A quarter of a century ago today, the great Joe Calzaghe boxed his professional debut. Arguably the finest super-middleweight in the history of the division, “The Pride of Wales” fought a guy named Paul Hanlon at Cardiff Arms Park on October 1st, 1993 (on the under-card of the massive all-British heavyweight affair that was Lennox Lewis Vs. Frank Bruno). The southpaw who would go on to win world titles at both super-middleweight and light-heavyweight scored a quick first-round KO and he was on his way to greatness.
Joe, having been retired for almost a decade, had the sad loss of his father and trainer to deal with a few days ago, and all fight fans wish him all the best. A gentleman of the sport, Calzaghe earned his glory the hard and old-fashioned way. Joe resisted all temptation to come back and fight again, and his legacy is secure as can be. Walking away a perfect 46-0, Calzaghe achieved everything he wanted to achieve.
Here is a look back at some of Joe’s greatest fights:
5: Vs. Byron Mitchell. 28th June, 2003
Making the 13th defence of his WBO super-middleweight title, Calzaghe suffered the very first knockdown of his career. Badly hurt and sent reeling in the 2nd round by a Mitchell right cross to the head, the champion was shocked and on his knees. Showing the kind of heart some fans questioned him having, Calzaghe got back up and battled back. Hard! Coming roaring back as though nothing had happened, Calzaghe met Mitchell in mid-ring and the two men traded shots in electrifying fashion. Then, uncorking a left hand, Calzaghe decked the former WBA champion. Mitchell rose, but was soon deemed unfit to go on by the referee. Calzaghe had showed incredible fighting heart and in doing so won over even more fans. This fight marked the very first time Mitchell had been stopped.
4: Vs. Chris Eubank. 11th October, 1997.
A fresh-faced, 25-year-old Calzaghe met the ultra-experienced Eubank in his very first challenge for a world title. The belt had been vacated by Irishman Steve Collins (who, rumour had it, wanted no part of Joe) and he and “Simply The Best” fought to decide the title. Coming out full of energy, Calzaghe sent the rock-chinned Eubank down in the opening seconds. Eubank got up smiling, knowing he’d been caught cold. Unhurt, but embarrassed, he fought back well. By the late rounds of what was a very good fight Calzaghe was feeling the pace. He later admitted that this was the most tired he’d even been in any fight. The two men battled to the final bell and when it was over the Welshman was the new champ courtesy of a hard-earned unanimous decision. Calzaghe was now in the big leagues.
3: Vs. Jeff Lacy. 4th March, 2006.
The fight that finally won the U.S fight fans over (most of them anyway). Seen as a new superstar and even compared to a young Mike Tyson, Lacy would be too much for “slapper” Calzaghe. With his awesome punching power, most notably with the punch that gave him his “Left Hook” nickname, Lacy would come to Wales and see off the guy who had only handpicked his opponents. Or so many people thought. Instead hit by a painful 1,006 punches, the IBF 168-pound champion was never in the fight. Busted up, hit at will and taught a brutal lesson, Lacy was all but ruined by the beating he was to endure. In hindsight he should have been pulled out by around the halfway stage, but at the time such a decision would have been a very hard one to make and the pounding lasted for the full 12 rounds. Though he only tasted the canvas once, late in the fight, Lacy found out up close and personal that Calzaghe was no slapper.
2: Vs. Mikkel Kessler. 3rd November, 2007.
Now generally seen as the best in the world at super-middleweight, Calzaghe had only one serious rival. Mikkel Kessler was the unbeaten holder of the WBA and WBC 168-pound belts and Joe wanted them. Meeting before a huge sell-out crowd of 50,000 at The Millennium Stadium, Wales, Calzaghe and “The Viking Warrior” put on a superb 12 rounds of boxing. For a time Kessler gave as good as he was getting, but eventually Calzaghe’s work-rate and body shots took their toll. Kessler was game throughout, however, and to this day no-one, with the possible exception of Chris Eubank, has given Joe a tougher time at the weight. There were no knockdowns, but the action flowed thick and fast between two well conditioned and respectful sportsmen. In the end Calzaghe triumphed by unanimous decision and was now holder of three of the four belts at 168-pounds.
1: Vs. Bernard Hopkins. 19th April, 2008.
Having done all he’d set out to at super-middleweight, Calzaghe moved up to 175-pounds in an effort to achieve even more greatness. Waiting for him was the legendary Philadelphia fighter known as “The Executioner.” A modern day great known for his ability to take a rival’s key weapons away and make it his type of fight, Hopkins, though well past the age of 40, succeeded in giving Calzaghe his hardest fight to date. Knocked down in the opening round, Joe knew he was in tough. Despite never looking anywhere near his best, the Welshman gutted out the first third or so of the fight, before taking over with his greater strength, his youth and his work-rate. Hopkins appeared tired in the final few rounds, even buying time thanks to a relatively harmless looking low blow. B-Hop made it to the final bell, however, and upon doing so was convinced he’d won. But in the end Calzaghe, though unhappy with his own performance, had done enough to get a close split decision.