Calzaghe Unloved

joe calzaghe28.03.07 - By Ben Paul Dunn: Another Saturday night, another pre-fight prediction and the same old words. Joe Calzaghe smiles, says he's heard it before, says it makes him laugh as he listens to his next opponent, Peter Manfredo, talking himself up. If we're to believe Manfredo, he has developed skills he's never shown before, he's a new man, taken a leap in ability, and he's now a world-class operator after a stint on boxing's equivalent of big brother: Sylvester Stallone's contender series.

I agree with you, Joe, tired phrases we've heard a thousand times before and which are rarely true.

But I'm laughing too, nodding my head as I listen to Calzaghe saying his tired old lines: thirty four years old and still promising to go after the big names. Sure, Joe, bring on Hopkins, show me Taylor, let me at the light-heavy boxing champions.

That's who you're gunning for, right? They're the men who are going to cement your reputation, provide you with your legacy. Over the last ten years it's been Roy Jones Junior, Bernard Hopkins or Sven Ottke, but they all came to nothing. Broken promises from a man who insists on respect.

Calzaghe says he won't fight on for too long, and sees his defeat of Jeff Lacy as his defining moment. A victory against a man who was undoubtedly a test, but a man who turned out to be a twenty-one fight novice. Lacy looked poor in his comeback fight, and seems to be a fighter who will not be held in awe in the near future. Sure, if Lacy goes on to win more titles and dominate divisions then the win will start to look special, but until then, and it doesn't appear that Lacy is heading that way, a victory over him means much less than it initially appeared. Lacy is another name which, when written on paper next to the majority of Calzaghe's victims, holds no special glow.

Undeniably, Calzaghe's defining moment remains his victory over Chris Eubank, when he won the title almost ten years ago. Ten years promising to continue with the hard fights but never delivering.

Calzaghe has often complained about how he is regarded as poor in comparison to his immediate predecessors. But Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank and Steve Collins are favoured, primarily because they chose to take on tests, and chose to take on each other in 'pick-em' fights. Collins took the hard route to the top too, learning his trade in America; Benn went there to take a title from Iran Barkley; and Eubank showed at the end of his career when fighting as a cruiserweight, something he never was, that his desire to take on challenges was as strong as his peers. Each of them put themselves in situations where they knew defeat was possible, showing courage and setting them in the hearts of the British boxing public. Calzaghe, despite his words, has yet to face such a possibility.

Ricky Hatton is Britain's current favourite, and the credit he receives is deserved. He was once a fighter who looked to be heading the same way as Calzaghe. Hatton has always been popular. He has a fan base which turned up in their thousands to watch him fight in contests which were little more than sparring sessions, a succession of WBU title defences that were not world-class - and he made a lot of money from them. He could have stayed in his Manchester safe-spot taking on imported American names from the second tier of world rankings. He could have been served fighters at the end of their careers, a succession of fighters with nowhere to go but the North of England for one last pay day. And he would have become richer the safer way. But Ricky, much to his credit, has left the comfort zone and gone to America to face new challenges. Arguably the money he receives is a little more, but the risks are far greater too. He is a fighter who deserves respect for chasing dreams as well as financial reward, chasing history at the risk of losing his perfect record.

Hatton has fought for a world title at a higher weight against a dangerous opponent, Luis Collazo, in a foreign country, something Joe has long promised but never tried. Sure, Calzaghe has fought twice outside the UK, taking on Mario Veit, a previous easy victim, in Germany; and more bizarrely, fighting the American, Will Mcintyre, in Denmark. But neither of these occasions represented risk, just like so many of his other title fights.

Another pleasing aspect for Hatton is that he has given up a world title-belt to involve himself in one of the most anticipated fights of the year - his June 23rd class with Jose Luis Castillo. A true fifty-fifty contest with neutral judges in his opponents adopted land. Hatton could have sat back, insisting he wanted to keep his belt. He wouldn't have had too many complaints had he faced his insignificant mandatory and taken the easy payday. But he chose the difficult route saying goodbye to a title of much higher value than Calzaghe's, and facing a man he knows could beat him. Calzaghe has had the same opportunities in the past but has stuck by his WBO belt as if losing it would mean the end of his power. This loyalty has, however, made his popularity wane.

Calzaghe has derided fighters in the past, and the boxing public has laughed too. We all smile at Champions from European countries who have racked up a string of title defences in their home countries while shouting loud they are the best in the world. Germany has produced a few, the Sven Ottkes and Dariusz Michalczewskis of the world; fighters who are worshipped by their countrymen but ridiculed by those outside. The possibility of Roy Jones vs. Michalczewskis was once a mouth watering prospect which never came off because Michalczewskis never left home. He just fought Roy Jones cast-offs within the protective ring of his adoptive country. He never took risks, never went out on a limb to test himself. His record is impressive, but his place in the history of the sport is the same as Calzaghe's: one of conjuncture and opinion; a game of if he had fought instead of who he did fight. And this is the way it will stay until Joe stands up and takes a challenge, moves out of his comfort zone and decides to test himself against the best. If this means giving up the belt he has held for so long then so be it. It's not as if a top American draw, a real champion who demands respect and big money, is going to come to Wales for a shot at the - very little respected state-side - WBO belt. Bernard Hopkins for one is not yet in the position where this prospect is an enticing one.

As it stands, Calzaghe's desire to fight Hopkins could come to fruition only when both are faded and in need of one more payday before retirement. But by then the consequence of such a contest will be of little more significance than the Chavez-Randall III fiasco, a curio ten years after the fight should have happened and long after it held any significance.

Sure, twenty successful defences is a record equalling total, but until Calzaghe decides to risk more than he has, his legacy, and popularity, will always lag behind those greats of the recent past and certainly that of Hatton. England does like its plucky losers, but it also likes its champions to test themselves, to stand up and prove their proclamations to be true. And until now the great fighter we know Calzaghe to be, has done so on too few occasions.

Article posted on 28.03.2007

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