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Just Your Average Joe?

Calzaghe outworks Jones: Neil Abramson
Calzaghe outworks Jones: Neil Abramson

By Derek Bonnett: If Joe Calzaghe, 46-0 (32), is indeed done fighting after last Saturday’s bout against the aged Roy Jones Jr. in New York, then 2008 will have seen two long standing world champions make their exits from the sport unbeaten. However, Floyd Mayweather Jr. will have made his exit with far more prestige bestowed upon his name than the thirty-six year old Pride of Wales. Oddly enough, both will have made their last stand while sitting high atop boxing’s mythical pound for pound list. So, why is there such a disparity between the two fighters and the way they are received?

If you are an American fan who largely only follows American-based fighters and tends to believe all pugilists must make it in the U.S.A all along to be credited at all, then Joe falls short. Financially speaking, this may be an error on Joe’s part, but did he really miss out on fighting anyone or avoid the big fights? Didn’t the UK provide for him just fine? Besides, why should a man with no American ties fight in the U.S.A when he wore a world championship belt and went on to become one of the longest reigning champions in recent times and the best super middleweight in the history of the division?

Much of Joe Calzaghe’s lack of support stems from the fans’ insufficient exposure to the fighters in the super middleweight division of his era and the fact that Calzaghe wasn’t always an exciting champion. Let’s face it; a lot of these guys weren’t on television very much in the United States, if at all. However, if you paid the extra cable fees for Showtime or bought monthly subscriptions to The Ring, KO, World Boxing, etc. you would surely have come across names like Henry Wharton, Richie Woodhall, Vincenzo Nardiello, and Robin Reid. Most of these combatants were fighting each other and all of them held world ratings, fought for titles, or wore belts of their own at some point.

It’s the opinion of some that Calzaghe never fought anyone before he met Jeff Lacy, whom he dominated over 12 rounds. Well, if that’s the case, then why did some of these lesser fighters that appear on Calzaghe’s record provide Joe with much stiffer challenges? Here’s a concise look back at some of Joe’s victories over men not named Lacy, Kessler, Hopkins, or Jones:

Chris Eubank was a long-standing super middleweight champion and probably second to only Joe in the all-time rankings of the division. Eubank defeated virtually every rated contender of his time including wins over Michael Watson and Nigel Benn. Joe was able to drop Eubank in the opening round and beat the faded former champion over the distance to win the WBO title he held for roughly a decade.

Robin Reid held a world title at 168 pounds and posted victories over Nardiello, Wharton, and Hassine Cherifi. He was also good enough to hold Calzaghe to a split decision in a world championship bout. Reid later lost a highly controversial decision to Sven Ottke before disappearing from the top of the division.

David Starie is not going to find himself in the boxing hall of fame, but at the time he met Calzaghe he was only once beaten and held a victory over future world light heavyweight champion Clinton Woods. Calzaghe won a wide decision.

Omar Sheika was based out of the USA, but many fans only know him as a steppingstone type opponent not the hot prospect he was when he fought Calzaghe. Before Joe stopped Sheika in five rounds, Sheika had lost only once before and held victories over Anwar Oshana and Glen Johnson. After the loss, he added victories over Stephane Oullett and James Butler.

Richie Woodhall had only lost twice in his career and both came in world title bouts. Calzaghe forced Woodhall into retirement after he dropped him en route to a tenth round TKO. Woodhall had scored quality victories over world champions Nardiello, Silvio Branco, Thulane Malinga, and Glen Catley previously in his career.

Mario Veit twice suffered KO losses to Calzaghe. Joe stopped Veit in the first round of their initial encounter, but Veit still went on to defeat both Kabary Salem and Charles Brewer. Calzaghe finished Veit off in six rounds of their rematch and Veit responded by beating Juergen Braehmer, who now sits highly among the light heavyweight ranks, on points.

Charles Brewer held the super middleweight title for three defenses before the judges, against Sven Ottke in Germany, unfairly stole it from him. They repeated their criminal behavior in the rematch as well. Although faded by the time he met Joe, Brewer was still a viable contender and he was defeated soundly over the distance.

Byron Mitchell was also a former titlist when he met Calzaghe for the WBO belt at 168 pounds. The big punching Mitchell dropped Calzaghe in the second round before Calzaghe dispatched him later in the round to score his most dramatic victory. Mitchell had previously beaten world champions Frankie Liles, Manny Siaca (2), and Julio Cesar Green. After this bout in 2003, Mitchell retired for four years.

It’s not a resume one would use as the standard which to measure all hall of fame candidates by, but when you add in Joe’s recent work you end up with something a tad underrated. Hopkins went on to defeat Kelly Pavlik after losing to Joe. Jeff Lacy still has a big opportunity coming up against Jermain Taylor. Sakio Bika is well esteemed by the boxing world these days. Who knows what Kessler will go on to do?

Joe Calzaghe has remained unbeaten, held a world championship for over a decade, defeated eight world champions, established himself as the best ever super middleweight, and currently sits a top the light heavyweight rankings in the eyes of many. That sounds like a hall of fame career deserving of just a little respect.

November 11, 2008

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