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Does Joe Calzaghe deserve to be recognised as one of the greatest boxers of all time?

46 fights. 46 wins. The Pride of Wales has beaten everyone put in his path including American greats Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jnr. Yet, due to the fact that he is Welsh, fought only a handful of times in America and called a “slapper” boxer, he is not as well known or respected as he perhaps should be. So, does Joe Calzaghe deserve to be recognized as one of the greats of the modern fight game?

All the Yes points:

  1. He has beaten the best of his generation

All the No points:

  1. The best of his generation are average at best
  2. Hell Naw!
  3. Calzaghe…An All Time Great? Not a Puncher’s Chance.
  4. of course not he had 5 good fights and four of them were past there best.

He has beaten the best of his generation

Yes because…

The key to being recognized as a great in boxing is too look at who one has fought. Mohammad Ali is considered the greatest of all time (quite rightly so) as he fought some of the best heavyweights the world has ever seen – Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Floyd Patterson, Sonny Liston, Ken Norton. Taking on and beating the best is the object of the sport. Many of Ali’s opponents are also recognized as giants of the sport. Compare this to someone like Prince Naseem Hamed. An outstanding boxer who dominated his division for several years. But he fought few big named fighters, and when he did, like Marco Antonio Barrera, he was soundly beaten, and then retired.

Joe Calzaghe had 46 fights. Whilst of course not all of these fighters were world beaters, he fought the best put in front of him, but prior to each fight he would go in as the underdog according to bookies and “experts.” Just because someone does not continously fight in glitzy Madison Square Garden or Las Vegas does not mean that they are not good enough to do so. Calzaghe’s earliest scalp was a unanimous points victory over Chris Eubank, who is much more universally recognized boxer compared to Calzaghe.

It says alot about the dominance of America in the boxing world that it wasn’t until the destruction of the previously unbeaten and heavy favourite American Jeff Lacey that the American critics started to take notice, even though that was his 41st professional fight. He was looked down upon because he had never fought outside of Europe. However he corrected this by travelling to America and beating heavy favourites and future hall of famers Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jnr – who is widely viewed as one of the greatest boxers of the past decade. People may say that Jones was over the hill, but Calzaghe performed a boxing masterclass that shocked people in the States. Throw in victories against the talented Mikkel Kessler and Peter Manfredo, and the evidence is there for all to see. Calzaghe must at the very lease go down as one of if not the best British boxer of all time, and surely as one of boxing’s best ever Super Middleweight Fighters.

No because…

This riposte is two-fold. The style or manner of Joe’s wins and the overall framing or perspective of his career against an appreciation of his class (weight) and his generation.

There is no doubt that Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jnr. are fighters that can be considered in the very top bracket as far as their reputation goes. Kessler too was an undefeated world champion before going toe-to-toe with Joe. Lacey held the IBF title until he was totally outclassed by the Welshman. But to be held as one of the best all-time boxers and a stand-out of his generation a boxer must go beyond merely beating his opponents. Calzaghe’s defeat of these key men, though professional and fluid, did not convey the mesmeric qualities which Ali used to overcome his greatest adversaries. Calzaghe’s wins were by and large convincing, but unexplosive, points decisions. It is in this respect more than any other that he falls short of being uttered in the same breath as an Ali or a Sugar-Ray. With both men it is arguable that they are remembered as much for the manner of their major victories as for the victories themselves.

The second element to this discussion which also departs Calzaghe from inclusion among the all-time greats of the sport is what must be described almost as the ‘tale of the tape’. Though he deserves great credit for moving divisions in order to find the next challenge, none of his key opponents were able to offer the audience the kind of saga which elevates a man to greatness. I would contend that Ali’s status is directly related to the fantastic support cast during his era which provided for rematches with most of his top adversaries. The fights made for a classic era, Ali’s supremacy within this era made for his legendary status. Calzaghe’s crowing glories (i.e. his major victories) do not have names like the Rumble in the Jungle or Thriller in Manilla which lend their own theatrical touch to the drama. The same criteria can also be applied to Sugar Ray Leonard who fought several times against major rivals like Thomas Hearns and Marvin Hagler.

Unfortunately, and this is in no way Calzaghe’s fault, his era and his main rivals have not contributed to a perception of the last decade as a golden era for middleweights. He has beaten them all once and his never really thrashed anybody with the kind of imagination or genius required to make him an all-time great.

I suppose in essence both of these points could be understood as looking at boxing as the pure form of entertainment that it is and concluding that Calzaghe, his foes, and his fights just don’t carry the drama which makes a great boxer a legendary one.

The best of his generation are average at best

No because…

Whilst Calzaghe has beaten Jones Jnr and Hopkins, winning two fights against top class fighters does not make you a great. The Hopkins fight could have gone either way, and Jones had lost two of his previous fights by KO. Neither can be seen as career defining fights.

Yes because…

Hell Naw!

No because…

Calzaghe was a good fighter, but get real! He spend 95% of his time beating bums in Europe when the divisions he fought in were jam packed with talent. Why didnt he go to the US many years prior and face Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones before they were pensioners, even then he barely beat BHop.

He could have made fights against James Toney at a catchweight and avoided Carl Froch. He held the lightly regarded WBO title for the most part which means little to boxing fans.

Yes because…

Calzaghe…An All Time Great? Not a Puncher’s Chance.

No because…

Joe Calzaghe…an all time great? Not even a puncher’s chance. The best of his generation? Sorry, declined. Greatest WBO Super Middleweight Champion? Ok, I will give you that. Since ’The Pride of Wales’ won his WBO Crown against Chris Eubank in 1997, Calzaghe never fought a whole plethora of very good fighters ranging from middleweight thru light heavyweight including the following: Glen Johnson, Sven Ottke, James Toney, Antonio Tarver, Dariuz Micalczewski, Clinton Woods, Chad Dawson, Arthur Abraham, Felix Sturm and Carl Froch. Yes, he fought Roy Jones and Bernard Hopkins but let’s look at the facts with both of these fighters.

Hopkins was 43 years old at the time (7 years Joe’s senior) of the fight and, although still a fine fighter, was the not the same fighter he was several years earlier when he was dispatching opponents such as Oscar DeLaHoya and Felix Trinidad. Even with diminished skill and power Hopkins was able to drop Calzaghe in the first round in route to a split decision lost. In the case of Roy Jones this was strictly a payday and an opportunity for Calzaghe to ride off in the sunset with an undefeated record in tow. The 39 year old Jones was a mere shell of what he had been since winning 49 of his 50 contests (his sole loss being a DQ against Montell Griffin which he avenged with a 1st Round KO) which was evident in his back to back knock out losses to Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson. Even so, Jones gave Calzaghe problems early before Joe made the adjustments and cruised to an easy decision victory. On a side note one writer here stated that Hopkins and Jones were heavy favorites. Nothing is further from the truth as Hopkins was a +225 underdog (some had it a tad higher and some lower depending on the site or sports book) against Calzaghe and Jones was almost a 3.5 to 1 underdog against Joe.

Now, we have Jeff Lacy. So much is made of this fight that it is almost intolerable. Yes, Lacy was considered a favorite coming into the fight. Yes, Calzaghe put on a clinic against Lacy. Yes, Lacy was exposed as a not-so-good fighter which makes this fight a hard barometer in terms of Joe’s status as an elite. If Lacy went on to do great things since his loss to Calzaghe the win would mean more but Lacy has been terrible since that fight in losses to both Jermain Taylor and Roy Jones.

Some supporters of Calzaghe claim that because he never really established himself in America is the reason why he is not considered an all time great. There is some truth to that but Joe did not even fight the best that Europe had to offer which negates that argument. Again, if you look at the list above there are several European fights which could have taken place against such opponents such as Woods, Micalczewski, Ottke, Froch, etc but never materialized. A win against Mikkel Kessler is the only real notable European win Calzaghe can lay claim to (since Chris Eubank in 1997) and with so many other good European fighters out there…that win does not say a whole lot.

In ending, Joe Calzaghe may have had “A” level talent but he had a “B” level career. He beat some ok to good opponents and the great opponents he did beat were way past there prime. Greatness lies in fighting other greats in their prime and beating them. Calzaghe simply does not have that distinction. Instead of fighting notable fighters of his era he instead opted to fight boxer’s such as the Mario Veit‘s, Peter Manfredo’s and Tocker Pudwill’s. Having said that Calzaghe isn’t even the best British fighter of his era (as that distinction belongs to Lennox Lewis) much less an all time great. To even whisper Calzaghe’s name in with fighters like Ali, Ray Leonard, Joe Lewis, Ray Robinson, and Henry Armstrong border’s on boxing version of sedition.

Yes because…

of course not he had 5 good fights and four of them were past there best.

No because…

thing about joe (slapper) calzaghe is that he was expertly managed , he didn’t take risks , he fought bums , people he knew he could beat easily. one thing i would say about joe is he was a good worker , his work rate was second to nobody but the guy couldn’t punch to save his life. he slapped . how anyone could put him down with the greats is beyond me . hell i am even welsh myself and cannot stand the cocaine using arrogant nobody. if ever there were a prize for luckiest fighting career ever then Joe would win hands down , oh hang on he wouldn’t need to win as he wasn’t lucky just a house rat !

Yes because…

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Larry Davis
4 years ago

I believe he could do just as well today. Hopkins was still doing well when Joe beat him and when he won, didn’t get a single gift win like Cancelo, who has many times. How many Tiijuana Taxi Drivers did Canelo fight to PAD HIS RECORD?

4 years ago

I would have liked to see him fight Froch ,a tough guy ye
s ,didn’t have the boxing skill of Calzaghe, would have been a good fight

6 years ago

Joe fought nobodies in his wbo stretch apart from Reid whom arguably beat him, and three individuals who were forced to lose through serious injury, weightdraining over a space of a few days and a cheating referee.

Good win over lacy though.

Larry Davis
4 years ago
Reply to  jambo

I disagree. He was fast, made adjustments and had great ring generalship. I believe he would fare well in any era including now. I cannot recall a single gift decision (unlike Canelo). All fighters fight their share of bums. Terrance Crawford gets the same rap but who is gonna beat him?

7 years ago

I’m just a regular boxing fan with no special knowledge on boxing except what i have gleaned from reading and watching boxing i agree with many of the points made by both sides and my conclusion is that he just isn’t recognized as one of the greatests and for a man with an unbeaten record not to be something is wrong……just saying

10 years ago

You clearly have a problem with Joe. You certainly don’t write as though you are from Wales you are clearly an American with a poor taste in your mouth. Making accusations saying he uses drugs is just bad form, something your critique is riddled with. Just accept it, America despite it’s enormity still struggles to produce the best fighter of *any* division right now.

4 years ago
Reply to  ryan

I’m Welsh and I 100% agree with what he has said here. Calzaghe ducked dangerous opponents until they were WELL past their prime. He slapped. This is why he’ll never go down as a great.

Ian Milne
3 years ago
Reply to  NoMoreLuke

One of the most overrated fighters ever fought 2 great fighters who were well past there prime,ok he beat Kessler who was good but nothing special, so one of the greatest boxers ever,NO CHANCE.

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