Joe Calzaghe: A Career With Unanswered Questions
By Doveed Linder - Former super middleweight and light heavyweight champion Joe Calzaghe (46-0) is now retired, undefeated, and a shoe-in for the Boxing Hall of Fame. He's proved himself as one of the top fighters of his generation with convincing wins over Mikkel Kessler, Bernard Hopkins, and Roy Jones, Jr. But one can make the argument that his career, while impressive, leaves question marks and uncertainties as to how he ranks among the all-time greats.
Article posted on 01.04.2009
The fight that really put Joe on the map was his bout against Jeff Lacy. At the time, many felt that Joe was the underdog. Jeff was an undefeated Olympian with devastating power, while Joe was a relatively unknown European fighter who some considered "protected." This was a fight that really introduced Joe to the American public and he came out and put on an absolute clinic..
Joe's next fight of significance came against Mikkel Kessler. Like Joe, Kessler was a relatively unknown European fighter with an undefeated record, who had beaten good but not great fighters. Joe won the fight hands down and it turned out to be a nice little feather in his cap.
Joe's biggest test up to this point and probably the most significant fight of his career came against Bernard Hopkins. Bernard had already established himself as an all-time great and was on a hot streak going into this fight with wins over Antonio Tarver and Winky Wright. In this fight, Joe did what he always does and threw a high volume of punches and wore his opponent out.
The fight that sealed Joe's legacy came against Roy Jones, Jr. Roy was a former pound-for-pound king who seemed to have some momentum going into this fight with previous wins over Anthony Hanshaw and Felix Trinidad. But Joe camed out and did his thing, winning 11 out of 12 rounds, cutting Roy over the eye which nobody had ever done before.
After the fight with Roy Jones, Joe decided to call it a day and announce his retirement. And this is not to be criticized. He had already defeated two legends and two good undefeated fighhters. He had a great career and deserves to enjoy his retirement with no regrets. He certainly made his mark in this era of boxing, but to say that he's an all-time great may be a bit of an overstatement.
The wins over Jeff Lacy and Mikkel Kessler are admirable, but they don't define his greatness. To be a great fighter, you have to beat a great fighter. And up to this point, Jeff Lacy and Mikkel Kessler haven't proven themselves as great fighters.
Many will agree that Joe's victory over Bernard Hopkins was his greatest accomplishment in the ring. Bernard, after all, is one of the most dominant fighters of this era. But the Bernard who fought Joe was not in his prime by any means. One can make the argument that Bernard went on to dominate Kelly Pavlik and look better than ever, but Bernard is at a stage in his career where some nights he's on and some nights he's off. Against Jermain Taylor, Bernard was inactive and he couldn't seem to find his rhythm. Against Antonio Tarver, he was strong and fresh. In recent years, Bernard has looked somewhere between the Bernard of old and a Bernard who is just plain old. The Bernard who fought Joe appeared to be tired and sluggish.
When Joe fought former pound-for-pound king Roy Jones, Jr., he wasn't in there with an A-level fighter. Roy had already been knocked out by Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson and didn't possess the physical gifts that helped him define his career as one of the most dominant fighters of his time. Even though he had previously won a couple of fights and seemed to rejuvinate himself, Roy didn't have the tools to compete with a legitimate champion who was in his prime.
With everything said and done, Joe has had a great career. He's beaten every man who was put in front of him and he never ducked anyone. He's a force to reckon with in the ring and he's certainly no protected European fighter (the idea of a protected European fighter is starting to sound ridiculous; many of the top fighters in the game today are European). But the fact is that Joe never had a nemesis. He never fought a young tiger with great skills who pushed him and made him go to the well and show what he's really made of.
But perhaps being an all-time great isn't important to Joe. Perhaps he has made enough maney and done enough in the ring that he can walk away with no regrets. He certainly deserves to. But when boxing historians engage in debate and the topic of Joe's all-time greatness comes up, one can make the argument that he fought the right opposition at precisely the right time, leaving a lot of questions about him unanswered.
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