Boxing: Another Birthday

By Rizwaan Zahid: This past Sunday I celebrated my 20th birthday, and even though I was only entering my second decade, I, like most people, look back on the years and think about the past, wonder about the present, and ponder the future. Most of us remember our childhood birthdays and it was always a celebration of gifts and receiving attention rather than serious thinking. Boxing careers are very much the same as birthdays..

A young fighter enjoys his earlier fights, craves the attention and celebrates his event. However, like our birthdays, a fighter starts realizing later into his career that he is getting older, his career is winding down and he may not be the fighter he once was. And so, the wisdom begins.

Sure, there is still celebration, still a spectacle, however eventually the fighter stops celebrating, and realizes that people who still come to watch him fight is just a formality. But to be fair, most fighters stop before that.

This past weekend, we may have saw two fighters celebrate their last boxing birthdays.

Roy Jones and Joe Calzaghe, two of the most popular fighters of this generation may have entered the ring for the last time. Both are likely to be future hall of famers and will have their names mentioned along with the other greats of the sport.

Both had arrived to the grand stage, albeit with different routes and stops on the way.

Roy’s fame, began before he even became a pro at the 1988 Olympics. In the finals Roy seemingly won every minute of the fight, but lost against South Korean fighter Park Si-Hun in one of the most controversial decisions in boxing (amateur and professional) history. Ironically, Roy may have been more famous for his silver medal, rather than if he had won gold which he deserved. It has been said that Roy made sure for the rest of his career that this same controversy will never happen.

Roy dominated, out classes, out boxed, and out showboated any opposition that came his way.

His first title came against a future hall of famer Bernard Hopkins, which he outboxed over 12 rounds to capture the IBF middleweight title. Just over a year later, Roy moved up to conquer the super middleweight division and faced undefeated then 168lb champion James Toney (Yes James Toney did use to be a super middleweight). Too much speed and too much power led Jones to another convincing decision victory.

Jones went on a six fight KO streak, including a win over Montreal native Eric Lucas. If he was doing great then, there were no words to describe just how great he was when he moved up to the light heavyweight division

He was so good, that his excellence was his flaw. He never had to deal with adversity, but that was simply because he never allowed it and would beat his opponent before he ever had to deal with any problems in the fight.

But controversy and an awkward ending were once again in the cards for Roy when he fought undefeated Montell Griffin. A much closer fight than expected ended when Roy finally caught Griffin sending him to the canvas. However Jones continued to throw punches when Montell was on the ground, and two landed, although not with a lot of power, it was enough to justify a disqualification to Commissioner Larry Hazard who came to the decision after communicating with referee Tony Perez.

This time however, Roy had an opportunity for revenge, and he did not waste time on this occasion with a devastating first round KO in a rematch.

The domination continued at 175, and so did the titles and the fame.

However 2003 was an interesting year for Roy. He needed a bigger challenge, and he decided to go up with the big boys at the heavyweight division and challenge John Ruiz in hopes of capturing a heavyweight title to add to his trophy case. The speed was too much as the punches landed like lasers to bloody Ruiz’s nose. Roy made history by winning the title with a unanimous decision.

However, months later, Roy came back down in weight to fight Antonio Tarver who dominated Montel Griffin with a decision victory in his last fight. Antonio had been calling out Roy for years, and here was the opportunity of a lifetime.

It was something we have never seen. Roy being pressured, being hit, eyes being swollen, and the athletic ability was not enough to win the fight. The last two rounds caused Roy to fight for a victory using his skill, and he escape with a majority decision.

March 2003, Roy was at arguably the highest point of your career as he became the heavyweight champion. 14 months later, he was at a career low. Literally.

A left hand by Antonio Tarver in the historical rematch changed the careers of both fighters as Roy fell and could not get up. Roy came back in the fall to fight IBF champ Glen Johnson, however it was another upset, as Johnson, not recognized as a huge power puncher laid out Jones with a solid right hand.

Roy took over a year off to mull over the future to fight Tarver for a third time. Roy, although showing flashes of his past brilliance, seemed uninterested to win the fight as he was outpointed by Tarver. It seemed like it was over, perhaps the once untouchable fighter has gotten to old to enjoy his special event.

Six months later, miles away over the Atlantic ocean, a 34 year old Welshman although undefeated was still relatively unknown to the American public. However his upcoming opponent was very well known. Jeff Lacy had been scoring highlights reel knockouts for some time, and the undefeated American was expected to make Joe Calzaghe just another victim. But this was Joe’s event, and Lacy was almost merely a guest. Calzaghe out slugged and out hustled Lacy to receive major recognition with a dominating twelve round performance.

Joe had been racking up victories in Europe for quite some time; however the Pride of Wales had still something to prove. While Roy was coming back to earn un impressive unanimous decision victories over lesser opposition, Calzaghe was beating the best of the best, including highly touted Mikkel Kessler to solidify himself as the best fighter in the super-middleweight division.

But the next celebration party that Joe wanted was not at home in Wales, or England. He wanted to have a celebration party in Las Vegas and hoped to have this after fighting the legendary Bernard Hopkins. Joe was the favourite; however like the fight against Jones, the first round was embarrassing. One minute into his American debut, the Welsh native was knocked down flat on his butt. But like his fight with Jones, he got back up and landed almost at will down the stretch to take him a decision victory.

He’s celebrated in Wales, Las Vegas, and now New York. Does he need to celebrate anywhere else?

Does Roy need to prove anything else?

For both, I say no. Joe can retire on the top as he has more than his share of belts and accomplishments, but unlike a birthday, they were not given to him. He had to fight his way to the top and then moved up a division to beat two future hall of famers and arguably two of the best fighters of this generation.

Roy had to take what was his as well. He may not be retiring at the top like he may have if he had retired after his fight with Ruiz, but he has shown adversity and heart on a couple of occasions including this fight. Roy’s eye was cut, seemingly for the first time in his career, and it was uglier than American Idol’s Sanjaya on a bad hair day. He’s also not going to be retiring with his last moment in the ring being his head on the canvas nearly unconscious.

The time is right for both men. Boxing careers are a funny thing. You can stop those celebrating events when you want to enjoy other ones.

As Calzaghe said, “boxing isn’t everything”. There are many more birthdays left outside the ring for both men.

Happy Birthday Roy and Joe. May there be many more.

Article posted on 15.11.2008

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