Catch 22

17.10.05 – By Michael Klimes: A photogenic jab, a charming smile, good looks, crunching power, being articulate and intelligence are some of the fine qualities ‘The Welsh Dragon’ has exhibited over the years. It is a tremendous shame that a boxer of Joe Calzaghe’s character and calibre hasn’t received the applause he deserves. Calzaghe, like Bernard Hopkins is truly one of the ‘Elder Statesmen’ of the roped square but unfortunately does not receive the same adulation. I have always been impressed by Joe’s hard workmanlike attitude to his sport, his composure at interviews and his calmness at the limp way his career has gone.

You would never have seen this fighter hanging out in Club 662 in Las Vegas like Mike Tyson with other notorious celebrities such as Suge Knight and Tupac Shakur.

He is not like Naseem Hamed either, who in the latter part of his career successively managed to care about the penthouse he was going to train in more than the training itself.

Calzaghe has never been an arrogant man and he has always demonstrated respect for his opponents and is even humble in his own household; choosing to train in the solitude of his Welsh mountains, wanting to let his skills speak for themselves and staying true to his roots by staying in his childhood town of Newbridge are what not only the fighter but this man is about: Tradition and this might by Calzaghe’s largest flaw.

The Prince like Muhammad Ali made money from being the opposite of Calzaghe: Hamed was flamboyant, unnervingly irritating and unorthodox in style but nevertheless brilliant in a loud way. Calzaghe is brilliant but from a different perspective – the quiet one: He has excellent boxing fundamentals like a magnificent defence that ensured he wasn’t floored until his thirty sixth fight against the dangerous Byron Mitchell. Added to this, is a pistol like jab that has the ability to control a fight through its accuracy and sheer work rate. His defence has never included the highly questionable style of ‘chin out and run about.’

Combined with this are more than adequate offensive skills that are formed from the WBO champion’s devastating left hook that is its centrepiece and as effective to the body as the head. He also plants his feet flat footed when he unleashes his bombs and all of these considerable skills, power and ring savvy come from a sterling amateur career where Joe successively won three Amateur Boxing Association titles in three different weight categories.

Calzaghe though is now thirty three years old and is in a ‘Catch 22’ as Joseph Heller, the famous novelist said about a situation where no matter what you do you cannot win. Probably Calzaghe’s biggest disservice is the one that has been cited repeatedly and which he could never control – his birth. Calzaghe has been indisputably the man at 168 pounds for longer than many can remember. Although Jeff Lacy might have something to say about that now, it is still the fact that Lacy has to come after and beat the ‘Welsh Dragon’ as Calzaghe has been the king at his weight.

One cannot help but feel frustrated that Calzaghe wasn’t born ten years earlier when he could have been tested against Chris Eubank, Nigel Benn and Steve Collins. These fighters made their reputations by fighting each other and the same is true of James Toney, Roy Jones Junior, Michael Nunn, Julian Jackson, Gerald Mcllenan, Mike McCullum and Michael Watson. We are, as fans and boxers unfortunately living in an era when the middleweight and super middleweight divisions are desperately crying out for talent. As long as Bernard Hopkins and Joe Calzaghe have been ruling their roosts I unfortunately cannot put them in the same league as their nearest predecessors because of the weaker eras they have dominated.

This isn’t to say they couldn’t have beaten many of the fighters listed above but the fact is in fiction we can only theorize that Calazaghe could have done and not what he has done; same applies to Hopkins. For instance, I think that he could outwork Benn and knock him out even quicker than Michael Watson did at Fitzbury Park in 1989. Even though he fought a rugged Eubank in 1997, I can still see the result being the same if Eubank was in his prime: Calzaghe easily finding Eubank’s chin and putting him to the canvas due to that awfully low guard, frustrating ‘Simply the Best’ with his tight defence and scoring with the jab. I also believe Calzaghe has the talent to give any of the above boxers considerable difficulty as he is a class act. It’s not a lack of potential that Calzaghe has suffered from; he has already produced flashes of brilliance but a lack of challengers that has fuelled controversy and speculation. Can anyone seriously doubt Calazghe’s pedigree? Just look at the way he has fought in the ring.

Calzaghe’s career looked set for superstardom after he outclassed the former IBF champion Charles Brewer in a highly contested twelve round battle with both landing hard punches in a high paced first three rounds. It had been an impressive conclusion to a string of recent title defences at the time which had included the defeats of Richie Woodhall, Robin Reid, Mario Veit and Will MacIntyre. What transpired after Brewer was a period of horrible defences against poor opposition but than a magnificent two round war which was a candidate for ‘Fight of the Year’ in the summer of 2003 with Byron Mitchell, another former world champion. Calzaghe had been floored in the first round with a howitzer of a right hand by Mitchell, which materialised from outer space. However, the champion got up, cleared his eyes after a few seconds and finished what Mitchell had started.

Calzaghe’s crunching combinations made me shiver when I saw the fight. Mitchell showed what a combination puncher Calzaghe could be when he just annihilated Mitchell with one of the best exhibitions of power I have ever seen. He put the former WBA champ to the canvas and then made the referee jump into the fray and put an end and rightly so to Mitchell’s suffering who later said ‘I have never been hit so hard so often.’

Afterwards, Calzaghe was jubilant and explained,’ There always comes a time when a champion gets knocked down and has to show his heart.’ Joe never seemed happier and said it was a ‘career best.’ The always cautious Frank Warren said,’ This will launch Joe big in the United States.’ The boxing world is still waiting for Warren’s assessment to bear truth. The fight, however, overshadowed a serious problem that has always been Calazaghe’s Achilles heel, that left hand. The title defence had to be delayed twice because of Calzaghe’s hand troubles that have always been with him it seems.

Many these days criticise Joe by making the noises to fight and then suddenly injuring himself. He has hit back vehemently, even slandering Ricky Hatton’s win over Kostya Tszyu stating on BBC Sport in September 2005,’ Let’s not get over the top – Ricky had a good win over Kostya Tszyu but he fought a guy who was coming to the tail end of his career who had fought once in three years. As far as I’m concerned I’m a much better fighter than Ricky Hatton.’ There does seem to be some truth in this and Calzaghe feels angry that Amir Khan receives such admiration whilst Calzaghe, lest we forget, has been a champion for eight years with more title defences than any other British champion to his name. Many complain today about the multi weight glory seeking champion at different weights, claiming the situation has an awful lot of prestige but not much substance. If you are one of those people, then Calzaghe upholds the tradition of being a champion at one weight.

So where to now for Calzaghe? I personally feel nowhere: Calzaghe might as well retire because he isn’t getting any younger and really is one of the huge disappointments in recent years. Colin Jones, the Welsh legend commented after Calzaghe’s poor showing against Kabrary Salem that Joe is ‘running out of options’ if he hasn’t all ready. Jones cemented my opinion on Calzaghe by correctly stating ‘he’s really struggling to work off those last few pounds to make super middleweight. That’s giving him problems with the fluids leading to dehydration in the later rounds. Joe has done everything asked of him and defeated everyone who has been put in front of him. How many champions retire undefeated? If Joe considers that I wouldn’t mid him getting out at the top.’ T o me Jones speaks the language of logic.

Calzaghe is getting old, his injuries with the left hand will only get worse and his opponents are rapidly diminishing: Roy Jones and Bernard Hopkins are finished as is William Joppy. Howard Eastman has vanished off the boxing radar, Glencoffe Johnson wants no part of Calzaghe and who knows what Antonio Tarver wants to do which leaves Jeff Lacy who will become the outstanding super middleweight sooner rather than later. So what if Calzaghe beats him? Joe will either retire, have to move up to light heavyweight or face Jeff Lacy.

Whatever Calzaghe does he loses because it is simply too late and he joins a list of other British fighters, the most talented who have been wasted because of either internal or external forces. Kirkland Lang, Herol Graham, Michael Watson and Nasem Hamed to name a few were superior boxers to Eubank and Benn but unfortunately never achieved the same success or recognition. The ‘Welsh Dragon’ will soon be joining them in the Hall of the Forgotten.

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