Monday, May 29, 2023  |


Calzaghe: Simple man, simply brilliant

Fighters Network

Joe Calzaghe had Jeff Lacy in his sights all night in one of the biggest victories in his career. Photo /

Tributes and trophies rained down on Joe Calzaghe in the twilight of his career, bestowed at a pace even faster than the fistic flurries with which he forged his unbeaten record.

Yet even the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award and an appointment from the Queen as a Commander of the British Empire could not compete with his most cherished possession.

Calzaghe’s ‘0’ – the sacred distinction that makes up boxing’s most elite society – was a factor too strong for the lure of further glories and seven-figure paydays to conquer.

The Welshman’s decision to walk away from the sport this week came with his powers and reputation at their highest point.

There will be those who take shots at Calzaghe, with some foundation. He did remain protected in Europe for much of his career and he still blames former promoter Frank Warren for taking nine years to get him a unification bout at super middleweight.

When he finally headed across the Atlantic to take on two Hall of Famers in Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. at light heavyweight, he was facing men some years removed from their prime, although Hopkins shows little sign of slowing down as he heads toward the mid-point of his fifth decade.

Even so, there can be little disputing Calzaghe’s brilliance within the ring, with a level of hand speed and work-rate beyond comparison. Sure, he slapped at times and his hands were brittle, but his fitness levels were astonishing and he had an underrated chin.

When Jones drove a brutal forearm flush into his face in the opening round at Madison Square Garden in November, Calzaghe was badly hurt. However, the instinct to keep throwing leather never left him and he bounced back to dominate the contest.

Southpaw and unorthodox, Calzaghe was difficult for his opponents to read and he would regularly grind them down with his vast reserves of physical endurance. That stamina was sculpted by the extreme cardio formula designed by his father and career-long trainer Enzo Calzaghe, who made it his mission to see his son leave their Spartan gym wracked by agonizing spasms.

When it comes down to it, the 36-year-old’s record has a beautiful simplicity: 46 professional fights, 46 wins.

There is simplicity about the man too, which perhaps explains the manner of his retirement announcement on Thursday. There was no dramatic farewell, no emotional press conference, no last chance to soak up the attention. Just a statement bidding goodbye, and thanks for the memories.

He doesn’t really like the attention, part of the reason why the boxing media took some time to warm to him. Interviews in recent months were generally restricted to promotional commitments or ‘good cause’ campaigns, such as a program designed to counter knife crime by getting youngsters involved in boxing.

Calzaghe is true to his roots, keeping his base close to home in the picturesque valleys of Wales even when he accumulated the financial resources to relocate to glitzier surroundings.

He is a superstar by performance, but not necessarily by lifestyle.

The last time Calzaghe lost a bout was in 1990, against Romanian Adrian Opreda at the European Junior Championships. As he sat disconsolate after that setback, he vowed never to taste defeat again, and he never has.

While some of his victories lost meaning as he embarked upon a long run of WBO super middleweight title defenses against unheralded opponents, the three fights that really defined his career were the last three.

He took on the outstanding Mikkel Kessler as an underdog in November of 2007, but produced a scintillating display in front of 50,000 screaming Welshmen at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.

Five months later it was off to Las Vegas to meet Hopkins, who had taunted him with claims he would “never lose to a white boy.” A split decision victory announced Calzaghe to the U.S. public and ticked another box on his career bucket list by winning in America.

Because of my friendship with Michael Pearlman, Calzaghe’s ghost writer for his column in the South Wales Argus newspaper, I was fortunate enough to be invited into his private celebration party after his victory over Hopkins.

It was an under-stated and classy affair, in keeping with the man. There was no bling in sight and no magnums of champagne – Calzaghe quietly sipped a beer and chatted with friends as 15 close friends and family members mingled in a room in the Strip House restaurant at Planet Hollywood.

At that point it was clear only two goals remained, and they could be ticked off simultaneously. Calzaghe had conquered in Wales and survived in Vegas – now he wanted New York and Madison Square Garden.

He didn’t want Kelly Pavlik, feeling the Ohio middleweight’s then-reputation as a legitimate pound-for-pound threat would not endure. He wanted a legend – he wanted Jones.

He got his wish, and after some showboating during a wild opening five rounds at the Garden, Calzaghe’s technical prowess and physical superiority proved far too much for the Floridian.

That night was the time when Calzaghe really said goodbye. He kept his options open for a few months to see whether any huge paydays would land in front of him, but his heart never really leaned toward a return.

Boxing bids so long to one of its finest exponents, a true great of the modern era and a man of decent and simple values.