The Legacy of Newly-Retired Joe Calzaghe

The BBC is reporting that undefeated Welsh fighter Joe Calzaghe has decided to retire from boxing. He leaves the game with his record a pristine 46-0 and having held some version of the super-middleweight title for over 11 years. In November of 2007, he unified three of the four super-middleweight belts with a masterful performance over Danish fighter Mikkel Kessler. ↵

↵Calzaghe’s reputation and legacy are secure in the U.K., with the South Wales Argus today referring to him as “Wales’ greatest ever sportsman.” ↵

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↵But here in the U.S., the Welshman always will have his doubters, despite coming to Stateside prominence over the last two years of his career. Calzaghe first gained awareness among U.S. fight fans when he completely destroyed highly touted American fighter Jeff “Left Hook” Lacy in 2006 in a fight in which many assumed the muscled Lacy, known at the time for having great knockout power, would walk through the light-punching Welsh champion. ↵

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↵That was the first of a series of virtuoso turns by Calzaghe that ultimately gained him accolades from American boxing cognoscenti for being among the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport (Ring Magazine currently rates as No. 3 on its pound-for-pound list behind Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez). The Kessler fight, and then back-to-back catch-weight victories over legends Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones this year only solidified this claim. ↵

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↵But the fact that Calzaghe spent the majority of his career fighting unheralded names in the U.K. always will find some ready to doubt his overall greatness. Chris Eubank, who Calzaghe beat in 1997 to win his first title at 168 pounds, is possibly the only recognizable Calzaghe opponent to an American fan prior to his defeat of Jeff Lacy. And at that point, Eubank was near the end of his run, having lost two of his last six fights and only a year away from his eventual retirement. ↵

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↵It could be argued that Calzaghe only ever beat two legitimately great fighters anywhere near their primes -- Kessler and Hopkins. Hopkins wasn’t in his prime by any means -- he was 43 years old when Calzaghe beat him last April, and the fight was anything but an inspired performance for either man. But it must be said that Hopkins’ subsequent destruction of Kelly Pavlik last October proved that, even in his dotage, Bernard still has plenty left in the tank and is a difficult man to beat under any circumstances. ↵

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↵Calzaghe’s win over Kessler was an indisputably significant achievement and without question the finest moment of his career, a daredevil display of guts and skill against a game and dangerous champion. ↵

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↵But can one base a claim to all-time greatness on a ho-hum decision over a 43-year-old Bernard and a convincing win over Mikkel Kessler? Probably not, not to an American audience anyway. ↵

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↵Of course, there is always the possibility that Calzaghe’s retirement won’t stick. This is boxing, after all, where retiring is often what fighters do to bide their time between fights. ↵

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↵It’s hard to imagine, though, that the fight will come along that will tempt Calzaghe back into the ring for either the sake of money or his legacy. One of the main reasons he’s retiring now is that there are no big paydays out there for him and none looming on the horizon. The most worthy fighters in his weight penumbra right now are Jermain Taylor, Carl Froch, and Chad Dawson, and these are all dangerous fights without a tremendous upside for Calzaghe at this stage of his career. ↵

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↵I, for one, don’t see Calzaghe coming back to fight any of these men, and I don’t see a fighter emerging in the future that will command a Calzaghe return. Sadly, I think he’s doomed to dwell in the same purgatory in retirement that he did as an active fighter -- famous and great enough to have a very high opinion of himself, but just not quite famous or compelling enough to get the kind of fights that might have pushed him to superstar stature and cemented his place among the all-time greats. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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