Does Joe Calzaghe deserve to be recognised as one of the greatest boxers of all time?
Last updated: March 7, 2019
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?
He has beaten the best of his generation
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.
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
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.
Calzaghe...An All Time Great? Not a Puncher's Chance.
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.