Joe Calzaghe In Perspective

marquezBy Taj K. Eubanks, Photo by Sumio Yamada - November 4, 2007 - I will be the first to admit that I wasn’t always a believer in Joe Calzaghe. Like most Yanks, I harbor a cynical skepticism about fighters who have never fought on American soil, instead plying their trades on distant shores in seeming anonymity. Without the support of American network television, it is virtually impossible to form an opinion about a foreign pugilist.

Most often all that we have to rely on are the profiles written by internet boxing scribes (since boxing coverage by mainstream media is virtually nil), most of whom seem to either sway heavily to the celebratory or to the derogatory.

Joe Calzaghe’s place in the current boxing landscape has been the source of debate for several years with the general consensus being that while he is obviously a special fighter (by virtue of his remarkable successful defense record at super-middleweight, rivaled only in recent years by Bernard Hopkins own defense record at middleweight), the boxing community simply had not seen enough of him with our own eyes to make an informed decision. All of that would change with his virtuoso effort against Jeff “Left Hook” Lacy.

The highly hyped, televised showdown between two of the division’s most celebrated pugilists was met with great enthusiasm. Jeff Lacy was a buzz saw and his opponents invariably ended up on the chopping block. So impressive was the knockout power of Lacy that many had begun to refer to him as a 168-lb version of Mike Tyson. In America we had witnessed time and again Lacy destroying his foes. Joe Calzaghe, on the other hand, was a complete mystery. He supposedly could not only box your ears off, but also throwdown toe-to-toe if need be, back-alley style. But we hadn’t seen him. Therefore many, including Lacy himself, believed Joe Cal to be on the fast track to getting-KTFOville. How wrong we were.

In a career-defining performance, the Fighting Welshman didn’t just beat Jeff Lacy; he embarrassed him. Downright abused him. Made all the holes in Lacy’s game come to the fore. Calzaghe boxed him with blistering combinations, tied up Lacy’s left arm (nullifying the left hook) and pulled a Harry Houdini, vanishing into thin air every time Lacy tried to mount an offensive. The now much-ballyhooed result need not be recounted as that night’s victory launched Joe Calzhaghe into superstar status. Then the whispers began.

Doubters believed that Calzaghe’s victory over Lacy was overblown. After all, who had Lacy beaten, they queried. Furthermore, who had Calzaghe beaten, besides Jeff Lacy? Lacy was one-dimensional to start was another oft-repeated statement. Joe Cal certainly could not expect to be catapulted to the top of the pound-for-pound list on the basis of one notable victory. He would have to do more. Show us another outstanding performance against a name opponent, they said. His next two victories did nothing to boost his status as he appeared to coast in his match against Sakio Bika and then put on a clinic against shamefully overmatched Contender alumnus, Peter Manfredo, Jr. It was beginning to seem that the luster of his star turn against Lacy was beginning to fade, especially when the negotiations for divisional unification between the promoter of Mikkel Kessler and Calzaghe’s promoter seemed to hit snag after snag. However, Calzaghe’s march toward greatness received a reprieve when Calzaghe-Kessler was announced. The biggest super-middleweight bout since Roy Jones, Jr.-James Toney in 1994 was on the horizon and major questions were about to be answered.

Mikkel “The Viking Warrior” Kessler (39-0 leading into his fight with Calzaghe) was viewed by many as the last archway through which the Pride of Wales needed to pass on the way to universal acknowledgement as one of the greatest fighters of this era. Kessler, Calzaghe’s Danish counterpart, held the WBA and WBC super-middleweight straps and was widely viewed as the Welshman’s only competition as the top 168-pounder in the world. Known as a heavy-handed technician with youth on his side (being seven years Calzaghe’s junior) and coming off of a criminal beatdown of the game but outclassed Librado Andrade, Kessler was for real. That he would ultimately meet his match at the hands (pun intended) of the United Kingdom’s premiere pugilist only added more credence to what Calzaghe’s supporters had been screaming all along: Calzaghe is the truth.

The Italian Dragon painted yet another fistic masterpiece on the way to a unanimous decision over Mikkel Kessler, a fight whose electric atmosphere was matched only by its electric finish as Calzaghe elected to go toe-to-toe with the Dane, eschewing defense and going for the gusto. This willingness to lay it on the line even though victory was assured only added to his growing legend. Emmanuel Steward stated that he feels that Calzaghe’s performance places him in the top two or three fighters in the world, pound-for-pound. And it is the absolute truth. Calzaghe’s scintillating arrival on the world stage has placed him on a collision course with the top fighters in and around the super middleweight division. And while many intriguing matchups have been bandied about, none would be more meaningful (and make more sense) than a showdown with the light-heavyweight kingpin and future Hall of Fame lock, Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins.

Should this fight come to fruition, Calzaghe will face a caliber of fighter the likes of which he has never seen, a top three pound-for-pound fighter who possesses more tools, grit, and ring savvy than most fighters can ever hope to have. This is the only match that matters and it is bound to happen. The question is, will the Pride of Wales be up to the task?
Somehow I think so.

Article posted on 05.11.2007

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