Calzaghe, Hopkins: The Fight Game
By Nefarious Nick Fremont: The road to acceptance in the fight game today typically requires a foreign fighter to travel to these shores and prove himself under the glare and scrutiny of the Las Vegas lights. To do otherwise would be to risk toiling in obscurity for an entire career (Dariusz Michalczewski, anyone?).
Article posted on 15.04.2008
In recent memory, the most relevant example of this rite of passage has been Mancunian Ricky Hatton, whose reputation previous to coming to America had been entirely built upon fighting in England. Since coming over, we've seen that Hatton is nowhere near as good as he was supposed to be after he dethroned the undisputed 140 lb. king, Kostya Tszyu, in an ugly affair in Manchester in 2005. This past December, Hatton was completely outclassed by Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a mega-fight in the desert, and I don't believe we will be hearing about Ricky fighting again in the US for quite a while. His next fight is – you guessed it – back in Manchester.
And now we have Welshman Joe Calzaghe. He's never fought in the US before. He's never fought at 175 lbs. before. He's going up against the cagiest veteran in boxing today, and no doubt one of the wiliest fighters in the history of the sport. It would be easy to say he's out of his class and will be dominated by Bernard Hopkins. But things are rarely so cut-and-dried in the fight game. Calzaghe is a completely different kettle-of-fish as compared to Hatton. And the betting public clearly understands this, having installed Calzaghe as an almost 2-to-1 favorite to win his first fight in America.
His position as favorite despite having never fought outside Europe and never as a light heavyweight is based on two eye-catching wins, when he systematically dismantled and destroyed highly-touted American Jeff Lacy and then outboxed and outfoxed Dane Mikkel Kessler last fall in a super middleweight unification. He is also seven years younger than Hopkins, and there is a general feeling that he has more left in the tank.
Calzaghe's style is also a strange one for Americans to grasp. Our perception of fighters from Great Britain is that they are just that: fighters and not boxers (see Clinton Woods). Our perception of fighters from the rest of Europe is that they are robotic in style, technically sound but athletically uninspired (see Arthur Abraham). Calzaghe is neither of these. The Welsh southpaw is a maestro, an artist in the ring, and absolutely no hyperbole is intended by that statement. He's no Ray Leonard or Roy Jones, but there's more paintings hanging in the Met than just ones by Picasso and Van Gogh. Calzaghe's fight against Kessler was a brilliant world class display. It was unique and it was artistic and, for many Americans, it served as first glimpse of the stylistic and athletic qualities that have made Calzaghe a legend in Europe.
Hopkins, on the other hand, has never had that virtuoso quality about him that has characterized other fighters of his time (Jones, Whitaker and more recently, Mayweather). What he is is a guy who knows everything there is to know about the fight game, both in and out of the ring. His intelligence and savvy are unparalleled by any contemporary fighter. Since moving to light heavyweight, Hopkins has embarrassed Antonio Tarver over twelve dominant rounds and then frustrated Winky Wright in one of the most unaesthetic pugilistic affairs on record. The fact that Hopkins was able to completely take Wright -- a wily vet himself with a wealth of ring experience -- out of his game through grappling and fouling and head-butting speaks volumes about Hopkins' ability to control bouts and impose his own style and pace on fights.
The Executioner is the king of winning ugly. He hasn't been hurt in over a decade. He dominates fights that he is expected to lose (versus Trinidad and Tarver). He's always a good bet because you know you will get value for your money.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This is a pick'em fight. Hopkins has the edge in ring intelligence and fight psychology. Calzaghe has the edge in physical ability and also has relative youth on his side.
I expect Calzaghe to try and throw a lot. I expect Hopkins to try and counter in return. I expect a lot of holding and roughhouse tactics. I see another ugly fight going the full twelve in the manner of Hopkins' last fight against Winky.
Really, it's 50/50 who wins and you can get 2-to-1 on Hopkins right now. I expect the line will close as we approach fight night April 19th.
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