Boxing

Hopkins & Calzaghe: Last of The True Warriors

By James Barlow: It’s been a funny few years in terms of the middle to light heavy weight divisions. Fans seem to have been waiting for a passing of the guard, when the top athletes in the divisions would retire and a new age of superstars would take over. When Bernard Hopkins finally seemed to start to splutter against Jermain Taylor in their clash in 2005 and lost a split decision the daggers were firmly out. When Taylor also won the rematch it was decided that the age of Bernard Hopkins had passed. A new wave of younger fighters including Taylor, Jeff Lacey, Mikkel Kessler, and Arthur Abraham would now take over. Lacey was due to fight a 34 year old Joe Calzaghe who had been repeatedly written off by the American press as an over protected and over rated European fighter.. All the talk was that a younger, more powerful and unbeaten Lacey would take Calzaghe out of the picture. But it was Calzaghe who began to upset the apple cart giving Jeff Lacey the beating of his life, winning virtually every round in the most comprehensive boxing lesson I have ever seen. Before the fight Lacey was talked about as the next Mike Tyson and the future of the sport. Yet after Calzaghe’s demolition the critics who said he would get exposed by Lacey turned face and explained that it had been Lacey who had been exposed as an imposer and Calzaghe still had to go some way to prove himself.

At around the same time Bernard Hopkins had licked his wounds and decided to finally move up in weight to the light heavy, 175 weight limit. A fight was signed against linear light heavy weight champion and conquer of the legend that is Roy Jones Junior, Antonio Tarver. Many comments were made about Hopkins age and many calls were made for his retirement. Harsher critics even went as far as saying he was hanging on in the boxing world purely for financial gain and boxing would be better off without him. Going into the fight Tarver was favorite, and many saw an aging Hopkins going the same way as Jones Junior. But Hopkins put in a great display and out boxed the larger Tarver at the heavier new weight class winning by a massive 9 rounds on all judges score cards. Once again the critics turned face and it was now Tarver who had been exposed as passed it and tried to take away any credit heading Hopkins way.

Joe Calzaghe took on fights against Sakio Bika and then Peter Manfredo. Again a lot of mud was slung in Calzaghe’s direction with critics feeling he was not taking big enough fights. That fight then came against the very impressive W.B.A and W.B.C super middleweight champion Mikkel Kessler in a unification bout. Kessler was unbeaten and had been steadily stepping up in level with recent impressive wins over Anthony Mundine, Eric Lucas, Markus Beyer and Librado Andrade. The critics on this occasion has some what learnt their lesson where Calzaghe was concerned. Rather than predict an out right loss they covered their bets identifying Kessler as a capable but unproven fighter. Many Americans pointed to the usual drab argument that because Kessler had not fought in America against box office fighters it was hard to gage where he was at. The Calzaghe V Kessler fight was a very technical affair with Calzaghe outsmarting Kessler using his speed to keep away from Kessler’s obvious power. I was very impressed even in loosing with Kessler and was under the opinion after the fight that with Calzaghe moving up in weight Kessler would dominate at super middle weight. The post fight critics seen it differently of course with Calzaghe struggling to deal with a very one dimensional Kessler.

Hopkins notched up another victory against top level opposition in defeating Ronald Wright. The fact that Hopkins did not wipe the floor with ‘Winky’ was apparently testament that he was faded and the fact that Wright has been campaigning and winning against elite fighters like Trinidad, Shane Mosley and a draw against Hopkins conqueror Taylor was badly missed by many. This set up the mega fight that was to be Bernard Hopkins V Joe Calzaghe. The top super middleweight and top middleweight from the last 10 years were to finally meet. The fact that they were from different sides of the pond just added excitement to the affair and this one had been a long time in coming. I was amazed though to see that this was still not enough for some critics and scanning through East Side Boxing many articles and forums were focused on this fight being meaningless and Calzaghe avoiding serious younger opposition in favor a big pay day. The Hopkins Calzaghe clash took place on the 19th of April and was in my opinion a riveting affair. Hopkins done all he could do using all of his ring expertise to put Calzaghe out of his game as much as possible and try and nick the fight. Calzaghe’s experience was enough to see him through though and although the fight was close Calzaghe was the clear winner. It was not a spectacular affair and maybe not easy on the eye but when you get two fighters with so much class and experience combined with their respective styles it was almost inevitable for these two guys to cancel each other out some what. As per usual though the critics came out in force after the fight slating both men’s performance. Calzaghe looked bad because he had been taken out of his game by the old and obviously passed it Hopkins. Why Hopkins was passed it? Because in his younger more effective days he would have destroyed Calzaghe.

Once the mud had stopped flying on the Calzaghe Hopkins fight the daggers were firmly out for both fighters with regards to their futures. Hopkins now had to retire and the only fight for Calzaghe to take was the phenom that was Kelly Pavlik. The critics were firmly disgusted when Calzaghe turned down a fight against Pavlik opting for Roy Jones Jr. He was blatantly avoiding Pavlik and was running scared. Calzaghe’s argument that Pavlik was untested and not worthy of a fight was shot down in flames and a lot of questions were asked of Joe’s heart. On reflection though what exactly had Pavlik done to deserve to be Joe’s final fight. At the time and still now the biggest names on Pavlik’s record are Edison Miranda and Jermain Taylor. Taylor previous to fighting Pavlik had looked less than impressive notching up wins against Kassim Ouma, a blown up light middleweight well out of his depth who lost two consecutive fights after the Taylor fight. Cory Spinks, with a split decision also out of his natural weight class. And Winky Wright in a fight that many thought Winky won. Lets not forget this was the same Winky Wright that Hopkins dispatched of with relative ease. Edison Miranda on the other hand whilst being a solid fighter had fallen at the final hurdle getting knocked out by the other serious middleweight Arthur Abraham, and other that Abraham himself had little on his record to boast about. Critics were blind to this though and Pavlik was the future of boxing and Calzaghe and Hopkins were the dinosaurs hurting the sweet science be refusing to let go.

Pavlik instead signed to fight Bernard Hopkins, another reaction of disgust came form the critics. In their view Hopkins had looked awful against Calzaghe and did not deserve a crack against the power house Pavlik. Many writers even claimed to fear for B-Hops safety. Well the fight went ahead and this was when everything was finally put firmly in perspective to even the most stupid critic. Hopkins took Pavlik out in spectacular fashion, out thinking him, out working him and ultimately embarrassing him. The bubble had definitely burst. In nailing Pavlik Hopkins had proved without a shadow of a doubt he was still even at his ripe old age a spectacular force to be recconned with. It also put in perspective just how big of a win and much how much respect Calzaghe deserved for managing to edge Hopkins in their encounter.

We’re now exactly one week away from the Calzaghe V Jones Junior fight. Calzaghe has said that this will be his last fight and win or loose, man how boxing is going to miss him. Where Bernard Hopkins goes form here is unclear, but not matter how much he wants to be he can not remain at this level for ever. These two phenomenal fighters soon are going to retire and boxing is going to be in a much worse place without them. At the end of the day along with Roy Jones Juniors retirement we are going to loose the last of the true warriors. Who will rule the middle to light heavy divisions will be out of Pavlik, Kessler, Abraham, Froch and Taylor. Whilst I look forward to seeing how things pan out I think I will spend as much time looking back to the era of Calzaghe, Hopkins and Jones wishing that they were still about. So I suggest to all you boxing fans out there next Saturday night when Calzaghe and Jones clash, make the very most of it cause it may be a while before we see boxers with their ilk again

Article posted on 02.11.2008



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