Calzaghe Wins On Points In Rough Affair In Manchester

14.10.06 - By James Slater: In a rough, wild and gruelling, yet entertaining fight at the MEN arena in Manchester, England, WBO and IBF super middleweight world champion Joe Calzaghe successfully retained his titles via unanimous decision tonight. With a hard fought win over the tough challenger from Australia, Sakio Bika, Joe improved on boxing’s longest unbeaten run to take his record to 42-0. But how the Welshman was made to work for his victory.

The once beaten Bika certainly came to win, and he succeeded in making things plenty hot for the thirty-four year old Calzaghe. The younger man by some seven years, Sakio, known as “The Scorpion”, roughed Joe up at times and had the world champion out of his game and breathing hard at the end of the lively twelve rounds. In a fight that may have proven an ageing one for Calzaghe, the superstar of the 168 pound division had to dig deep to ensure his win. In the end all three judges agreed that he had done more than enough to have done so, but the performance he put on for the American audiences will have more than likely failed to impress them. With HBO tuning in live, Calzaghe was expected to blow away, or outclass, the largely
unknown challenger.

Instead he was made to grit his teeth and battle his way to the final bell of a very hard night’s work. Undoubtedly as result Joe will have lost much of the respect his fine win over Jeff Lacy gained him last time out. The American fans are notoriously hard to please and the crude affair with Bika will have left many of them cold. As unfair as this may be, Joe seemed unhappy with his own performance while being interviewed post-fight. With the damage to his left eye looking prominent, Calzaghe admitted he’d perhaps tried too hard to impress his U.S audience. More worryingly, he also stated how his hands were hurting him once again. We can only hope that another seven month spell of inactivity is not in the offing.

The first round was lively, as the inside action that would become a mainstay of the night first materialised. As too did Joe’s dangerously low held hands. Seemingly boxing with utmost contempt for his opponent, Calzaghe was unafraid of opening up on Bika, once again showing his very fast hand speed. The complete lack of a guard was disturbing to see, however, and could have proved extremely foolhardy. The action was intense and Sakio made it clear how up for it he was. Joe won the round though.

In the second, Joe continued to come forward. The well muscled Bika jabbed well for a time, but also seemed keen to initiate clinches. The dropping of his hands continued pretty much unabated for the champion though, as he appeared to be in a completely uncharacteristically over-arrogant mood. The action went on after the bell in this session and Bika lunged forward at Joe, only to miss with his shots. It was evident a rough night’s boxing was in store. Joe put his second round in the bank.

Round three. Calzaghe’s class started to show somewhat in this round, though Bika was looking unfazed by both this and his complete lack of a high guard. Still, the U.S interest the fight had generated must have been the reason for Joe’s showboating. Sakio was not doing enough to capitalise on this, however, and Joe won his third round in a row on my card.

The fourth was Sakio’s first winning session for me, as he landed some fine counters. It was Calzaghe who was making the fight, but Bika looked sharp as he landed work of his own. Joe was looking to unload while Bika was on the ropes but he lunged wildly and went half way through them. As he attempted to counter the attack, Sakio was issued with a warning from referee Mickey Vann. There was also a bad clash of heads at the end of the round that left Joe’s left eye cut badly. The butt was ruled accidental though, as Bika won his first three minutes.

Through rounds five through eight the sometimes messy, sometimes rough, yet always engrossing action continued. Calzaghe was getting hit plenty, certainly far more than he will have anticipated coming in, but his low held hands remained where they were for the most part. He was, for whatever reason, intent on taking risks tonight. Bika engaged in yet more dangerous looking work with his head, to which Joe complained angrily to the referee, one point was taken from Bika as a result. I scored all four of these rounds for the defending champion.

In the ninth Bika was still looking to counter, while Calzaghe’s fast hands remained sharp. It was Sakio’s best round for some time though, and he definitely won it for me.

At the start of the tenth Calzaghe was wrestled to the floor, and he was perhaps feeling tired. Both men were, in fact. Later in the round Joe pounced and let some shots go as Sakio looked to the ref and anticipated a call of break. But then the challenger looked dangerous as he returned fire of his own. The fight was more than gruelling by this stage. I scored the
round for the Australian.

In the final two rounds Joe was continuing to bounce around pretty well, despite his obvious fatigue. The champ had done by far the more work in the fight, while the challenger, despite his genuine worth, remained somewhat one paced throughout the action. That said, I scored the eleventh even. There was a low blow that had Joe grimacing in pain at the start of the final round, which resulted in a time-out and a warning for the younger man. After this Sakio appeared energised and went for it with some hard looking right hands. Calzaghe was very tired now, as he had a right to be, and there was a good deal of holding. Indeed, the two men were in a clinch as the bell sounded to end a bruising and hard fought bout. The two had lots of respect for one another as it sounded. While the crowd had had lots to cheer about all night long.

The three judges saw Joe as a clear winner, with scores of 170-110 twice, and 116-111. Calzaghe, despite not putting on a display he himself was happy with, retained his titles and now looks forward to a match with rival super middleweight ruler Mikkel Kessler. On tonight’s form this encounter appears an even fight.

Calzaghe improved to 42-0 with 24 KO’s, while Bika fell to 20-2-1 with 13 KO’s.

Article posted on 15.10.2006

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