Bernard Hopkins? Roy Jones? Mikkel Kessler? Charles Brewer? Sakio Bika?
No. To this day, Joe Calzaghe, when asked what the toughest fight of his 46-fight pro career was, says it was the one he had with Chris Eubank. It was a quarter of a century ago today – October 11, 1997 – when “The Pride of Wales” met Eubank for the vacant WBO super-middleweight title. The fight was tough and gruelling, for both men.
The WBO belt had been stripped from Steve Collins, who had to pull out of his scheduled fight with Calzaghe due to a leg injury (Collins also said he was not getting enough money for the fight, while Calzaghe said Collins “is worried about fighting me – I think I’ll stop him.”) Eubank, a former two-weight champion, had lost the title to Collins, losing the return also, and he was 45-2-2 going into the Calzaghe fight. Eubank was also 31 and many felt past his best.
Calzaghe was 25 years of age and he was unbeaten at 22-0. Still, this was the acid test for the exciting southpaw who threw a ton of leather in his fights.
For a few seconds, it looked as though Calzaghe would have himself an easy night. Joe dropped Eubank with mere seconds gone, yet the fight was far from over. The fight soon turned into a battle of attrition; a punishing fight fought at a hot pace. Eubank had been there before, in his wars with Nigel Benn and Michael Watson, while for Calzaghe this was the first time he had been to, as he put it himself afterwards, “a dark place.”
Years later, Calzaghe admitted he was almost exhausted at the half-way stage of the fight, that he wasn’t sure he could go on. But Joe dug deep, incredibly deep, and he proved to himself that he could find his second, third, even fourth wind. Eubank, who might have fought one of his very best fights on this night, kept coming, his pressure designed to break the younger man. There was no quit in either guy.
Eubank touched down briefly in the tenth round, his chances of winning a decision now gone for good. But Eubank refused to take his foot off the pedal, having a strong 12th and final round. Both men had given their all. In the end, it was wide on the cards at 118-109, 118-111, and 116-111. The crowd in Sheffield gave both men rapturous applause.
We didn’t know it at the time, but Calzaghe would go on to rule for over a decade, adding the WBA/WBC and IBF titles to his collection in 2006/2007. Joe then moved up to become Ring Magazine light-heavyweight champ in 2008. To many, Calzaghe, who made an impressive 21 retentions of the WBO title, ranks as THE finest super-middleweight of them all.
Eubank fought on, having two more fights – up at cruiserweight. Eubank, who once looked like a fighter who may never lose himself, actually went out on the back of three defeats, with Carl Thompson defeating him in action fights in 1998. Eubank finished with a 45-5-2(23) record. The bravery Eubank showed in his final three ring appearances finally saw the fans swing around and both like and fully respect him.