Joe Calzaghe Joins The 4 Title Elite

joe calzaghe15.11.07 - By Andrew Wake: When Welsh pugilist prince Joe Calzaghe masterfully beat the previously undefeated “Viking Warrior” Mikkel Kessler in Cardiff recently he didn’t only silence the doubters that had criticised him for the best part of a decade and prove himself to be the greatest Super Middleweight fighter in history, he also became the first Non-American to join an elite club that boasts only four other members.

The club I speak of hear is the “All four major titles in one division” club.

In a world where alphabet titles seem to change hands more often than Z list celebrities embarrass themselves for cheap publicity it seems almost unfathomable that only five men have collected the WBC, WBA, WBO and IBF titles in the same weight class but it’s true and the man from Newbridge, South Wales is possibly the greatest of all, a point he could prove if he gets his dream fight against another member of this exclusive society…….............Bernard Hopkins.

Some may argue that winning the championships of organisations that have (among other things) ranked dead people (WBO), been sued for stripping champions so they can reinstated old ones (WBC) and allegedly taken bribes in exchange for pushing certain fighters up the rankings (WBA & IBF), means little. But when you consider that there are currently over fourteen thousand active boxers in the world today and that the only belt the vast majority of them will ever own is one that holds their trousers up, it shows what a great achievement taking home the main world crowns really is.

Here is a look at the multi title men.

Bernard Hopkins (48 – 4) The “Executioner” was, by his own admission, a young thug but a four year stint in Graterford State Penitentiary turned his life around. Whilst under lock and key he took up the sport of boxing and has never looked back.

After losing his first professional contest on points Bernard returned to his job a Philadelphia Hotel and did not fight again for over eighteen months. Upon on his return in early 1990 he outpointed Greg Paige over four rounds and began a twenty-two fight winning run that would take him to his world first title shot. He lost that fight, dropping a unanimous decision to another upcoming future hall of famer, Roy Jones Jnr but undeterred he continued his quest for world glory and, at the second time of asking he stopped Ecuadorian Segundo Mercado in 1995 to claim the IBF title that his conqueror Roy Jones has recently vacated.

He defended the IBF title consistently against top level competition but was widely overlooked by mainstream fight fans until the opportunity to take part in a Middleweight unification tournament in 2001 arose. During that tournament he decisioned Keith Holmes to take the WBC title and stopped the previously unbeaten Puerto Rican Felix Trinidad to add the WBA version.

Bernard was now the man at 160 pounds and was being compared with the middleweight greats of yesteryear. In September 2004 he fought Oscar De La Hoya in a middleweight superfight with De La Hoya’s WBO title also being on the line. A stunning body shot took the wind out of “The Golden Boy” in the 9th frame and Hopkins became the first man to hold all four major crowns at the same time. He continued to hold all the middleweight marbles until he met a young Arkansas boxer called Jermain Taylor in the summer of 2005.

Jermain Taylor (27 – 1 – 1) After an accomplished amateur career which culminated in him winning an Olympic bronze medal Little Rock’s Jermain “Bad Intentions” Taylor signed with DiBella entertainment and turned professional.

On a bill entitled “Night of the Olympians” Jermain made an impressive debut with a forth round TKO victory over veteran Chris Walsh. Over the next four and half years his opposition gradually got stronger but Jermain continued to put in sterling displays and added the scalps of former world champions William Joppy and Raul Marquez to his record.

With a record of 23 – 0 he faced his toughest test yet against undisputed middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The 40 year old Hopkins started the fight slowly allowing Taylor to force the action and put the early rounds in the bag. Hopkins rallied late and hurt Taylor in the ninth and twelfth but by then it was too late to sway the judges and Jermain became the forth man to have won all four main titles in one division and only second man (after the man he had just defeated) in history to hold the belts simultaneously.

To prove his victory over Hopkins was no fluke he repeated the feat five months later.

Ronald “Winky” Wright (25 – 4 – 1) The fact that Winky was, at some point, the Light middleweight champion of the four major sanctioning bodies has escaped many people and this is probably because it seems like a lifetime ago since the man from St. Petersburg, Florida won his first crown. That was back in 1996 when the much travelled Winky beat Bronco McKart by split decision for the WBO championship.

The years building up to the McKart victory had been made up of frustration and disappointment. He’d lost his previous title challenge to Julio Cesar Vasquez and, in order to obtain regular work he had to travel to France to fight opponents who where not good enough to share the ring with him.

Even when he had WBO title around his waist Wright was still not a man known in his home country and, due to a promotional deal with France’s Acaries brothers, he continued to fight in Europe. He defended his title three times on undercards in England beating Ensley Bingham, Steve Foster and the previously undefeated Adrian Dobson before losing a disputed majority decision in South Africa to Namibian Harry Simon.

When his contract with the Acaries ended in 1999 he returned to America and won a IBF elimination bout with a third round stoppage of Derrick Graham. This set up for a third world title shot and a chance to win his second title. In December 1999 he faced “Ferocious” Fernando Vargas and despite the fact that most observers fought he’d done enough to win Vargas retained his title in another controversial majority decision.

When, the man who beat Vargas, Felix Trinidad moved up to middleweight and vacated the IBF strap Wright’s next chance came and this time there was no controversy as Winky beat Robert Frazier by unanimous decision. Winky made four successful defences before the opportunity to prove himself the best light middleweight in the world against WBC and WBA champ “Sugar” Shane Mosley presented itself.

Using a strong jab and some slick counterpunching Winky kept Mosley at bay and won unanimously with scorecards of 116 – 112 and 117 – 111 twice. This meant that he was only the second man to have won all four titles at one weight and he was the first undisputed light middleweight champion for twenty nine years.

Riddick Bowe (42 – 1) Born the twelfth child out of thirteen in a fatherless home in the poverty and crime stricken area of Brownsville, New York, Bowe’s rise to the spoils of heavyweight splendour was a real life rags to rich story.

Despite suffering a second round knockout to Lennox Lewis in the final of the 1988 Seoul Olympics Bowe was considered hot property when he entered the paid ranks in early 1989. In addition to his boxing skills the young “Big Daddy” had a boyish charm and easy smile and this helped to make him the darling of the American fight press.

He knocked out 26 of his first 30 pro opponents but doubts as to whether Riddick was really the man fight scribes had proclaimed him to be began to surface when he narrowly outpointed the overweight, substance abusing, former WBA champ Tony Tubbs in 1991. Many observers, a booing and jeering crowd in particular, believed that 33 year old Tubbs was the victim of a robbery that night and that Bowe’s O should have gone.

As well as his lacklustre display against Tubbs rumours began to circulate that Riddick did not take training very seriously and his heart and determination began to be questioned.

Riddick and his manager, the bombastic ex radio talk show host, Rock Newman ignored the naysayers and continued their pursuit of a world title. Bowe breezed through his next seven opponents (including a 1st round knockout of future world champion Bruce Seldon) and a WBA eliminator bout was set up with South African Boer policeman Pierre Coetzer.

Bowe outboxed Coetzer and marked his face up considerably but the end came when Bowe, never the cleanest of fighters, burrowed his fist into the South African’s groin forcing him to move away in pain. Referee Mills Lane did not see this obvious foul and when Bowe fired five hard shots into Coetzer’s face he stopped the contest awarding Riddick a TKO victory.

Bowe and Newman were now in the position they had aspired to and a clash with undisputed heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield was made for November 1992.

The bout, which was voted as fight of the year, was fought at a furious pace with both men giving all they had but in the later rounds the younger Bowe began to take control and knockdown late in the eleventh round had sufficient impact on the judge’s cards to seal him a unanimous victory, 115 – 112 and 117 – 110 twice and make him the proud owner of the WBC, WBA and IBF titles.

Now sitting pretty at the top of the sports most lucrative division Bowe was put under pressure by the WBC to face the man who had stopped him in the Olympics, Lennox Lewis. During a bizarre press conference in Lewis’ hometown of London, Riddick announced that he had no intention of defending against the Englishman and threw a replica copy of the WBC’s famous green belt into a bin saying “If Lennox wants this he can get it out of the trash and then we can call him the garbage picker”.

Bowe went onto make two soft defences against washed up cocaine addict Michael Dokes and a 36 year old Jesse Ferguson who had lost five of his previous eight contests before losing his remaining WBA and IBF straps in a return with Holyfield.

In 1995 Bowe challenged the undefeated British puncher Herbie Hide for the WBO title. He floored Herbie six times before stopping him in the sixth round to become the first man that have held all four major titles at some point in his career.

The fact that “Big Daddy” was the first man to have won all these titles is rarely discussed these days and this can be attributed to two simple facts. 1) Despite winning the undisputed crown the Brownsville man was never the most dominant boxer out there. He blatantly ducked Lennox Lewis, earning him the nickname “Chicken Bowe”, and, as mentioned above, his defences were substandard 2) When he knocked out Herbie Hide to win the WBO title sixteen months after he’d lost his IBF and WBA titles to Holyfield, the Puerto Rican based organisation’s version of the world crown was still widely regarded as a nonsense title and a mere temporary bartering tool until something more meaningful came along. The irony of this is, while the WBO’s reputation and stature in the sport has risen Bowe’s has steadily fallen.

Due to lethargic displays, substandard defences, a couple of beatings at the hands of Andrew Golota, a stint in prison, and an ever expanding waistband Riddick Lamont Bowe will be remembered more for the fighter he could have been rather the one he actually was.

Joe Calzaghe (44 – 0) If he can win the fight he has been chasing for years against Bernard Hopkins, 35 year old Joe could cement his legacy and prove himself as one of greatest pugilists of all time. He is already, without question, the greatest fighter to grace a 168 pound division that was once home to big names like Roy Jones, James Toney, Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank.

Despite being the world’s longest reigning champion (10 years and counting) and the first super middleweight to win a coveted Ring magazine belt, gaining respect has not been easy for Joe. Many people, mainly America boxing journalists, have been critical of some of his opponents but, as Joe has often pointed out, you can only beat what is put in front of you and Newbridge southpaw has put in front of him 7 world or former world champions, all of which he has duly beaten.

Joe had a superb amateur career that saw him become the first post war fighter to win three consecutive ABA titles in three different weight classes but, to the disbelief of many, he was overlooked for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Frustrated by this lack of opportunity Joe turned professional under the stewardship of Micky Duff and Terry Lawless and made his debut on the undercard of Lennox Lewis’ all British battle with Frank Bruno, knocking out Paul Hanlon in the first round of a scheduled four.

In October 1995 Joe won his first professional title when he stopped Stephen Wilson for the vacant British super middleweight title and later that year he was named as British boxing’s young boxer of the year. He won his next five fights by knockout, including a stunning victory over the highly rated Mark Delaney, but the young man from the welsh valleys wanted more. He was undefeated and world ranked and believed that he was ready to fight the division’s best, the problem though was that Duff and Lawless were content to see their man continue fighting the calibre of opponents they had been feeding him. Enter Frank Warren with promise of world title shot.

Within 12 months of signing with Sports Network Warren had delivered his promise and a bout was pencilled in with Irish WBO king Steve Collins. After the fight was announced “The Celtic Warrior” weighed up the pros and cons of facing such a young and hungry fighter and decided to hang up his gloves instead, sighting a injury as the reason. The WBO title was now vacant and as mandatory challenger Joe had the right to fight for it.

At short notice one of boxing’s most colourful characters Chris Eubank entered the fray, hoping to regain the title he had lost to Collins three years earlier. Joe floored the man who proclaimed himself “Simply the best” in the first round and went on to win a hard fought twelve round unanimous decision.

Joe now looked for a unification bout with WBC champion Robin Reid but Reid wasn’t interested and fought Thulani “Sugarboy” Malinga instead, losing his title on points.

Joe would go onto to beat the titleless Reid in 1999 and spent the next few years chasing big fights against the likes of Bernard Hopkins, Roy Jones Jnr and a man more famous for winning dubious decisions than boxing skill German Sven Ottke. Hopkins did actually agree to face the Welshman in 2002 but days later doubled his pay demands and the match up was scraped. Jones and Ottke, however, did not come to the table.

It was not until early last year that a rival champion was prepared to step into the ring with him. That champion was a man being proclaimed by the America fight press as a star of the future, a 168 pound wrecking machine that would destroy all that stood before him. That champion was, of course, St Petersburg puncher Jeff Lacy.

After years of fighting former champions and mandatory challengers the fight at Manchester’s MEN Arena was the first time since the Eubank bout eight years earlier that Joe had something extra to gain, Lacy’s IBF belt. Joe, who was the underdog going into the fight, put on a boxing master class, landing over a thousand punches and winning every round.

This stunning victory silenced some of the people who had criticised his previous opposition and catapulted Joe into the Ring Magazine’s list of top ten pound for pound fighters.

Joe cemented his place among boxing’s elite recently when he beat the previously undefeated WBC and WBA kingpin Mikkel Kessler in front of 50,000 screaming fans. He aims to further prove his credentials in 2008 by adding the scalp of a big name American fighter to his résumé.

I’m not, in anyway, saying that this article is a definite list of greatness and I sincerely hope that nobody interprets it as that. The truth is that many greater fighters either fought in the days before the world title got so fragmented or never got the opportunity to win all the baubles but I still feel that the accomplishment of these men should be recognised.

Article posted on 15.11.2007

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