The only thing quicker than Joe Calzaghe’s fists on Saturday night, aside from how quickly one could predict the outcome of the entire under card, was the alacrity post-fight pundits demonstrated hoisting the Welshmen from ‘over-protected’, ‘unfulfilled veteran’ to ‘all-time great’. I cannot extract myself entirely from the criticism of such unsavoury haste having maligned Calzaghe more than once for the injuries and timid matchmaking that wasted much of his youth. I was never guilty of saying he couldn’t fight though.
By defeating Mikkel Kessler, a contender with the most effective mix of youth and seasoning Calzaghe has faced thus far, the undisputed Super-Middleweight champion now finds himself in an entirely different stratosphere in terms of renown, respect and, crucially for the soon to be 36 year old, remuneration.
With 50,000 in the Millennium Stadium, interest from Danish, British and American networks satisfied; Calzaghe has very quickly become a sellable and desirable commodity. His rise has the feeling of happening very quickly, the acceptance of his talent and unswerving dedication much more widespread these days, in reality it has been a circuitous and painstaking route to the type of platitudes Calzaghe is now in receipt of.
Two or three years ago when injury scuppered his fight with Glengoffe Johnson, precious few optimists would have countenance d the type of Autumnal blossom now lighting up Calzaghe’s unbeaten career. But here we all are, looking on with affection and nodding in agreement at articles informing us, the ungrateful and unwashed, how much we will miss him when he retires next year.
For all his longevity, and in itself 10 years as any type of champion – even a greatly protected one – represents a level of achievement few contemplate or capture, Calzaghe’s ascent to the upper-echelons of world boxing has essentially been crammed into the last two years. Jeff Lacy and Mikkel Kessler providing unmatched bookends to this belated love-in. It still leaves the sense of ‘if only’ hanging around, but at least it now precedes ‘he’d been matched like this earlier’ rather than the ‘Calzaghe had had a defining fight or two’ everyone feared would haunt him in retirement.
Seven years on from his first public commentary on how difficult making the 168 pound limit was and his plan to move to Light Heavyweight, Calzaghe appears ready to finally make the move. Ripe, and richly rewarding targets, like Antonio Tarver, Roy Jones and Bernard Hopkins all reside as plump, juicy dessert to a long diet of meat and potatoes at Super-Middleweight.
On the evidence of Saturday night, when he employed a variety of tactics, punches, speed and ring-generalship to secure a unanimous points victory over a very capable, confident, fit and heavy handed contender, the fossilised 175 pounders should prove entirely enjoyable assignments.
Joe may need to invest in a bigger bandwagon.