Calzaghe vs. Jones Jnr: Can Jones Jnr upset the odds?

calzaghe jones06.11.08 - by Mark Gregory - When Roy Jones Jnr hit the deck against Glen Johnson in 2004 and took several minutes to get back up again, few would have predicted that four years later he would be preparing for one of the biggest fights of his career. When he lost a wide decision to Antonio Tarver the following year, giving Tarver a 2-1 record over Jones Jnr (though many feel it should be 3-0), it seemed that Jones Jnr was completely finished. He went into that fight with one intention: to not get knocked out. That he achieved this was one thing, that he seemed to be genuinely happy that he had achieved this is quite another. When a four weight world champion and nailed-on all-time great fighter is content to merely survive 12 rounds with the talented – if unpredictable and short of the greatness he professes – Antonio Tarver, you have to question if there is any point to him continuing to fight.

Comeback wins over Prince Badi Ajamu and Anthony Hanshaw did precious little to silence those who were calling for Roy to retire. Neither fighter would have survived 6 rounds with a peak version of Jones Jnr. There then followed, earlier this year, a convincing victory in what was billed as a ‘superfight’ with former three weight world champion, Felix Trinidad.. It seems that this third victory on the spin, following as they did his three crushing defeats, has given some fans and even pundits a real belief that Jones Jnr is once again a fighter able to compete at the top level of the sport.

The question is, are these fans and pundits reading too much into the win over Trinidad? The first thing to factor in is that the bulk of Trinidad’s career was spent fighting at 147lbs, some 23lbs below the weight at which he fought Roy. Whilst Trinidad was also a very successful light-middleweight, his record above that weight is a distinctly unimpressive 3-2. What’s more, those two defeats were not merely losses but total humiliations. Bernard Hopkins countered Trinidad at will for 12 rounds before brutally stopping him, whilst Winky Wright put on a clinic to win a shutout unanimous decision. Trinidad then disappeared from boxing for almost three years – that’s right, THREE YEARS – before returning to face Jones Jnr. So not only was Jones Jnr facing a man naturally significantly smaller than him, but also a man who had grown a layer of ring rust inches thick.

Whilst Jones Jnr looked good in beating Trinidad, the fact that he was unable to stop him has to be a worry for Roy and his fans. Trinidad had been stopped by Hopkins, who is a hurtful but not concussive puncher. Tito has also been on the floor many times in his career, even at 147lbs, and has been put there by fighters with nothing like a peak Jones Jnr’s power or ability. Sure, Roy was able to drop him twice, but would a peak Jones Jnr have needed to go to the cards? Would he have dropped a few rounds against a former welterweight who had failed to win a round in his last two big fights? The answer is a resounding ‘no’.

So why is it that there are those who believe Roy can turn back the clock and beat the undefeated Joe Calzaghe? It could perhaps be a question of the heart ruling the head, of hope prevailing over common sense. Or is it not so much what they see in Roy as what they see in the man that will be stood in the opposite corner on Saturday night?

On the face of it, Calzaghe looks a fairly formidable opponent. He has won 45 consecutive fights, and in the past three years has scored arguably his three biggest victories over Jeff Lacy, Mikkel Kessler and Bernard Hopkins. Like a fine wine, Calzaghe seems to have improved with age. Whilst not as explosive as he used to be, he has become a really intelligent fighter, able to adapt his gameplan mid-fight if things are going against him. However, in his last outing against Hopkins, Calzaghe was made to sweat on a split decision. Hopkins’ spoiling, counter-punching tactics caused Calzaghe a lot of problems, and in the end it was only his superior workrate and ability to adjust his tactics to force Hopkins to fight at a high pace that got him the verdict. Although one judge and some pundits saw the fight for Hopkins, I felt that Calzaghe did enough to win the fight by a three point margin, in spite of suffering a shock knockdown in the opening round.

The fact that Hopkins was able to floor and hurt Calzaghe with that straight right hand in the first round seems to be a major factor in some pre-fight predictions. After all, Roy can counterpunch with the best of them, and in his pomp had one of the best right hands in the business. However, what Roy doesn’t have – and never has had – is Hopkins’ throwback defence and impeccable countering technique. Roy’s ability to land the big counter was based on freakish speed and reflexes, attributes which – unlike pure technique – fade with time.

Can Roy hurt Calzaghe? Of course he can. Can he floor him? Again, it has to be considered a possibility. Can he hurt him badly enough to score the KO? That is the one factor that some picking in favour of Jones Jnr think could be in his favour. But Roy hasn’t stopped an opponent now in over 6 years, and Calzaghe – floored only three times in his career – has never looked like being stopped. The punch that Hopkins floored him with was a textbook right hand, straight down the pipe. It landed flush on Calzaghe as he was advancing, thus increasing the force of the punch. If Calzaghe’s chin was questionable, he would not have recovered so quickly from such a shot. Anyone who has seen the punch from Byron Mitchell that put Calzaghe down for the first time in his career will know that his ability to take a shot and recover cannot be questioned.

The one intangible is whether or not Calzaghe will get old overnight. Although he is not a classic brawler, Calzaghe has never been especially difficult to hit and cannot resist a tear-up. Is it possible that all the punches he has taken over the years will suddenly catch up with him when Roy lands with a big right hand? Joe is no spring chicken himself, and at nearly 37 years old he is right at the end of his career. It is always possible that Calzaghe will get old overnight, but that cannot be the basis for a prediction. In his last fight Calzaghe showed that he can take a shot and recover well from being hurt. In Jones Jnr’s last fight he showed that he can still put an opponent down, but that he no longer has the killer instinct to finish off his man. Based on those facts, a Jones Jnr stoppage looks unlikely, unless Joe does indeed get old in the ring.

What about a points victory for Jones Jnr? Again, some fans and pundits point at the early lead that Hopkins was able to build up against Calzaghe before running out of gas. I have heard some people say that Jones Jnr can use his speed and power to land some hurtful counters early on, and spend the later rounds trying to avoid the relentless Calzaghe. However, such an interpretation ignores some important facts.

Firstly, the fight with Hopkins didn’t change purely because the ageing B-Hop was unable to maintain his early fight momentum or because he didn’t have the quickness to avoid engaging with Calzaghe. The fight changed in large part because Calzaghe adapted his tactics after dropping the opening few rounds. He doubled the jab and moved away to avoid being countered. He also upped the pace to a tempo that Hopkins simply could not cope with. B-Hop threw significantly more punches in the second half of the fight than the first, in spite of dominating the first half and being dominated in the second. This was purely because Calzaghe did what very few others have been able to do against Bernard and managed to dictate how the majority of the fight was fought. A very similar thing happened in Calzaghe’s fight with Kessler, where he was behind early on before adapting to move away in the second half of the fight.

Secondly, those who think that Jones Jnr can use his speed in the second half of the fight to protect any early lead he has established are missing two crucial points. Calzaghe himself is no slouch, and has tremendous stamina. Thus far nobody has successfully eluded Joe for more than a few seconds of a round. Additionally, in Roy’s recent fights he has increasingly spent long periods of time sat on the ropes rather than moving around the ring. This has been fine against an old and rusty Trinidad and second tier opponents like Hanshaw, but against Calzaghe that simply won’t do. It will only serve to play into Joe’s hands if Jones Jnr is unable to continually present a moving target. The question then becomes whether or not Roy is capable of presenting a moving target for the full 12 rounds. Recent evidence – and by recent I mean the whole of the past 4 years – suggests that he will not be able to do so. If he cannot do that then it is impossible to see how he will stop Calzaghe catching up with him and scoring frequently with his quick combinations, and Roy doesn’t have the workrate to come out on top of such exchanges.

It seems to me that those who are confidently predicting a win for Jones Jnr have brought into the pre-fight hype. By that I mean they are seeing this as a fight between a (nearly) prime Roy Jones Jnr and a (nearly) prime Joe Calzaghe. That would be a hell of a fight, and one in which Roy would have to be a very big favourite. However, the fact is that all the evidence points to the fact that Roy has fallen a hell of a lot further from his brilliant best than Calzaghe has from his. Roy no longer has the speed or the stamina to keep away from Calzaghe for any length of time. He no longer has the workrate to outland Calzaghe when they are in close quarters. He does not have the killer instinct to finish Calzaghe off if he does manage to hurt him, and an outright KO looks highly unlikely given Roy’s recent record and Calzaghe’s proven chin. These statements are not plucked from thin air, they are based on observing both fighters closely over the last few years.

The only hope I can see for Roy Jones Jnr in this fight is that he can either somehow turn back the clock by at least 5 years, or that Calzaghe gets old overnight. The first of those possibilities seems remote, and the second only a little more likely. Fortunately for Roy his legacy as one of the greatest is already secure, and listening to him I get the impression that he is happy just to be fighting at such a high level again. But I fear that those who are boldly predicting a Jones Jnr win will be sorely disappointed come Sunday morning when they realise that they let what they wanted to happen cloud their analysis of what was likely to happen.

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Article posted on 06.11.2008

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