Joe Calzaghe, The Italian Dragon - Myth Or Legend??

Joe Calzaghe08.01.09 - By Conor Ward - As Joe Calzaghe contemplates whether to step away from the ring for good or take on one last challenge, the time would seem right to appraise his level of achievement during a fifteen- year pro career, and his overall legacy. In-keeping with the habits of most big name fighters who are nearing the end of their time, Calzaghe has been more than happy to publicly muse over his own boxing epitaph in recent times. And the bottom line, as he appears to see it, is that he is about to sail off into the sunset with his status as a modern day boxing legend etched in stone, his name destined to be remembered for as long as people continue to converse on matters of the sweet science.

That may yet materialise down the annals of time, people may marvel at the old crackling tapes which reveal to a fresh audience the Welshman’s flashing fists and his nights of triumph.. A weary old soul in the corner of the room might pause to inform the fledgling minds of his enthralled grandchildren, telling them “Joe was a great fighter. You know he never lost a single fight, he was world champion for more than ten years”. If Calzaghe walks away now, that will be an undeniable fact which neither history nor any amount of barroom debate can ever erase.

But unlike the starry-eyed kids huddled around a TV screen, those of us who have followed Joe’s career in real-time have the luxury of judging his credentials for ourselves, before misty semtimentality creates an obscured, skewed or enhanced version of Joe Calzaghe the fighter. Even before his actual retirement, the issue of Calzaghe’s greatness or otherwise has already provoked a sizeable amount of debate amongst boxing fans.

Here, I will attempt to break down the argument into two opposing strands - “Calzaghe The Legend” and “Calzaghe The Myth”, and then (if it’s possible) take a stab at coming to a reasonable objective conclusion.

Calzaghe The Legend:

Joe has been a world champion since he defeated British great Chris Eubank in October 1997 to capture the WBO super-middleweight title, at the age of 25. His undefeated (46-0, 32KOs) record is an extremely rare and coveted achievement in world class boxing, something which has even eluded the vast majority of all-time greats. He has been recognised as the legitimate world champion in both the super-middleweight and light-heavyweight divisions. In addition, The Ring currently rate Calzaghe at number 3 in their pound-for-pound rankings, impressive stuff for a 36-year-old. On top of all these facts, there is no denying that Calzaghe’s skill, speed, heart and technical excellence mark him out as a top class operator.

Calzaghe The Myth:

There are not many great fighters amongst Calzaghe’s 46 victims. One of the few, Chris Eubank, gave Calzaghe the hardest fight of his life in 1997 (by Joe’s own admission) even though Eubank was a few years past his prime by then. Calzaghe, along with his promoter Frank Warren, was content to defend his WBO super-middleweight strap against average opposition for the next nine years. His next major scalp came in March 2006 via a unanimous points victory against an overhyped Jeff Lacy. To his credit though, Joe did unify the super-middleweight division with an impressive victory over Denmark’s Mikkel Kessler in November 2007, perhaps the most significant win of his career.

But maybe the biggest sources of debate are Calzaghe’s wins over American legends Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. in 2008. Personally, I will never be convinced that Joe was the rightful winner of the Hopkins fight. The wily old Philadelphian - though he engaged in a few tricks over the course of the fight - landed more shots in the majority of the rounds, and it was abundantly clear that Hopkins had more venom in his gloves. That was Hopkins at 43, so one wonders what would have happened against a prime Hopkins around his mid-30s.

Having scraped a dodgy split decision in that one, Calzaghe proceeded to another “Megamatch” stateside with Jones Jr, a fighter so far past his best as to be scarcely recognizable from the one which blew away all before him during his glory days of the 90s. Even so, Jones (just like Hopkins before him) put Calzaghe on his backside inside the opening three minutes. Although the more energetic and quicker Calzaghe subsequently cruised to an easy points victory, he never repaid that particular compliment.


I guess I’ve already made clear my view that Calzaghe put the names of Hopkins and Jones Jr on his record more than a touch cheaply, at a stage when they (Jones in particular) were long past their respective primes. And lest we forget, boxing is an entertainment business. Calzaghe was involved in very few really competitive or gripping contests. To be fair to him, he was perhaps a victim of a lack of worthwhile competition for much of his career, something for which he cannot be blamed. And he probably never sought to duck the challenges Hopkins or Jones in their primes. Those matches simply did not happen years ago due to factors outside of his control.

For me, Joe does currently belong in and around the top five or ten pound-for-pound fighters in the world. Top three seems a bit flattering when you look at those beneath him on the list (Margarito, Williams, Cotto, Hatton et al). And Calzaghe has been mentioned amongst British observers as possibly their greatest fighter since World War II. Again, it’s not by his own design that he did not get the chance, but if he had been around to take on Eubank, Nigel Benn and Michael Watson during their halcyon days of the early 90s, he would almost certainly have taken a loss against one of them. He is comfortably in their class, but not necessarily above them. And that’s before you even bring the name of the great Scottish lightweight Ken Buchanan into the argument - or that of Ricky Hatton for that matter. I would be slow to accept at face value such lofty praise of Calzaghe’s achievements.

Joe can still take on new challenges in 2009 and enhance his reputation, giving greater credence to the beliefs of his loyal supporters, who hold few doubts about his greatness. However, the signs now are that he will not do so.

So for me, he remains that paradoxical mix of ‘Myth’ and ‘Legend’, a highly accomplished and successful fighter, though not quite the great that some would have us believe, or that his untarnished record suggests. I’m sure many will disagree about the ‘Myth’ part, but aren’t these differences of opinion the very thing that keep us stimulated as we endure months of waiting for matters to be settled inside the ring, with fists rather than words.

Article posted on 08.01.2009

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