In the history of professional boxing, there are only three southpaws definitively greater than Joe Calzaghe: Marvin Hagler, Pernell Whitaker and Manny Pacquiao. Calzaghe is also one of the few world champions in boxing history to retire undefeated. Add this to his incredible 22-0 record in Super Middleweight World title fights and this firmly places him as the third greatest Super Middleweight of all-time.
Similar to fellow Brit and 168-pound great Carl Froch, Calzaghe started his career at 168 and defeated several British contenders before winning the British Super Middleweight crown. He was 23-0 before fighting British legend Chris Eubank for the vacant WBO Super Middleweight Title on October 11, 1997. Calzaghe was originally scheduled to fight the reigning champion Steve Collins, but Collins pulled out and retired as his only interest was a fight with Roy Jones, Jr. that never materialized. The 25-year-old Calzaghe dropped Eubank in the opening stanza and totally dominated Eubank in winning an unanimous decision and the title. Calzaghe was a nightmare to fight; he was an outstanding boxer who happened to be southpaw. He gave Eubank headaches all night with his movement and pinpoint jab and left cross. It was a testament to Eubank’s granite chin and conditioning that the fight went the distance. For the next 10 years, Calzaghe would dominate the division in one of the greatest title reigns of any division in boxing history. Despite the dominance, Calzaghe was a huge underdog going into his 18th title defense and 168 pound unification title fight against Jeff Lacy on March 4, 2006. It would be one of the greatest performances by a boxer in the last 20 years.
Lacy was a 2-1 favorite going into the unification fight. The IBF champ stylistically was patterned after Mike Tyson, complete with the paralyzing left hook. I told several of my coworkers and dudes from the barbershop that Calzaghe was an incredible boxer who could easily dominate Lacy as Lacy’s style was tailor made for him. Also, Lacy’s over-reliance on his left hook made him too one dimensional for a ring general like Calzaghe. Everyone I knew scoffed at my analysis. They were so in love with Lacy’s left hook. The next left hook Lacy lands will be the first left hook he landed against the brilliant Welshman.
Round one was a precursor of what Lacy was going to face all night long. Calzaghe came out boxing brilliantly, doubling the jab and making Lacy miss. Then, midway through the round, he staggered an overly aggressive Lacy with a vicious left cross. The rest of the fight saw Calzaghe completely have his way with the American slugger, landing at will and at times toying with him. Lacy’s face at the end of the 12th and final round looked like he was hit several times with a brick. Lacy was never the same after suffering this brutal beating. He would only win six of his last 11 fights.
After unifying the WBO and IBF 168-pound titles, Calzaghe defended those titles two more times before engaging in another 168-pound title unification fight on November 3, 2007 against the undefeated WBA and WBC champion Mikkel Kessler of Denmark. Although the fight was very competitive, Calzaghe’s superior skills were too much for the Danish power puncher. It was an even greater win as the fight was held in Calzaghe’s backyard of Cardiff, Wales. Despite the incompetence of the IBF stripping Calzaghe of his title, Calzaghe came out of that victory with all the other sanctioning bodies versions of the Super Middleweight title. Calzaghe made five million in this fight, and with the Welshman looking to continue making big paydays, he relinquished all the titles to move up and face two of the greatest fighters of the last 25 years in 2008.
Joe Calzaghe ended his career undefeated in 46 fights, 44 of which took place at Super Middleweight. He was a fighting champ who successfully defended his title 21 times over the 10 years he reigned. He proved his superiority over each of the fighters the media and fans felt were a major threat. With such an incredible run at Super Middleweight, how is it that he’s only the third greatest 168-pound fighter of all time? When you read my articles on the top two, you’ll get a better understanding.