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1=. Joe Calzaghe

By Sean Davies

At the beginning of March 2006, Joe Calzaghe had gone 40 fights undefeated and had reigned as world champion for nine years - but still struggled to be named alongside the likes of Jim Driscoll, Freddie Welsh and Jimmy Wilde.

Joe Calzaghe

After claiming the WBO super-middleweight title in a classic dust-up with Chris Eubank in 1997, the Welshman's career looked set for the stars.

A slump followed, though.

Calzaghe kept on winning, but hand injuries hampered his style and the displays were less than impressive.

He came storming back with a fifth-round KO of Omar Sheika in August 2000, and after that the Newbridge bruiser blew away Richie Woodhall, Mario Veit and Will McIntyre.

Classic dust-ups with ex-world champions Charles Brewer and Byron Mitchell followed, where Calzaghe thrilled the audiences, but exposed himself with a reckless toe-to-toe style.

Another slump followed, as injuries, a bitter divorce, and a reluctance to travel overseas thwarted his desire to land the big fights.

He tasted the canvas for the first time against Mitchell, and went down again against the hapless Kabary Salem.

Against Evans Ashira his fragile left hand suffered another break, although he fought on one-handed to retain his 100% record as a professional.


The problems contributed to the belief that Calzaghe's best years were gone, and in 2006 young IBF champion Jeff Lacy saw his chance to pounce.

But Calzaghe took him apart, finding the perfect mix of boxing and brawling in a display described as perhaps the greatest ever by a British fighter.

After uninspiring wins over Sakio Bika and Peter Manfredo Jr, the long-reigning champion took the toughest fight that was out there for him, a clash with the young, dangerous, undefeated WBA & WBC champion Kessler.

In front of 50,000 fans at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, Calzaghe struggled with the giant Dane's solid technique and explosive power in the early exchanges.

Calzaghe at the Planet Hollywood casino in Vegas
Calzaghe conquered the USA at the end of his career

But he dug deep to exploit his superior variety of boxing skills, sapping Kessler's strength with attacks to the body and closing out a unanimous points win.

He went on to land the big-money US bouts he craved, conquering America in 2008 by out-pointing living legends Bernard Hopkins in Las Vegas and Roy Jones Jr in New York's Madison Square Garden.

Comparing champions across the ages is notoriously difficult.

Calzaghe doubters will always claim that he did not face the best of his era when they themselves were at their peak and that he only fought when conditions were in his favour.

If he had endured the breathless schedule of the likes of Driscoll, Welsh and Wilde, it is unlikely that Calzaghe could have maintained a 100% record through a long career.

But Calzaghe's greatness as a champion is beyond dispute.

He mastered the art of boxing in his era and always found a way to win, meaning he deserves to be ranked alongside Wilde at the very pinnacle of Welsh sport.

see also
Wales' pugilist princes
15 May 09 |  Boxing
The Calzaghe Record
06 Nov 08 |  Boxing
Wales' greatest US fight nights
25 Mar 08 |  Boxing
Wales' boxing world champions
25 Mar 08 |  Boxing
Boxing & Madison Square Garden
04 Nov 08 |  Boxing
Calzaghe's 10 career highs
05 Feb 09 |  Boxing
Reaction to Calzaghe retirement
06 Feb 09 |  Boxing
Undefeated Calzaghe quits boxing
05 Feb 09 |  Boxing
Joe Calzaghe's career in photos
12 Nov 08 |  Boxing
Wales' boxing history in photos
24 May 09 |  Boxing

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