War of Words Belies another Night of Wasted Talent for World Class Joe Calzaghe


10.21.04 – By Andrew Mullinder: It is hardly surprising that American opinions of fighters from across the pond tend to be delivered dripping with cynicism. There is a list longer than the ‘Declaration of Independence’ of British hopefuls with big reputations who have crossed the Atlantic only to have their conquering aspirations ended at the call of “10!” Amid this endemic inferiority, quite a few alphabet world champions have emerged, but only a tiny few, like Lloyd Honeyghan and Naseem Hamed, could argue they operated at the peak of their weight divisions for even the shortest of periods. In fact, Canadian-raised Lennox Lewis aside, the British fight fan must take a painful 35 year trip back to the time of Ken Buchanan’s outstanding peak to find one of their own who could be legitimately called World Champion and get the job done on a consistent basis against world class opposition in the US.

There is more about Joe Calzaghe than his impressive 37-0 (30) record to suggest that he could upset historical precedent and dominate his division. Calzaghe is an excellent southpaw box-puncher, who, while adept boxing at distance, has adopted a devil may care attitude of late, impatiently steaming forward and overwhelming his opponents with a combination of blistering hand speed and precipitous combinations. While Calzaghe’s knockout ratio of 81% indicates he has real power, his short route victories seem to be generated by cumulative pressure, high work rate, and dominating performances rather than concussive single punches. The Welshman is well served by a granite chin, having never been knocked out, and indeed, has only once been floored as a professional, an amateur, or in training. He has used this exciting combination of attributes to ride roughshod over a combination of competent journeymen, perennial title challengers, and world class operators. He is articulate and photogenic, and has been involved in several trilling encounters against top quality opposition including Chris Eubank, Robin Reid, Charles Brewer, and Byron Mitchell. Shame he struggles get a truly meaningful fight!

On Friday, Calzaghe returns from an all too familiar stay of absence, this time caused by (officially) injury and (unofficially) the acrimonious break up of his marriage. He fights, instead of one of his 168lb challengers or one of the light-heavyweight tigers, the unheard of Kabary Salem. Salem, by all accounts, is a tough customer who digs pretty hard with both hands and is not averse to stretching the rules beyond their limit. According to most observers, Salem deserved to win his WBO Final Eliminator against Mario Veit in Germany. Even Calzaghe, who has watched a tape of the fight, argues “even by German home town standards, that points decision in Veit’s favour was a travesty and Salem will be a much tougher opponent for me”.

Salem, it appears, would provide a good test to most European level fighters. But to argue he will provide tough opposition for a peak Joe Calzaghe seems like backing the sturdy tree against the avalanche. Salem has fallen short every time he has dipped his toes in world class waters, losing to Eric Harding and Antwun Echols, and while he may not have disgraced himself against Veit, Calzaghe annihilated the German inside a round. Calzaghe has more than proved himself against a catalogue of opponents of Salem’s standard, and rather than being a meaningful encounter, this Friday’s match up in Edinburgh signifies a failure to secure the defining fight Calzaghe’s talent demands.

It has been Calzaghe’s misfortune he was born 5 years too late. He reigns supreme at a time when (despite a couple of very promising prospects currently emerging) the super middleweight division has been as bereft of talent as any other in boxing. Where Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank, and Steve Collins all fought each other in thrilling, world class encounters, and James Toney, Michael Nunn, Iran Barkley, and Roy Jones battled for supremacy across the Atlantic, poor Joe has no peers. While nobody can be 100% certain, most observers feel Calzaghe would not have disgraced himself against any of his direct predecessors, and his ability would make him big favourite against any of the current crop of Super Middleweights. Unfortunately, Joe was born too late and his efforts to lure his only true rival, the awkward Sven Ottke, into the ring proved fruitless until Ottke’s retirement. And so instead of fulfilling his potential and upsetting historical precedent, Joe is left to anonymously labour past Salem.

Not that Salem is short on confidence. In an increasingly hostile war of words, Salem has said “I’m following my dream… He says he will knock me out but I’m here for the belt”, to which an bristling Calzaghe replied “Well if you want a belt then you’d better go to a superstore and get one for your jeans, because there’s no way you’re going home with mine”. Salem plans to endure the inevitable Calzaghe onslaught by roughing up the Welshman until he tires in the later rounds. But as Charles Brewer will testify, Calzaghe is more than capable of sustaining a frenetic pace for twelve rounds.

Worse still, it seems that not only is class and track record is against Salem, but also style, because unless the pre fight hype has been dramatically misguiding, Salem possesses none of the slippery counterpunching style, and none of the awkward lateral movement that sometimes bothers Calzaghe. Salem’s pre-fight boast that Calzaghe has not “fought anyone that could go to his body and head” may not only be plain wrong, but also suicidal. Tellingly, British bookmakers are laying Calzaghe at 33 to 1. Perhaps their press conference trash-talking will be as competitive this encounter ever gets.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues covered in this article, please email andrew_mulliner@yahoo.co.uk