20.12.04 – By Steve Mckenna: WHILE Glen Johnson toasted becoming the unofficial undisputed light-heavyweight champion of the world, Joe Calzaghe just might have been thinking: “It could have been me.” The long-standing WBO super-middleweight champion’s career has stalled to a grinding halt over the last year. Johnson, on the other hand, has seen his sky-rocket after following up his stunning knockout of Roy Jones with a split-decision victory over Antonio Tarver. Who would have thought it at the start of 2004?
Then, Calzaghe and Johnson were pencilled in to meet in an IBF light-heavyweight eliminator. The ‘Road Warrior’ was to travel to Cardiff in June and Calzaghe, who was red-hot at the time after knocking out Byron Mitchell, would turn up and take him out. That was what everyone thought, anyway. But after Joe pulled out injured, not once, but twice, Johnson accused him of messing him around and vowed to make him pay. Oh, how he has – without even laying a glove on him.
While Calzaghe has marked time by overcoming Mger Mkrtchian and Kabery Salem in dull, low-key fights, Johnson has finally earned the respect his efforts have deserved. Having the scalps of Jones and Tarver on his record is a tremendous boost for a man who’s been the victim of shocking judging in recent years. He’s also earned good pay-days in his last two fights and, because of the controversial nature of Saturday night’s decision, which ironically went in his favour for a change, a rematch with Tarver is a near certainty. And that puts Calzaghe out of their plans until the middle of 2005 at least – and that’s assuming the winner is willing to give him a shot.
So what’s left for Joe, who’s always talked about becoming a two-weight world champion? Like stablemate Ricky Hatton, the Newbridge southpaw has put together an impressive looking 38-0 unbeaten slant. But, unlike the Hitman, he’s probably past his best.
Two months short of his 32nd birthday and with signs of wear and tear showing in his last fight with Salem, Calzaghe really is at the crossroads. He’s often said how hard it is for him to make the super-middleweight limit and how there aren’t any fights for him in that division. That’s not strictly true. If he can stick at 168 pounds, hard-hitting Danny Green, WBA champ Mikhel Kessler and Jeff Lacy, the IBF king, would be worthwhile opponents and WBC belt holder Markus Beyer continues to show his championship credentials. Domestically, Carl Froch has been calling Joe out, despite his novice status as a professional, while Robin Reid wouldn’t say ‘no’ to a rematch.
There was also talk last week that Calzaghe could be a potential future opponent for Felix ‘Tito’ Trinidad should he decide to move up to super-middleweight in 2005. But would Don King really put ‘Tito’ in with a fast, hard-hitting southpaw like Calzaghe? It’s unlikely, especially as Trinidad was shown up by Bernard Hopkins – at middleweight. Just how would ‘Tito’ possibly cope with a man an extra half-a-stone heavier? It would be a great fight for Calzaghe but it would be a shock if it was made.
More likely, and more worryingly, a second fight with Mario Veit could be on the cards if Calzaghe stays put at 168. The lanky German has worked his way back to being the WBO’s number one contender since being starched in a round by the Welsh dragon three and a half years ago. Frankly, despite Veit’s apparent improvement, it’s not a fight many people would like to see. If Calzaghe really cannot hold his weight down any longer, there are a few fights for him in the light-heavy division. Perennial IBF title challenger Clinton Woods would pose a test in a watchable all-British encounter.
WBO champion Zsolt Erdei is also there, as is a revitalised Julio Cesar González and Aussie tough-guy Paul Briggs. Granted, they’re not exactly bouts to set the pulse racing, but, with Johnson and Tarver tied-up and Jones surely on the verge of retirement, what else is left for Joe? One of those match-ups would, at least, give him some grounding at the new weight before a possible clash with the division’s big two.
It’s a shame that a man as talented as Calzaghe hasn’t made more of his career. It is unfortunate that he arrived on the scene a few years too late, having missed out on the Nigel Benn-Chris Eubank-Michael Watson-Steve Collins era. However, while he’s beaten good fighters like Richie Woodhall, Charles Brewer and Mitchell, he’s never quite fulfilled his huge potential.
After a glittering amateur career and a vacant WBO title win over a faded Eubank in 1997, he looked set for the stars. But, despite 15 title defences, it just hasn’t worked out like that. Calzaghe’s dislike of flying and unwillingness to fight in America hasn’t helped him. Neither have his persistent injuries and recent problems in his private life. And nor has his obsession with keeping the WBO belt, and defending against mediocre mandatory contenders, instead of seeking unification fights. Out of his last seven fights, five have been total mis-matches.
Only Brewer and Mitchell provided any sort of quality, while the likes of Tocker Pudwill, Will McIntyre, Miguel Jimenez, plus Salem and Mkrtchian, were totally inept. Every year is supposed to be Joe Calzaghe’s year, when he’ll go to America and get his ‘career-defining’ fight. He says it and so does his promoter, Frank Warren. 2004 hasn’t been. And, unless something drastic happens, who can honestly see 2005 being any different?