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Calzaghe: Unrealized Potential
By Jim Cawkwell (June 8, 2004) 
Joe Calzaghe
The recent postponement of the IBF light heavyweight championship fight between champion Glencoffe Johnson and challenger Joe Calzaghe was greeted with surprise and disappointment by many. Not me though, I have come to expect such occurrences. My cynicism regarding Calzaghe is merited, and I intend to show you the reasons.

Calzaghe can boast a professional ledger that has almost touched forty fights without a single loss. He can claim to be one of the longest reigning champions in any weight class.

He certainly received prestigious acknowledgement in the Queen’s New Year’s honors list and I’m sure he has acquired a comfortable living because of his boxing career and the respect of a significant portion of fans, experts and peers alike.

There is that side of the story, and if you continued to look at it from afar you’d be forgiven for wondering what could be my problem. However, deeper scrutiny of Calzaghe’s legacy to date reveals the contradictory argument against the accolades I have just described. But first, allow me to provide you with a little history.

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Calzaghe’s pre-championship career was conducted in the backdrop of the famous encounters between Steve Collins, Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn; all iconic British fight figures. Of Italian descent but representing his home of Wales, Calzaghe fought as a southpaw and was both heavy-handed and considerably skilled, as demonstrated throughout his decorated amateur career. My first perception of him outside of the ring was that of a braggart. His decidedly arrogant demeanor did nothing to endear him to the British public, especially without a world title to galvanize it.

Eubank, the eccentric former champion was the last remaining member of the aforementioned trio of British greats and Calzaghe was soon pitched in with him for the vacant WBO super-middleweight title. Eubank was a mere relic of an era that he was reluctant to let pass but in losing to Calzaghe he received great acclaim for his endurance in absorbing all that the younger man could offer.

It was supposed to be the dawn of a new age and Calzaghe would be its superstar. Ultimately that has not been the case, and here are the reasons. Calzaghe has beaten a lot of very good fighters during his time, but no great names litter his record and I feel that he has barely surpassed the mere expectation of his ability and has certainly not touched upon its limits. When measured against its initially perceived potential, Calzaghe’s career reads like a catalogue of failures to capitalize on excellent opportunities.

Apart from a single instance, his entire championship tenure has been conducted in the British Isles. In his one appearance on foreign soil, Calzaghe had an idyllic opportunity to enhance his reputation when he was gifted with the chief support slot for Mike Tyson’s pointless fight with Brian Nielsen in Denmark. An anti-depressant addled Tyson can still make headlines but his encounter with Nielsen was especially ridiculous and the reports concerning it afterwards were always going to be of little consequence. Calzaghe should have fought an established name in an attempt to steal the show on that night, but instead he predictably tussled the virtually unknown Will McIntyre into defeat, an effort which re-enforced the air of indifference surrounding the Welshman.

Calzaghe further embellished his uninspiring path with frequent and even less demanding mandatory engagements for the WBO, not one of which came close to taking place in America. Calzaghe gains comfort from having home advantage much the same as several other fighters feel at ease in their own territory. The problem for Calzaghe is that his home is not based in America which is the established Mecca of boxing and no attempt to venture there has predictably done harm to his cause.

In addition to his growing list of unfortunate career choices, Calzaghe has also indulged in chasing the shadows of several more recognizable champions. Calzaghe’s assertions that he would fight and beat Roy Jones Jr. were in steep contrast to Jones’s indifference towards him, an indirect dismissal of Calzaghe as an opponent worthy of his time.

Negotiations with former IBF champion and equally unwilling traveler Sven Ottke of Germany ended in a depressing stalemate. And finally, Calzaghe and his manager Frank Warren have previously broadcasted claims of ensnaring Bernard Hopkins into a fight. This is Bernard Hopkins I speak of; the undisputed middleweight champion, achiever of legendary proportions and notoriously one of the most stubborn negotiators of purses and principles in the entire sport. Whispering the offer of a pittance in Hopkins’ ear could only be described as a laughable attempt at publicity. In truth, Calzaghe is lucky to share a sentence with Hopkins, never mind a boxing ring.

Credit should be afforded where it is due though and Calzaghe did raise himself from the canvas to stop America’s former WBA champion Byron Mitchell in two rounds. That performance could be perceived as the current pinnacle of Calzaghe’s professional life and yet even it was achieved immediately after Sven Ottke’s unification win against Mitchell.

Now thirty-one years of age, Joe Calzaghe is running out of time and perhaps also enough legitimate opportunities to acquit himself of these grievous miscalculations. Ottke has retired, Jones’ conqueror Antonio Tarver has stated that he will indulge no other business at light-heavyweight other than Jones once more and the WBC super-middleweight title is being passed around like a hot potato. So where does Calzaghe set his aim? Even if he defeats Johnson in the re-scheduled fight, how valuable a bargaining tool will that win and the IBF title be if he will not campaign in America?

Joe Calzaghe is a talented boxer but he must now force his way into the spotlight at all costs if he truly seeks to be regarded as one of the finest fighters of his era.
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