Tarver vs. Calzaghe! Will it Happen?

13.10.05 – By Allan Dalzell: Antonio Tarver, the recognised number one at light heavyweight, has recently made noises that he would be willing to fight WBO Super Middleweight champion, Joe Calzaghe, if Calzaghe’s proposed February unification bout between him and IBF champion Jeff Lacy fell through.

This would undoubtedly seem like welcome news to Frank Warren, Calzaghe’s fans and Calzaghe himself. But given Joe’s recent record of managing to pull himself out of the so called ‘super fights’ he says he craves, what are the chances of it actually happening. In recent times, Joe has lost the chance to face Jeff Lacy in November after injuring his hand in a meaningless fight against an obviously out of his depth opponent in Evans Ashira.

Calzaghe pulled out of two fights against Glencoffe Johnson after Johnson had defeated Clinton Woods for the vacant IBF Light Heavyweight title and proposed fights against Sven Ottke, Markus Beyer and Bernard Hopkins also came to nothing.

It would seem harsh to detract from the record of a man who has been a recognised champion in his division since 1997 and who has made 17 successful defences of that crown, but the simple truth is that other than Chris Eubank, Joe doesn’t really have a single big name scalp to his credit.

Richie Woodhall, Robin Reid, Charles Brewer, Omar Sheika and Byron Mitchell are all decent fighters but they are not the universally recognisable names that Joe claims he should be fighting. Too often he has been facing fighters who in all fairness shouldn’t really be in the same ring as him. Tocker Pudwill, Mger Mkrtchian, Will McIntyre, Rick Thornberry and his last opponent Evans Ashira are not names that are likely to strike fear into the heart of Antonio Tarver or Jeff Lacy when they look at Joe’s record.

In my opinion, the seemingly endless downward spiral that is currently Joe’s career can be traced back to his pulling out of the Glen Johnson fights.

Sven Ottke and Markus Beyer wanted nothing to do with Calzaghe and Bernard Hopkins was never likely to step up to Super Middleweight to fight Joe. Why should he have, when the eminently more profitable name of Oscar De La Hoya was prepared to move up to Middleweight to fight him.

After beating Clinton Woods, Johnson, who had earned something of an unjustified reputation as a journeyman, wanted to cash in on his title and make some decent money from it. No shame in that, considering he had travelled to Germany, Italy and England before winning a title that was going to make him financially secure and he was prepared to fight Joe, and given Joe’s well known troubles in making the Super Middleweight limit, a fight at Light Heavyweight for what is perceived to be a more highly regarded title, should have been a blessing for him.

Now I am not questioning the validity of Joe’s injury claims, I am not privy to his medical records, but the fact remains that after he pulled out of the first fight and was fortunate enough to get it rescheduled, there was no way that Johnson was going to hang around after Joe postponed the fight a second time. Johnson had travelled extensively during his career, often at short notice and had received some poor hometown decisions for his troubles, in his position, with a major title at his disposal and a certain amount of marketability was it realistic on Joe’s part to expect him to hang around until Joe felt well enough to take him on. Some harsh words were exchanged between the two after the match up collapsed, but even Joe’s most ardent fans would surely have felt some sympathy for Johnson’s position. He wanted to ensure that he and his family became financially secure and the only way to do that was by fighting. The sickening thing as far as Joe is concerned is that Johnson then went on to beat Roy Jones Jnr and Antonio Tarver in his two subsequent fights after the scrapping of the Calzaghe bout. He was named fighter of the year 2004 and now doesn’t need to take fights at one weeks notice in order to ensure his family have the money to pay their bills.

All of this could have happened to Joe if he had fought Johnson. Johnson is a good, solid fighter with a decent chin, respectable power and reasonable skills. However, I think Joe would have had too much in most departments for him. If Joe had taken on and beaten Johnson, as it was and is well within his abilities to do, not only would he have become Wales’s first ever champion at two weights, not only would he have won a supposedly more prestigious title, he would have also put himself in the limelight as far as the American fight fans were concerned and have given himself a far better chance of facing Roy Jones and Antonio Tarver. Instead of talking about the respect he says he deserves, he would have it, and with it would have came the ‘super fights’ he claims to crave.

You would think this would have been a lesson for Joe, but not so it seems. After managing to secure a unification match up against Jeff Lacy, rather than ensure that he remained fit and healthy he decided to take a meaningless tune up match against the vertically challenged Evans Ashira, who was having his first fight at Super Middleweight. Now leaving aside the question as to what Ashira had done to merit a World title shot, what was Joe thinking about in taking the fight on in the first place. He wants a ‘super fight’ and when he has managed to secure it he blows it by breaking his hand in a fight that in truth brought him nothing but another easy pay day. It’s not really surprising that Jeff Lacy seems unwilling to hang on until February to face Joe. He will be fighting Scott Pemberton in the November slot that he should have been facing Joe in, and if he comes through that one, I am sure that he and his promoter will look at what other fights are out there for him. Mikkel Kessler is one possible opponent that comes to mind.

Now Antonio Tarver dangles a seemingly redemptive offer in front of Joe. But given Joe’s reputation in managing to miss out on the big fights, if anything should come of Tarver’s talk, and let’s put it in a more realistic light here, Tarver has also been talking about wanting to fight James Toney, Mike Tyson and Vitali Klitschko, although there is no doubt that a match up against Calzaghe is the most sensible proposition by far, he had better make sure that he doesn’t ruin this chance if it is presented.

Joe has the talent to become a major star in boxing, but right now to many neutral fans he appears to be more interested in earning easy money while hanging on to his lightly regarded WBO strap. Joe should take a look at the aforementioned Sven Ottke. He held two versions of the Super Middleweight title and retired undefeated and extremely wealthy, but with almost no legacy to speak of. In fact, it is difficult to think of a World Champion in recent times who has a lesser reputation than Ottke has in America. If Joe doesn’t secure his ‘super fight’ soon, he may well join Sven in that unwanted bracket.

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