Who is greater: Bernard Hopkins or Joe Calzaghe?

Bernard HopkinsBy Matthew El Cepillo Potter - Is Bernard Hopkins greater than Joe Calzaghe, or does the Welshman eclipse the Philadelphian hard-man? This is a debate that often rages amongst real boxing fans. And I will admit at the outset, that itís not as clear as I hoped it would be. This debate is frequently cause for a sad enticement of tribal loyalties, with Brit's often favouring Calzaghe, and Americans championing Hopkins. Of course, this is a generalisation, and many fans, with various passports, are capable of coming to a logical and unbiased conclusion. This article is here to help, should you so need it.

Firstly, letís make one thing clear; everyone has a different definition of greatness, and every fighterís record and resume of wins is open to criticism and deconstruction. With regards to Hopkins, the first and most tediously frequent allegation is that he only fought smaller men..

The reality is that Hopkins fought the best opponents available at the time. Carlos Monzon and Marvin Hagler both have smaller men ranked amongst their greatest wins. However, no one can credibly claim that De La Hoya was a proven Middleweight, or that Winky Wright didn't look a bit flabby at 170 lbs, but these are still solid wins, against elite opponents. And it's not like Winky Wright was a crude slugger who relied on size and weight advantages to bully his opponents into submission! Winky was a defensive master, a technician who relied on skills and ability, not size and weight.

Puerto Rican great, Felix Trinidad is often cited as one of these so-called Ďsmaller mení. The reality is that Trinidad was not only undefeated at the time, not just ranked the pound-for-pound number three, but he was also proven at the weight and he was the betting favourite going into the clash with Hopkins in the September of 2001. Trinidad performed well at the weight, before and after his defeat to Hopkins. And to call it a 'defeat' is doing it a disservice. Hopkins put on a master class performance, against a guy many thought would beat him into retirement. And if all this sounds weirdly familiar, itís because Hopkins would go on to do it again, seven years later, against another young-gun and undefeated Champion in Kelly Pavlik.

Pavlik, was, in theory, a smaller man, although he had fought successfully just 2lbs south of the 170lbs catch weight. So, while there is some truth in the allegation that Hopkins only fought smaller men, itís really not as significant an issue as some people like to claim. Similar allegations have never been levelled towards Calzaghe, just allegations of a different kind. Mostly of the 'scared to leave his comfort zone' variety.

So, to look at the genesis of the Calzaghe/Hopkins debate, we need to see how they first won the belts that would make them famous. Neither story is particularly impressive. Hopkins had originally lost his title to Roy Jones, and went on to reclaim his IBF belt with a fight against Segundo Mercado for the vacant title. The first fight between these two was a draw, and thus Hopkins became a paper champion at the 2nd attempt when he won the rematch. Calzaghe's win over Chris Eubank for the WBO title was almost as unspectacular, again fighting for a vacant belt.

Of course, Eubank was a former champion, and therefore more credible than Mercado. But he was also at the end of his career and took the fight on short notice. Eubank is on record as saying that he had to cut several pounds of muscle and fat in the weeks leading up to the fight. Not only that, but just a few months later, he was campaigning two entire weight divisions higher.

But it wasn't the way they won their belts that made Hopkins and Calzaghe great. It was what they did afterwards. Bernard Hopkins would go on to defend his IBF title successfully on twenty occasions. Calzaghe faired slightly better with a total of twenty one successful defences.

Both men became Undisputed Champions. But the difference here is quite distinct, and is one of the three primary reasons why Hopkins should be regarded more highly than Calzaghe. Calzaghe became undisputed when he beat Mikkel Kessler in 2007. There is no doubt that Kessler is a good fighter, a credible belt holder. He was young and undefeated, but unfortunately very one dimensional. Having captured the 168lb Championship, Calzaghe immediately moved up to Light-Heavyweight, having made zero defences of his most prestigious title to date. Now compare that with Hopkins after he won the 160lb Championship; he became the first man to dominate and stop the undefeated Trinidad, then went onto to defend his Undisputed title successfully on six occasions, before, like Calzaghe, moving up to Light-Heavyweight and challenging the legitimate Champion.

The second primary reason why Hopkins is greater than Calzaghe is simply down to resume. Hopkins defeated four men who all held belts at the time; Pavlik, Trinidad, De La Hoya and Holmes. Two of these men were ranked amongst the pound-for-pound elite.

Calzaghe defeated just two current belt holders (at the time) in Lacy and Kessler - neither of whom were close to being ranked amongst the best on the planet - by any sane analyst!

Amongst the second tier of Hopkinsí wins were notable former or future titlists like Glen Johnson, Lupe Aquino, Winky Wright and William Joppy. Calzaghe had a few more notables on his record in the guise of former belt holders like Robin Reid, Byron Mitchell, Richie Woodhall, Charles Brewer and of course, Eubank. So far, so close, in terms of resume - itís tempting to think. But by moving up and capturing the Linear Light-Heavyweight belt, this is where Hopkins' edges marginally ahead again. While Calzaghe moved up and got a razor thin split decision over the 43 year version of Hopkins, the man himself moved up and schooled, in the most embarrassingly one-sided way possible, the bigger, stronger, younger man in Antonio Tarver.

So, in terms of resume, Hopkins beat more current champions, more notable names, and usually in a more convincing manner than Calzaghe. While there isn't a huge difference between the two menís resumes, comparing their top three victories clearly shows that Hopkins is in the ascendancy in this regard.

In terms of achievement, they both made a similar number of defences of their belts and they both moved up and became the man to beat at 175lbs. But it was Hopkins reign as the first true Middleweight Champion since Halger, and his subsequent six successful defences, which again places him clearly ahead of Calzaghe in the achievement stakes.

So far, that's 2-0 to B-Hop. But this is where Calzaghe claws one back - Hopkins has lost three times. Although the nature of these defeats means that they arenít quite as damaging to his legacy as perhaps they could be. Hopkins only lost very close decisions to world class fighters when he was fast approaching middle age and simply couldn't match the fresher fighters work rate.

Calzaghe, obviously, has an unblemished 46-0 record, and so therefore rightly is ahead in this respect. This undefeated record makes the final comparison much closer than some might think, but Hopkins, as I've shown, has the better resume and the more significant achievements, whereas Calzaghe has a slightly better record. This means, that Hopkins wins the final analysis; he is the greater fighter, when judged objectively and dispassionately.

Some eagle eyed readers might, at this stage, notice that little has been said of either mans win over Roy Jones Jr. This is simply because neither Hopkins nor Calzaghe deserve any credit for beating the empty shell of a once great fighter. The fact is, speaking entirely without objectivity, and with a lot of passion, a peak Roy Jones was light-years ahead of both, and neither could compete on the kind of stratospherically high level that Jones made his own domain.

Article posted on 10.05.2010

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