By Clive Bernath
Joe Calzaghe’s reward for impressively stopping American Will McIntyre in his ninth WBO title defence two weeks ago earned him the British Boxer of the Year award on Sunday (October 21). The Welshman is currently the only undefeated world champion in Britain. SecondsOut Assistant Editor Clive Bernath looks at his career and says now is the time to give Calzaghe the overdue credit he deserves.
With the defeats of both Naseem Hamed and Lennox Lewis six months ago, Britain not only lost two fine champions, but also excellent role models for the sport of boxing.
When Hamed was totally exposed by Mexican Marco Antonio Barrera and Lewis was unexpectedly crushed by the unsung Hasim Rahman three weeks later, it immediately left a vacancy for the No.1 fighter position and a new role model for Britain’s future stars to emulate.
Enter WBO super-middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe. The clean-living Welshman has not received anywhere near the credit he deserves for making nine successful defences of his crown over the years. But his last four defences have proved he is the world’s premier 168lbs fighter.
To be quite honest, I have never been overly impressed with Mr. Calzaghe until now. I was not convinced when he won the vacant WBO crown on points against a severely weight-drained and over-the-hill Chris Eubank in 1997.
Nor was I riveted to my seat, witnessing title defences against Branco Sobot, Juan Gimenez, Robin Reid, Rick Thornberry or, indeed, the negative display against David Starie. There was nothing in any of those performances to suggest Britain had a genuine world beater on its hands.
The 29-year-old has not always looked impressive in accumulating an undefeated record of 32 fights in an eight-year career, but his last four-title defences have been nothing short of devastating.
Since the disappointing display against Starie, nice guy Joe has looked the business in seeing off quality opposition such as Omar Sheika (w rsf 5), former WBC champion Richie Woodhall (w rsf 10), the undefeated German Mario Veit (w ko 1) and, most recently, the destruction of Will McIntyre (w rsf 4) on the Tyson vs Nielsen undercard.
Admittedly, McIntyre should not have been sharing the same ring as the Welshman. He was not even ranked in the SecondsOut US Top 10 ratings. Regardless of whether McIntyre should have been there or not, he remained a very physically tough opponent, if nothing else.
He had never been stopped or knocked down in 31 professional fights, or as an amateur. The American took incredible punishment for four rounds until heavy-handed Joe dumped him on the seat of his pants to retain his crown. Joe did everything right. He won every second of every round, with his devastating handspeed and stunning accuracy.
Good fighters always get the job done in style and that was what Calzaghe did. Joe’s father and trainer Enzo expressed his displeasure at his son’s lack of recognition before the McIntyre fight, not just from the media but also the general fight public.
“I don’t know what else my Joe has to do,” said Enzo. And he’s totally right. We sometimes forget that, as an amateur, Joe won three ABA titles at three different weights. We must also not forget that, on the way to those titles, he beat two future ‘world ‘ champions in Glen Catley (WBC super-middle) and Jason Matthews (WBO middle) and a European title-holder in the shape of Dean Francis. He stopped all of them.
Maybe the reason Joe is not getting the recognition is because he does not have any big names on his record other than Eubank. But, again, that is not his fault. He can only beat the opponents that promoter Frank Warren puts in front of him. We have heard plenty of talk from Mr Warren about bringing over Roy Jones etc. He has also made a point of jumping on the back of a certain heavyweight’s publicity at every opportunity. Maybe his time would be better spent trying to enhance the career of his own fighter.
That said, Warren has a difficult job as good opponents are scarce. Unification fights are very expensive and, in any case, IBF champ Sven Ottke would be reluctant to leave Germany, WBC king Eric Lucas has just announced his first title defence against South African Dingaan Thobela while WBA title-holder Byron Mitchell’s plans are not yet clear.
Take those fighters away and there are no high profile fights out there. The only other option is to hope that new undisputed middleweight king Bernard Hopkins will move up or pound-for-pound king Jones move down. Those are the only fights that will give Calzaghe the massive fight he craves and so richly deserves.
Last weekend, Calzaghe registered win No. 32 with the four round stoppage against McIntyre. Certainly not the type of opponent that will elevate the Welshman into superstar status, but - as he has continually reminded us - he can only beat the opposition put in front of him.
Chris Eubank, Nigel Benn, Steve Collins and Michael Watson all made their names fighting each other. Those were unforgettable nights, real crowd-pleasing wars that had both the live crowd and armchair viewers on the edge of their seats.
Unfortunately, Joe has no such serious opposition, either in Britain or the US, and I’m afraid he may never get the opportunity to fulfil his huge potential. It would have been intriguing indeed to see how Calzaghe would have fared against the likes of Benn and Eubank at their peaks, but sadly Joe was born eight years too late.