COUNTING DOWN CALZAGHE’S BIGGEST AND BEST WINS

This weekend, Newbridge’s world champion Joe Calzaghe will become the fourth Welshman to be inducted to the Hall of Fame in New York, alongside ring legends Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad. In this special focus feature, BoxingWales take a look back at the five defining fights that secured Calzaghe’s immortal legacy and granted the southpaw a place amongst all of boxing’s historic greats. 1 – Jeff Lacy: 2006, Manchester, M.E.N. Arena, Unanimous Decision. There weren’t many times when Calzaghe was an underdog but this was one of them. The 33-year-old entered the bout with the weight of the world on his shoulders. The Welshman’s training camp was riddled with injuries, he considered pulling out days before the bout but he finally had a world title unification fight and it brought American exposure through the television network, Showtime. After nine years and 17 successful defences of his world title, Calzaghe had an opportunity that just wouldn’t come around again. Forced to go through with it, Calzaghe put to bed any accusations that he chose easy fights and cancelled fights when his frail hands failed him in the gym. In the other corner was IBF super-middleweight champion Jeff Lacy. The American was labelled ‘The Next Mike Tyson’ by his boisterous promoter Gary Shaw, the Sports Illustrated publication crowned his physique ‘Six Pack of the Year’ and trade magazine Boxing News picked Lacy to end Calzaghe’s reign. However… what transpired was one of the most one sided unification fights in memory. Despite being under more pressure than ever, Calzaghe produced a punch perfect performance. Two years earlier, Calzaghe struggled to sell out the small National Ice Rink in Cardiff but with terrestrial television in Britain and Showtime in America, this was the night he crossed over to mainstream approval. 2 – Mikkel Kessler: 2007, Cardiff, Millennium Stadium, Unanimous Decision. Three fights after his obliteration of Jeff Lacy, Calzaghe was in another unification. However, this time there were all the super-middleweight baubles on the line with Calzaghe’s IBF and WBO titles and Kessler’s WBC and WBC belts up for grabs. By now, Calzaghe’s popularity was at an all time high and the fight took place in front of 55,000 thousand of his countrymen… no pressure. 28-year-old Kessler was undefeated in 39 bouts and at his physical peak. The Dane, who brought a fair few of his own fans, started brilliantly and matched Calzaghe. It was made memorable by a monster uppercut that almost lifted the Welshman off his feet but the spirited success slowed after round four. It was then that Calzaghe got going, producing one of his smartest and most disciplined displays of skill – something American broadcasters HBO described as ‘Jazz’ and it paved the way for his entrance to America. 3 – Bernard Hopkins: 2008, Las Vegas, Thomas & Mack Centre, Split Decision. Now established as one of the best pound-for-pounders in the world, Calzaghe needed to do something he was yet to do, crack America. Even as a world champion for 11 years, Calzaghe was yet to fight in the states. A chance meeting with the legendary Bernard Hopkins at Ricky Hatton’s mega-fight with Floyd Mayweather Jnr in Las Vegas led to a less than pleasant altercation. Hopkins’ comment “I will never lose to a white boy” became infamous and after years of speculation, the pair shared the ring in the same city four months later. The fight couldn’t have started worse for Calzaghe who was stepping up seven pounds to light-heavyweight. The Welshman was caught flush in the face in the first round having walked on to Hopkins’ backhand shot while totally square and it dropped Calzaghe for just the third time in his career. Rising, unhurt, Calzaghe acknowledged that he was up against it and went to work. There was very little between both, the exchanges were messy and frantic but it proceeded at a pace that undeniably suited Calzaghe. The ultra-fit 34-year-old was up against an energy conserving veteran who was even older. 42-year-old Hopkins attempted to trick and nick his way through the rounds but the pressure was getting to him, summed up by antics in the ninth round. Hopkins appeared to over-exaggerate a low blow which many observers believed to be his way of buying a breather. Despite the break, Calzaghe stayed a step ahead in the championship rounds, having the first and last say in exchanges and that was the difference. ┬áThen, the most important moment of all, when MC Michael Buffer read, “The winner by Split Decision…from Newbridge, Wales!” 4 – Chris Eubank: 1997, Sheffield, Sheffield Arena, Unanimous Decision. This was Calzaghe’s coming out party, the start of his historic world title run. As the 25-year-old from the valleys in South Wales was still something of an unknown phenomenon, there wasn’t a better opponent for the profile than the eccentric Chris Eubank. While Calzaghe was winning ABA titles in the amateurs at three different weights and proceeding to run through opponents as a young professional, Eubank was making himself a household name who was known by all in Britain. WBO super-middleweight champion Steve Collins had vacated his title to avoid mandatory challenger Joe Calzaghe and at a few weeks notice, in stepped Eubank who still looked like he was carved out of stone and he needed to rejuvenate a career that had somewhat stalled. The first bell had barely finished ringing and Calzaghe made a statement, smashing Eubank with a looping left hand that sent the veteran crashing to the canvas. Eubank dusted himself down and stood up, winking to Calzaghe as a knowing grin spread across his face. It was going to be a long night, for both of them! Calzaghe emptied almost all of what he had in the first half of the fight, Eubank took it and the Welshman was eventually dragged through by his nuts and guts. Although the result was never really in doubt and it ended in a Unanimous Decision win to crown Calzaghe as Wales 7th world champion, he still received a stern welcoming to world level. 5 – Byron Mitchell: 2003, Cardiff, C.I.A., Round 2 TKO. To be brief, this was the most exciting fight of Calzaghe’s career. America’s Mitchell came to Cardiff on the back of a highly debatable decision loss to then WBA and IBF champion Sven Ottke in Germany, frustratingly denying Calzaghe the world title unification fight that avoided him for so long. Anyway, the fight… there wasn’t a lot that the Welshmen didn’t hit Mitchell with in the opener, repeatedly stiffing the visitor’s legs and he struggled to get a foot in the fight. Then, as the onslaught ensued in the second round, something alien happened. A short half-uppercut-half-hook landed under Calzaghe’s jaw and sent him sprawling to the floor. A split second glance to his father Enzo in the corner was plastered with confusion but twenty seconds later, it was Mitchell who was flat on his face and searching for his senses. When Calzaghe rose, instinct kicked in and the Welshmen quite literally went to war. Covering up along the ropes, Calzaghe let loose with his left and Mitchell took it’s full force, falling on his front. Like a bull with a red flag waving in front of him, Calzaghe waded back in and referee Dave Parris halted the action as Mitchell sagged under the pressure and bounced off the ropes. Calzaghe had his first scare… but survived.

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