By Steve Bond @stevezeronine
Joe Calzaghe is a name that divides opinion amongst boxing fans.
To some he’s Super Joe, one of England’s finest ever boxers, to others he’s a champion that padded his record with too many routine challengers and caught fighters the calibre of Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr well past their best on at the tail end of a great career. For me, he deserves every bit of his acclaim and this is my case for Calzaghe.
Joe first started boxing as a 9 year old and by 15 he was already struggling with the injuries that would curse his career. Despite a year out with a wrist problem, Joe was an outstanding amateur: winning 3 ABA titles in 3 consecutive years at Welter, Light Middle and Middleweight, a feat not achieved for over 60 years since Kentish Town’s Fred Webster in the 1920’s.
As a professional the injuries would continue to follow him. Joe was out of the ring for 10 months prior to the Robin Reid fight. Reid fought well on the night, Calzaghe was poor and even worse still, broke his left hand half way through a fairly even fight. The next two defences against Rick Thornberry and David Starie went without a single round of sparring in preparation.
The hand was then broken again against Evans Ashira postponing the original November 5th date with Jeff Lacy. In the fights against Lacy and Kessler, Joe was brilliant but it’s the off nights, the nights it went wrong, which prove his mettle as a champion.
It wasn’t always great to watch, but its a testament to his ability to make the best of what he could do at the time. There’s nothing superstar about Joe. Nothing flash about his personality but as a fighter he was exceptional. If overcoming adversity is a strong criteria on which we judge fighters then there’s no argument against him.
Whatever he faced inside the ring: knockdowns, injuries and other setbacks, at times, it looked like his career was stalling; down in the first and trailing on points to Bernard Hopkins, during he first time in The States, Joe did what great fighters do… he found a way. Without exception. He was that real rarity in British boxing, an out and out winner.
To address some of the criticism of Calzaghe, was this a peak Hopkins? No, but at 43 Hopkins was always in top condition and still had enough left to upset both Kelly Pavlic and John Pascal. Was Jones past his best? Absolutely. Would Joe have beaten a peak Roy? Few fighters ever would of beaten Roy at his best but I don’t believe it would’ve been an easy night either. Joe’s style made him especially difficult to beat, southpaw, a great engine, never stopped throwing shots and an almost crazed will to win. Plus a 70% knockout rate as a “Slapper.”
The much trashed Tocker Pudwill came in as a substitute on two weeks notice for Thomas Tate. He was stopped only 3 times in a total of 48 fights. True he wasn’t in Joe’s league but he wasn’t exactly a bum either. And if that’s not enough, consider his trainer. Joe wasn’t shaped by Manny Steward nor did he have Freddie Roach and his famous Wild Card Gym. The Pride of Wales was trained his whole pro career by his dad, a former musician with no previous experience of working with fighters in a dilapidated old gym in Newbridge, where the ring was a square of carpet and the ropes were held up by broom handles. It is rather fitting then he went on to make a clean sweep in his career.
The most successful father/son relationship in boxing, 46 fights unbeaten, the longest reigning Super Middleweight Champion in history with 21 defences and inducted into the Hall of Fame the same weekend as Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad.
If that ain’t greatness then i don’t know what is.