back using his hand speed to take the round. In the twelfth and final round, every time Calzaghe got the best of Hopkins, the latter would grab him. At the bell, Calzaghe, with arms held high, jumped up on the ropes in victory. Woodall had it 115-113 Calzaghe.
Awaiting the decision, Calzaghe again got up on the ropes to the delight of the crowd. Judge Adalaide Byrd, originally from Philadelphia, had it 114-113 Hopkins, Chuck Giampa 116-111, and Ted Gimza 115-112 for Calzaghe, as did this writer.
“He caught me in the first round though I thought I slipped. It was hard to pin him down, so I had to just let my hands go. I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty, but I want to thank God for the win. He is a great fighter, but I think the pressure got to wear him down. (In being asked who he wanted next) I believe I am the legend killer and would like Roy Jones, Jr. next.
“I wanted to take him into deep waters. I’m not marked look at his face (small cut on the nose), and I thought I won. The fans know it, and I took the undefeated fighter to school. They saw a 43-year-old take this fighter to school,” said Hopkins.
Hopkins would go on to fight another eight years until the age of fifty-one, winning the light heavyweight title, so he wasn’t over the hill when he fought Calzaghe.
In Calzaghe’s case, he would end his career in his next fight coming in Madison Square Garden defeating former world champion Roy Jones, Jr., 52-4, who would go on to fight another ten years.
“I can remember going into Madison Square Garden thinking this is going to be my last fight,” said Calzaghe.
In the first round, Calzaghe would flurry with punches after Jones would counter him with rights until the final thirty seconds when Jones landed a hard jab followed by a right mostly with his forearm on the side of the neck, dropping Calzaghe, who got up and came back fighting hard. In the second round, Calzaghe had Jones against the ropes landing unanswered punches. Calzaghe’s nose started to bleed by the end of the round. In the third round, Calzaghe started showboating, landing punch after punch as Jones had his hands held high, fending off some of those punches.
In the fourth and fifth rounds, Calzaghe again had Jones against the ropes for the most part. In the sixth round, it was all Calzaghe until Jones landed a good uppercut to the chin in the final seconds of the round. Commentator Harold Lederman had it 4-2 in rounds for Calzaghe. In the seventh round, Jones, with hands to his side, was doing well until he got cut over the left eye from a right hook by Calzaghe.
In the eighth round, Jones started holding more. Calzaghe started coming forward with his hands to his side (commentators mentioned it was the first time Jones had ever been cut in his career) using his superior hand speed to dominate Jones working on the cut. In the ninth round, Jones kept being backed against the ropes by Calzaghe. Between rounds, Jones asked his corner if his left eye was closed.
Lederman had it 7-2 in rounds at the end of the round.
In the tenth round, Jones kept coming forward with his hands held high, not letting his hands go. The cut obviously bothered Jones with blood running down the side of his face.
In the eleventh round, Calzaghe started showboating when he had Jones backed into a corner. Calzaghe started picking Jones apart as the latter was fighting with his left eye closed. In the twelfth and final round, Calzaghe halfway through the round landed a hard lead left to the chin of Jones. In the final minute, Calzaghe started showboating, feeling he had the fight won. Lederman had it 117-110.
The scores were Roth, Lederman, and O’Connor, all having it 118-109 for Calzaghe with this writer 117-110. It would be Calzaghe’s final bout at age 36 due to injured hands. He was improving his record to 46-0. He would be inducted into the IBHOF five years later.
Reviewing the early career of Calzaghe’s in October of 1996, he fought for his first title, winning the British crown in his fourteenth fight stopping Stephon Wilson, 11-1 in 8 rounds. In April of 1996, in his only defense of that title, he stopped Mark Delaney, 21-0, in 5 rounds.
In October 1997, Calzaghe won the vacant WBO World title in defeating the UK’s Chris “Simply the Best” Eubank, 45-2-2, over 12 rounds.
“I was going to meet Steve Collins, who was 21-0 with 20 knockouts but instead, Eubank was chosen (by the WBO). I knew it was a more dangerous fight because when he had his back against the ropes, he’s more dangerous,” said Calzaghe. He would defend this title twenty-one times. Some defeated were Juan Carlos Gimenez, 51-8-3, Robin Reid 26-1-1, Dave Starie, 22-1, Omar Sheika, 20-1, Richie Woodhall, 26-2, and Mario Veit, 30-0.
In Calzaghe’s first fight out of the UK, he stopped Will McIntyre, 29-2, of the US in Copenhagen, Denmark. In his next fight, he defeated former IBF Super Middleweight champion from the US Charles “The Hatchet” Brewer, 37-8. In May of 2005, in a rematch, but this time in Germany, he stopped Mario Veit, 45-1, in six rounds. In March of 2006, in a unification bout, he defeated IBF champion Jeff “Left Hook” Lacey, 21-0.
In November of 2007, in Calzaghe’s last fight in the UK, he defeated Denmark’s Mikkel “Viking Warrior” Kessler, 39-0, for his WBC and WBA titles, over 12 rounds. This gave him the WBO, IBF, WBA, and WBC world titles. Next would be his wins over Hopkins and Jones.
In talking about his past, he said, “I lost my dad in September of 2018 and my mom six months later. When I was in school, I was asked by my teacher what I was going to do when I graduated, and I told her I was going to do a world champion.”
Calzaghe was 22-0 when he won the title and prior to the fight with Eubanks, who said he was going to take him to a place he had never been. Calzaghe said he was exhausted after four rounds. He was supposed to fight Steve Collins, but it was changed to Eubanks. The fight didn’t start until almost midnight, and he had been hitting the pads with his dad for hours.
Calzaghe’s dad always told him, “always train like you are the challenger!” Calzaghe talked about being the underdog for the Jeff Lacy fight. His dad told him he could beat him with one hand. After this, he would go to America and fight the best. He knew his hands were in bad shape two weeks before the fight and wanted to call it off but didn’t. He was thirty-three and finally would be recognized by those in America.
The following is from a show with James English that Calzaghe talked about taking injections in his hands for some time. He had to start working on speed due to the pain from knocking people out. He talked about being from a small club as an amateur and not being picked to try out for the Olympics, and Robin Reid got to go winning a Bronze Medal.
Calzaghe talked about getting buzzed in the third or fourth round against Mikkel Kessler, saying he was tough. He had to lose thirty-six pounds in five weeks before the fight knowing he was finished at super middleweight.
Next up was going to America fighting Hopkins. At a press conference when Ricky Hatton fought Floyd Mayweather, there was Hopkins with his entourage saying, “I ain’t losing to no white boy,” and that was all he needed to motivate me. It was a great night winning that fight. It was frustrating with him grabbing me all the time. It was important keeping that zero. I didn’t think about the money by going on and on. Even my kids asked when I was going to stop fighting.
Calzaghe knew Hopkins would be going backward but liked it when opponents came to him. Though he was old at the time, he went on close to fifty winning a world title. He was faking low blows. Then came the Jones fight, and he was cutting corners like skipping training, knowing it was going to be his last fight though not telling the press.
He knew it was time to quit. Financially he knew he was secure. He talked about his dad always being his best friend. He knew after getting hit with a forearm by Jones and getting knocked down; it was going to be his last fight. He talked about being really blessed.
He talked about not dwelling on the past and living in the moment instead of the future and the past. Earlier, he talked about how Mickey Duff ripped him off when turning pro, giving him 300 pounds to sign and 300 pounds a week that he later learned was a loan he had to pay back. He then signed with Frank Warren and all changed. He finished saying how important to exercise, eat well, and don’t drink.
Who knows how many more fights Calzaghe would have increased his 46-0 record to if it wasn’t for the hands and not losing being motivated to continue.