By Paul Magno
Numbers aren’t always trustworthy.
Show me any lie or half-truth and there is likely a “fair” or “impartial” statistic to back it up. It’s only when we shine a light on the reality behind the numbers that we began to see the real picture.
Such is the case with Joe Calzaghe, Ring Magazine’s Light Heavyweight Champ and Wales’ hometown hero. His record currently stands at an impressive 45-0 with a record-setting string of 21 title defenses as the WBO Super Middleweight Champ, but the numbers alone don’t tell the whole story of the man who is playing the role of elder statesman living legend.
So, I have set out to examine Calzaghe’s record-setting title reign to determine the true story behind the smoke and mirrors. I will list Calzaghe’s defenses , as well as a summary of each fighter’s pre-Calzaghe accomplishments that got them a shot at Joe and his title. We´ll begin with his title shot for the vacant 168 lb. title.
10/11/97 Chris Eubank– Although a recognizable name, Eubank was well past his prime, hadn’t had a significant win against a top fighter in over 3 years and would go on to lose his next 2 fights after Joe. To be fair to Calzaghe, Eubank was a substitute for the injured Steve Collins and Calzaghe had no say as to who he would fight for the title.
1/24/98 Branko Sobot– Joe’s first title defense had only one previous fight at 168 lbs.- and that was 8 fights and nearly 2 years earlier
4/25/98 Juan Carlos Gimenez Ferreyra– His last 4 opponents before Calzaghe had a combined record of 20-25-6. A win over a 1-11-2 fighter earned him his shot at Calzaghe’s world title.
2/13/99 Robin Reid– A loss to Thulani Malinga and a win over an 8-3 foe in his 2 previous bouts was enough to get him a shot.
6/5/99 Rick Thornberry– His previous 5 opponents before Calzaghe had a combined record of 29-68-6. Thornberry was so bad that Sven Ottke fought him 2 fights later.
1/29/00 David Starie– No wins of note are on Mr. Starie’s resume. A win over the dreaded, 16-9, Teymuraz Kekelidze earned him his shot at the WBO crown.
8/12/00 Omar Sheika– Dim-witted, but deserving club fighter. A case could be made for this defense since Sheika had just scored a controversial upset against Glen Johnson in his fight previous to the Calzaghe bout. However, Sheika would go on to have a 7-6 record when he stepped-up his level of opposition.
12/16/00 Richie Woodhall– How did a loss to Markus Beyer 14 months prior earn him a shot at Calzaghe’s title?
4/28/01 Mario Veit– Up until the point of qualifying for this title opportunity, Mr. Veit had no wins of note against anything resembling a top Super Middleweight.
10/13/01 Will McIntyre– His last 5 opponents’ combined record before his fight with Calzaghe: 55-53-6.
4/20/02 Charles Brewer– Faded former champ was 2-2 in his 4 fights prior to Calzaghe. His 3rd round KO loss to Antwun Echols led to him getting the title shot less than a year later.
8/17/02 Miguel Angel Jimenez– His last 4 opponent’s combined record of 37-51-9 begged for an immediate title shot against Joe.
12/14/02 Tocker Pudwill– Tocker’s previous 4 opponents before Calzaghe had a combined record of 33-199-9. To be fair, Pudwill was a substitute for the injured Thomas Tate, who had somehow qualified for a title shot by being shut-out 6 months earlier in an easy UD by Sven Ottke.
6/28/03 Byron Mitchell– To continue a trend, a loss to Sven Ottke in his previous bout earned him a shot at Calzaghe’s title.
2/21/04 Mger Mkrtchian– With no wins over top Super Middleweights, his victory over the 2-3-1 Jozsef Balazs made him a must-fight opponent for Joe.
10/22/04 Kabary Salem– A No Contest and a loss in his 2 previous fights earned him a bout with the reigning WBO 168 lb. champ.
5/7/05 Mario Veit– A rematch of the guy he KO’d in the 1st round a few years earlier. This time Veit would make it into the 6th.
9/10/05 Evans Ashira– Ashira had only fought one fight, 2 years prior, at 168 in his previous 25 bouts. Went the distance with Joe after being KO’d in 2 at Middlweight just 2 fights earlier.
3/4/06 Jeff Lacy– A title unification with the IBF champ, who had not yet had a defense against a top 168 pounder. After 10 months without defending the IBF title, he vacated the title. Apparently, recent KO victims and unknown club fighters weren’t as readily available in the IBF Top 10 list.
10/14/06 Sakio Bika– Up to that point, his one and only fight at 168 lbs. in 4 years was a draw with Markus Beyer. That was enough to draw Calzaghe’s interest.
4/7/07 Peter Manfredo Jr. – With only 2 Super Middleweight fights in the previous 6 years and after 2 high-profile losses to Sergio Mora, he finally met Joe’s requirements and earned a shot at the title.
11/3/07 Mikkel Kessler– Calzaghe’s crowning glory and the only name on his defense list that was truly a risk.
After abandoning the Super Middleweight division he moved up to beat 43-year old Bernard Hopkins via split decision and he’s currently set to take on the 39-year old Roy Jones Jr.- a one-time legend who hasn’t beaten a top opponent in over 5 years.
When looking back on the true story of Joe Calzaghe’s career, you can’t help but wonder what could’ve been. How talented was he? How far could he have gone against real opposition?
We’ll never know now, but if he had names like Roy Jones Jr, Glen Johnson, Anthony Mundine, Markus Beyer and Eric Lucas on his resume instead of guys like Ashira, Sobot and Thornberry we would’ve had a real gauge of where Calzaghe’s skill level was.
Instead, Calzaghe will always be the Sadaharu Oh of professional prize fighting. Oh was the Japanese Home Run King with 868 home runs, but he never, ever hit a Major League fastball.