HBO WCB - Apr. 19, 2008

Bernard Hopkins vs Joe Calzaghe

Who Is Joe Calzaghe?

Apr 4, 2008

It is not easy to keep a secret in boxing. This is particularly true if that secret is 44-0, has held a world title of some sort or another for a decade and defended those titles a record tying 21 times. That Joe Calzaghe has managed to remain relatively obscure in the United States despite all those accomplishments is testament to the conservatism of his promoter, old-fashioned American jingoism and his own fear of flying.

Bernard Hopkins, of course, would say it was fear of another sort.

That issue and many others about Calzaghe will be settled April 19 in the ring at the Planet Hollywood Casino in Las Vegas when the two square off with the mythical RING magazine light heavyweight title belt and, at least for Calzaghe, much more at stake. The 36-year old native of Newbridge, Wales, has fought only twice outside the United Kingdom and never in the place where names are made in boxing. Never in Las Vegas, a fact Hopkins and others believe has been no accident.

According to Calzaghe, when he and Hopkins first came face to face last December at the MGM Grand prior to the weigh-in for the Floyd Mayweather, Jr.-Ricky Hatton fight, the long-time middleweight champion from Philadelphia suggested what he would soon do to Calzaghe's face would not be attractive. The long-time super middleweight titleholder replied that in 25 years he still had a handsome visage for a reason, to which Hopkins snapped back with the feelings harbored by many of those who still question Calzaghe's resume.

"That's 'cause you boxed in Europe!'' Hopkins exploded.

When Calzaghe tried to counter by mentioning he'd just beaten formerly undefeated WBC and WBA super middleweight champion Mikkel Kessler, Hopkins responded in horror, "Kessler's not in my league! Who's Kessler? You serious?''

Actually he was but the point of taking the Hopkins fight was for the American fight fans to join him in that feeling. For Joe Calzaghe then, this is not so much a fight about money (although it's always about the money to some extent). It's a fight about who he is and who others think he is not.

"Well, obviously, a lot of Americans don't realize what I can do,'' Calzaghe conceded. "I thought, 'Well, it's kind of the end of my career and it would be a shame never to experience it (fighting in Las Vegas) first hand yourself.' Fighting in America and challenging myself, that's basically it.

"It'll be great to be one of the few Brits to go over and succeed. So that in itself is cool for me and it's worth getting me excited. It's not just about fighting for money. At the end of the day you'll get paid money but maybe boxing 26 years it takes a lot for me to get excited these days.

"Kessler got me excited. (Former undefeated IBF super middleweight champion Jeff) Lacy got me excited. Nothing else in super middleweight at the moment interests me. Hence me going up to fight at 175.

"It's a challenge in itself to go to America and win. Let's face it. I'm going outside my comfort zone and at the end of the day he's the Golden Boy (promoted) fighter so I have to not just go there and win I have to go there and win a proper fight. I have to go there and dominate.

"That's a difficult task to do against somebody like Hopkins. I know you say he's 43 years old but he's still an excellent fighter. You can't take that away from him. Look at his last two fights. He's won comfortably (beating Winky Wright and Antonio Tarver). The guy can still fight. His two fights with (Jermain) Taylor were disputed decisions so you can make a case to say his last loss was to Roy Jones all those years ago (15 to be exact).

"Going over there and winning in his back yard with everything in his own circumstances as regards to weight and that he wants me to come out and fight in their location on the date I'm challenging myself. I saw going into the weigh-in the tremendous reception Ricky (Hatton) got (in Las Vegas). It was incredible. Absolutely incredible. The sight of all the thousands and thousands of fans it was just brilliant and I had a buzz off that and I wanted to get a bit of that before I retired because that's one thing missing really from my record.''

In the end, where Calzaghe has plied his trade for so long may have little to do with the outcome in his first fight at 175 pounds but skepticism about him still exists because it has taken him so long to arrive in America. For years there was speculation that he would fight Hopkins at either 160 or 168 pounds and several times talk swirled that he would face Roy Jones, Jr., who long ruled the middleweight and super middleweight divisions. In the end, nothing happened and as time passed the blame for that fell, fairly or unfairly, more on Calzaghe's shoulders than on those of the opponents he never faced.

The reasons for that kind of absence of opportunity do not lie all on one side but there has long been a feeling among his critics that Frank Warren, Calzaghe's long-time promoter, repeatedly erred on the side of caution with Calzaghe, hurting him on the larger stage while insuring his popularity at home with title wins against the likes of Evans Ashira, Kubary Salem, Mger Mkrtchian, Juan Carlos Gimenez Ferreyra, Mario Veit (so nice he did him twice) and even Tocker Pudwill, who was the kind of fighter Vinny Paz chose for his farewell fight, which is all one need know about Pudwill.

Yet for many years one could (and many did) say the same of Hopkins until his opportunity came late in life against Felix Trinidad, Oscar De La Hoya, Taylor, Wright and Tarver. It was not until Calzaghe tore Lacy apart and left him in such tatters he's never been the same that he began to get serious consideration in the United States and the oddity there is that Calzaghe had to beat an overrated American fighter to become less underrated himself. Still more was needed and not even a win over Kessler, who was 39-0, young and powerful but also well protected in Denmark by promoter Mogens Palle and all but untested, has been quite enough. Calzaghe has begun to get his do but there remains a lingering feeling among many that he must prove his mettle in America against the aging but still active Hopkins before the doubting Thomas' are satisfied.

Hopkins (48-4-1, 32 KO) is battle hardened and considered by many American fight fans to be among the top five pound-for-pound boxers on the planet. At this stage of his career that might be a reach but what Calzaghe still must prove is that it's not one that exceeds his grasp.

"Joe's so underestimated,'' former British world champion Glenn McCrory told the English's boxing magazine Boxing Monthly. "He's the best British fighter in the last 10 years. This will be his coming of age at top world level and he deserves it.''

Yet not even all of his own countrymen fancy Calzaghe. One-time welterweight champion Lloyd Honeyghan, who came to American and destroyed what was then considered America's best young boxer, Donald Curry, told the same publication that, "Calzaghe's going to have loads of problems. He's only risking this because Hopkins is 43. But Hopkins is an old-time fighter, a proper, proper operator.

When Calzaghe tried to counter by mentioning he'd just beaten formerly undefeated WBC and WBA super middleweight champion Mikkel Kessler, Hopkins responded in horror, "Kessler's not in my league! Who's Kessler? You serious?''

"He's an Archie Moore type, make you miss, make you pay. Remember, a young Hopkins gave a prime Roy Jones all the problems he needed (despite losing a decision to him for the middleweight title). Joe might get hesitant, a bit like Ricky Hatton did against Mayweather.

"Also, Calzaghe slaps a lot but in the U.s. trust me they'll not stand for that. He'll get warned loads. It's 50-50, age verus youth but if Hopkins was 33, not 43, it'd definitely be him.''

This from a fellow Brit so you can imagine the kind of doubters that still exist among American fight fans. Calzaghe is well aware of these critics but takes no note of them. In fact, he understands this is why he's coming to America - to quiet their noise...and Hopkins'.

"There's going to be pressure but I love pressure,'' Calzaghe said. "That's where I perform is when I've got pressure. At the end of the day I look at it I can show a lot of American fans that I'm an excellent fighter.

"It will be a fight worth recognition, not just from his own people but from all fans all over the world. Of course it's important for me to get fans in the States and to be recognized. Maybe, obviously, some people are ignorant to fighters in Britain and Europe.

"He's going to have to come out (of his counter punching shell) eventually because I feel 100 per cent there's no way he can beat me. He can't outbox me and he can't outfight me. So eventually if he's going to go defensive like Winky Wright I'm going to outbox him. If he comes inside, he's going to get beat on the inside.

"I'll be aggressive and see where we go from there. Maybe he might stand toe-to-toe, he might run, he might look to land the big right hand (which is the most dangerous shot thrown by a conventional fighter against a southpaw). Who knows? Who cares? At the end of the day I'm just going to go there and do what I always do and it'll be enough.

"I throw more punches (than the methodically patient, risk-averse Hopkins). Throw more punches and land more punches. That's what it comes down to. That's the basics of boxing, to land more and punch more. I just hope he's got a Jeff Lacy mentality and thinks that I slap and don't hit hard because he's in for a big shock. Believe me. He's going to feel the power. I just don't want to win this fight. I want to knock him out.

"Seriously. I'm so relaxed about this fight I can't tell you how confident I am I'm going to win. I don't have a strategy, I just go in there and do my thing. He brings nothing in the ring and he brings nothing outside the ring I haven't seen before. So I'll carry on and let him keep barking. The loud one in the room is not the one you worry about. It's the ones that are quiet are the ones I get worried about.''

Joe Calzaghe has certainly been that, at least on this side of the Atlantic. But his best-selling autobiography, "No Ordinary Joe'' written with the aid of Sunday Times of London fight scribe Brian Doogan speaks of a bolder man, one who at age 36 has finally decided to insist upon the only fights that are left for him - big ones.

Come April 19 he will have such a fight. What he does with it will decide how he is remembered. At least in the colonies.

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