Goodbye Joe Calzaghe

Calzaghe and Roy Jones battle in New York: Neil Abramson
Calzaghe and Roy Jones battle in New York: Neil Abramson
By Clive Bernath: Joe Calzaghe’s decision to retire undefeated was as much a surprise as it was expected. In terms of the expected the Welsh boxing hero hinted many times following his win over Roy Jones Jnr last November that retirement was a real possibility. The surprise is that at 46-0-(32), Calzaghe, who celebrates his 37th birthday on March 23, was just three fights shy of equalling Rocky Marciano’s history making 49 fight unbeaten record.

Revealing his decision to retire Calzaghe said: "It was a difficult one but I have achieved everything I wanted to achieve in boxing,"

"I’ve been world champion for 11 years. I’ve got no other goals to go for. That’s why I am calling it a day."

Equally, Joe was swayed by the thoughts of his family, who made no secret of the fact that they wanted him to retire. And who can blame them? After all It’s been a long hard road winning 22 world title fights in a record breaking 11 years as a world champion. His other achievements include being voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year and honoured with both a CBE and MBE.

I can fully understand Joe’s decision to retire at the top of his game and what we must also take into account is the enormous dedication to training, conditioning and the mental preparation needed to maintain form at the highest level. Maybe that was also a factor in his decision.

For me the defining fights that stick out most would have to be the Chris Eubank, Jeff Lacy and Mikkel Kessler fights. Three fighters at different stages of their careers but all were equally as dangerous prior to the opening bell. Yes, the eccentric Mr Eubank was in the twilight of his career and he did take the fight at just a week or so’s notice back in October 1997 but Joe was facing his first genuine world class opponent and he dealt with Eubank pretty easily in the end, winning clearly on all three judges cards.

Aside from the Robin Reid fight, Calzaghe then cashed in on the title by embarking on a series of routine title defences against pretty much hand picked opponents until March, 2006 when he faced the then unbeaten tough guy Jeff Lacy. The American arrived in England with a fearsome reputation and in peak condition. If I’m honest I made Lacy a slight favourite going in and so did 95% of the boxing writers on both sides of the pond. All credit to Joe’s father and trainer Enzo Calzaghe, though. He was brave enough to predict Joe would handle the ferocious Lacy with ease and that’s exactly what he did. From the opening bell until the final second of the 12th round a relentless Calzaghe battered the brave but outgunned Lacy from pillar to post in one of the most one sided and finest displays of boxing ever seen inside a British ring. Calzaghe had never really produced the kind of form we all knew he was capable of but on March 4, 2006 he finally delivered.
If the impressive dismantling of Lacy finally convinced the sceptics Joe was the real deal the close but unanimous 12 round points win over Danish WBA/WBC super-middleweight king Mikkel Kessler in November 2007 put all reservations beyond any doubt. Kessler also possessed an impressive resume when arriving in Wales to face Calzaghe in front of 50,000 screaming Welsh fans. In the early rounds the pair traded on even terms in the middle of the ring and by rounds four and five Kessler was the man getting the better of the exchanges as he rained in ferocious uppercuts onto Calzaghe’s granite chin. Calzaghe knew then that if he was going to prevail against Kessler he would have to change his game plan and he did just that. Instead of trading in close the Welsh hero took a step back and boxed Kessler from the outside to slowly regain control of the fight to clinch a close but deserved unanimous decision.

The wins over Lacy and Kessler proved defining for another reason because had he not emerged victorious he would never have cracked the American market and the lucrative wins over Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jnr.

Whether or not Joe Calzaghe is the best fighter Britain has ever produced is open to debate but one thing that is not debatable is that 46 wins from 46 fights including 22 world title wins certainly means that the Newbridge man is the most successful boxer Britain has ever produced. Good luck Joe, enjoy your retirement , you have certainly earned it.

February 6, 2009
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