Joe Calzaghe Fights For His Legacy

joe calzaghe30.10.07 - Matthew Hurley: As the clanging of the opening bell for the Joe Calzaghe – Mikkel Kessler bout draws ever nearer Calzaghe, a fighter who has amassed a ten year title reign at super middleweight, finds himself in much the same position as Marvin Hagler did way back in 1983.

Comparisons to the two boxing fighters’ fistic worth aside it is interesting that both men found themselves on the outside looking in until their opponents offered them the chance to step out of the shadows and show the inattentive world just how good they actually were. And right when that point was proven retirement came calling.

Calzaghe has been extremely media friendly for his latest go-round in the ring. Of course he is engaging in a fight that has long been anticipated and will be broadcast in the US in prime time. He knows this is his opportunity to cement his legacy. At 35 years old he doesn’t have much time left and he reiterated that point last week when he said that next year will be the last time he swaps leather with another fighter.

“I realize the end is near,” he commented. “I’m not going to be Evander Holyfield, getting my head punched in. I’m giving myself a twelve month span to keep at the top and then I’ll let it go. There will be no comebacks.”

Which brings us back to Marvin Hagler. The “Marvelous” one toiled in the shadows of brighter stars such as Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran for all of the early eighties. He was viewed by most as a tough, lunch pail fighter. Nothing flashy, just professional and damn good. But he wasn’t a cross-over star.

In 1983 he finally got his “Super Fight” against Roberto Duran and he nearly blew it. Overly tactical, the fearsome Hagler elected to box with the much smaller Duran and needed the last two rounds to pull out a close unanimous decision. It was thought by many that the “Hands Of Stone” had gotten in his head and somehow intimidated Hagler forcing him to fight his fight.

One year later Thomas Hearns blasted Duran out in two rounds and the fight of the decade was set up. Hagler and Hearns provided the blueprint and the yard stick for all mega-fights that would follow in its violent wake. It was also Hagler’s coming out party. He became a star when he finally knocked Hearns to the mat in the third round.

After that he fought a brutal battle with John Mugabi, winning by knockout in eleven, then lost a disputed decision to Sugar Ray Leonard in 1987 and retired, never to return to the ring again.

So how does Calzaghe’s story relate to Hagler’s? It took an opponent to open the eyes of the general public as to how talented he really was. When Calzaghe fought American Jeff Lacy he did so as an underdog. The fight was supposed to be the crowning of a new superstar and that star was the heavily hyped Lacy. Instead, Calzaghe pulled a Hagler on his opponent and beat him senseless for twelve brilliant rounds. Stardom became his. HBO came calling and gave him two meaningless bouts with Sakio Bika and Peter Manfredo (no John Mugabi there) and then helped set up the ultimate match with Mikkel Kessler.

Calzaghe is now in Hagler’s position. He’s the star; the long reigning champion who should win but is already talking retirement. Should Kessler defeat him his agony will be much like Hagler’s after Marvin lost that decision to Leonard which still, to this day, gnaws at him.

“I’ve won my last sixty amateur fights and forty-three as a professional,” he remarked recently. “But I remember every defeat I suffered as an amateur. They were rare enough to be burned into my brain and that’s why I can’t bare the thought of losing.”

Mention the Leonard fight to Hagler and you’ll get an icy stare in return. Mention losing to Calzaghe and you get a quizzical look that says, “Me? Lose?” It’s the same reaction Hagler had before the Leonard fight.

Regardless of what you think of Joe Calzaghe, and he seems to divide fans and media scribes right down the middle, this fight against Kessler will firmly define where he stands in history. If he wins, and does so impressively, he’s a first ballot hall of fame choice and he can thumb his nose at his critics. If he loses, and does so in dramatic fashion, his whole career will be called into question by those who have maintained for years that he was never that good to begin with. It’s a harsh reality and one that Calzaghe won’t admit to publicly but is certainly thinking about.

One loss to a man who overshadowed him for most of his career mentally crippled Marvin Hagler. It didn’t matter that many thought he won the fight and got robbed by the judges – he lost his beloved belts. That night, April 6th 1987, continues to haunt him. Joe Calzaghe is already talking retirement before he even steps in with the fighter who has been shadowing him for the last several years. A loss will open up all that he’s accomplished to questions by naysayers and nitpickers. It’s a mentally taxing situation to be in. It will either bring out the best in this very talented fighter or he will leave the ring without his beloved belts.

Article posted on 30.10.2007

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