One of the finest fighters of his generation and certainly, one of the most unflinchingly dedicated professionals boxing has ever produced, Joe Calzaghe enters the ring on Saturday to complete the final step in his decade long journey to unify the Super-Middleweight division. It has been a long time coming for the 35 year old.
Unlike the weight class, squeezed between the classic Middleweight and Light Heavyweight divisions and ruled first by a long forgotten Scot, Murray Sutherland, in 1984, ‘Calzaghe the champion’ has an ever-present feeling. His unbeaten record connecting the Eubank-Benn-Watson era with the modern day landscape over which he now presides. At times maligned, injury prone and short of ambition in the way he has been matched, Calzaghe will nevertheless leave a massive vacuum should he elect to fulfil his promise to retire within a year of tomorrow’s clash with Dane Mikkel Kessler. Quite simply, he will be cherished more once retired than he ever will be active. Although courageous defeat also has a way of endearing fighters to the British public too.
Critics of the Welshman, of which I’ve been in the past, will point to the lack of hungry, capable opponents faced. The tacit credibility created by longevity is certainly undermined by a failure to face fellow title holders Sven Ottke (IBF), Glen Catley (WBC), Christian Sanavia (WBA), Markus Beyer (WBC), Eric Lucas (WBA), Syd Vanderpool (IBF) and Anthony Mundine (WBA) during his ten years as the king of the division and custodian of the more junior WBO title. In addition, aspiring contenders like Lucien Bute and Carl Froch have thus far been overlooked and fights with middleweight and light heavyweight stars Bernard Hopkins, Glengoffe Johnson, Jermaine Taylor, Roy Jones and Felix Trinidad never came to pass.
There remains time, but precious little.
A belt holder for more than a decade, the venerable Welshman continues to reign over the youthful one hundred and sixty eight pound division with a compelling cocktail of fearlessness, speed and unparalleled fitness. Few fighters enter the ring in the condition Calzaghe does. He may not have the muscular definition of an Evander Holyfield, but beneath the mop of Sardinian black hair is a ferocious athlete with an uncompromising work ethic. Evidenced by his phenomenal punch output from bell to bell. Inherited, and further inflicted, by his father and trainer, Enzo, the stamina reserves Calzaghe possesses enabled him to land over a 1000 blows versus Jeff Lacy. An incredible output for an ageing champion.
Although Kessler will not allow the luxury of time extended by Lacy’s ponderous style, he will not be able to avoid the perpetual motion of Calzaghe’s fists all night. From the outset, I’ve considered Mikkel Kessler to be a dangerous but entirely beatable foe for even the veteran version of Calzaghe. A typical European style fighter, stiff backed with a solid arsenal of punches, I’ve described the unbeaten Dane as a young Richie Woodhall with more pop. A definition meant neither to demean Richie or flatter Kessler.However, Calzaghe’s recent comments on his impending retirement and how he would deal with a potential defeat have me concerned for my long-held prediction that Calzaghe will simply out-point the challenger in an intense affair.
Footage of Kessler demonstrates his strength, an ability to adapt to different opponents and of course he enters the ring as a title holder himself with experience of winning away; beating Anthony Mundine in his Australian backyard is no mean feat. Kessler is more rounded and well schooled than Lacy and is a more intelligent fighter too. In short, Calzaghe has no room for thoughts of retirement, the light-heavyweight division or what happens if he loses. He’ll be in the wrong place if he’s not mentally right.
I’m sticking with my instinct on the bout, ten years of watching a fighter win is a hard habit to break, and believe Calzaghe will prevail in a thrilling contest. Regardless of injury, opponent or other distractions Calzaghe always wins in the end. He may have to climb off the canvas to do it but I believe he will.
After all, Calzaghe has fought guys like Kessler before, Kessler can’t same the same.