Roy Jones Jr. was accorded his just due a lot earlier than acknowledgement came for Joe Calzaghe.
But their prolonged illustrious careers are concrete evidence of both champions' boxing greatness.
Perhaps the best testament to their lofty standing among this era of fighters is that the appeal of a Jones-Calzaghe showdown has also withstood the test of time.
After years of talking about it, Jones, 38, and Calzaghe, 35, will finally knuckle it out Saturday Nov. 8 at New York's Madison Square Garden (HBO Pay-Per-View, $49.95, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
The scheduled 12-round bout will be for the light heavyweight title that Calzaghe captured in April with a split decision against Bernard Hopkins. However, the much-anticipated matchup has also taken on historic proportions.
Some boxing pundits, in sizing up the rarified-air pedigrees of Jones and Calzaghe, have suggested that the outcome could be enough to exalt the winner as the best fighter of this generation.
"Yeah, it could," agrees Calzaghe (45-0, 32 KOs), the unbeaten long-time super middleweight champion from Newbridge, Wales, and boxing's longest-reigning current champion.
"Roy Jones has won four world titles in four different weight classes, and I'm undefeated in 45 fights and have been a world champion for 11 years with (a division-record) 21 title defenses.
"So I suppose me and Roy Jones in the last 15 years have been the biggest-achieving fighters, especially at super middleweight and light heavyweight."
In Jones' case, he has not only held world titles in the same weight divisions that Calzaghe has reigned, but the Pensacola, FL, native made history in 2003 as the first middleweight champion in 106 years to win a heavyweight title when he took a 12-round unanimous decision against John Ruiz.
Since pulling off that feat, Jones (52-4, 38 KOs) has campaigned exclusively at light heavyweight and comes into the Calzaghe fight riding the momentum of a career-rehabilitating victory against Felix "Tito" Trinidad in January.
Jones takes pride in the fact that his Square Ring, Inc. and his opponent's Calzaghe Promotions are promoting the fight, billed as a "Battle of Superpowers," without any outside involvement from another promoter.
"We're doing it ourselves, and that's what's so gratifying," Jones says. "We can be our own people. We don't need a mediator to make us fight or to keep us apart before we get to the fight. We might need a mediator to get me off him come Nov. 8, but that's all we might need one for."
Jones was universally acclaimed as the sport's pound-for-pound king through much of the 1990s, but he paid a steep cost for moving up to heavyweight and then losing the weight.
He says it took "about three years," before he got his body and skills back on track but now says "I'm pretty close to 100 percent" of the best he's ever been.
"The biggest adjustment was to first get the weight down where it would stay off because it was muscle mass," Jones says. "Then the second adjustment was, 'Can you go back to doing what you were doing before?' I had to think about it because that's a good question. But I have, slowly but surely, got back to doing it.
"When I look in the mirror now, it looks like I'm 115 per cent. I'm like 'Wow, how can you keep getting better looking as you get older?' I can't reveal everything, but I'm pretty close to 100 per cent."
That's not how Jones felt in the immediate aftermath of defeating Ruiz for what he considers to be his biggest ring achievement. He went through a period when he felt his body was betraying him and didn't allow him to show the speed, quickness and slickness that his career was built on.
Although Jones retained the light heavyweight title with a majority decision against Antonio Tarver in November, 2003, many thought he lost that fight. Indeed, Jones did lose the following three fights, getting knocked out by Tarver in the second round and again by Glen Johnson in the ninth round, before losing the rubber match to Tarver in October 2005 by unanimous decision.
It has taken three years and a three-fight winning streak for Jones to restore his swagger and box-office stature.
His unanimous decision victories against Prince Badi Ajamu and Anthony Hanshaw were impressive, but it was his victory against a revered champion in Trinidad that put Jones back in good standing and in position to set up the long-awaited marquee matchup with Calzaghe.
"It seems like I've had about five careers, but you see, that's been my whole life," Jones says. "My life is about going in there, take that knockdown and come back. My life is about having faith in Jesus Christ. If you have faith, you're going to come back from anything that you go through. Whatever they put in front of me, they can knock me down five times but they can't stop me. When I get back up, I'm stronger than I was before. That's what you're seeing right now. I'm having the time of my life."
Likewise, Calzaghe is preparing for the biggest fight of his life. He's had an eye on this fight with Jones for years, and a victory would be satisfying enough for him to call it a career.
"I'm looking forward to this fight because it's probably going to be my last fight," Calzaghe says. I want to go down in history as an undefeated champion. And what a great way to finish, fighting a four-weight world champion in a great venue at the Garden.
"Roy Jones is going to come to win. He's got a tremendous chance, so I have to make sure I'm in great form. But there's no way I'm going to lose Nov. 8 and I'm sure it's going to be one of the (best) fights of the year."
Calzaghe is closing out his career to much fanfare. He won a much-ballyhooed super middleweight title unification fight against Denmark's previously unbeaten Mikkel Kessler last November and lifted his achievements to another level when he beat Hopkins.
Initially, Calzaghe didn't feel he got enough credit for defeating Hopkins. A popular opinion was that he beat an old man who had lost a step. But, Hopkins, 43, showed he has plenty left in his tank with his recent dismantling of previously unbeaten middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik, and Calzaghe feels vindicated.
"I feel happy after watching the fight on the weekend," Calzaghe says. "That puts into perspective my win against Hopkins. For everybody who said I beat an old man, now you can see from the way he beat Pavlik that I beat a great fighter. It also should shut up everybody who's been screaming about Pavlik this and Pavlik that. I said all along that he was overhyped and overrated."
There once was a perception, at least on this side of the Atlantic, that Calzaghe was also overrated. While Jones has been on the global radar screen since he was named the outstanding boxer in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Calzaghe didn't get worldwide acclaim until March, 2006 when he shut out and totally frustrated previously unbeaten Jeff Lacy in the first title unification bout of his career. "I basically picked my last two opponents and they were the most difficult opponents I could pick," Calzaghe says. "Mikkel Kessler, everybody said I couldn't beat this guy, and I went to America to beat Hopkins. As far as I'm concerned, I've fought the best fighters that were available to fight."
Calzaghe expects a much more engaging and fan-friendly fight against Jones than he endured against Hopkins, who knocked him down in the first round but conserved energy in the latter rounds by holding.
"You've got somebody who's not going to come and just hold," Calzaghe says. "Roy mixes up his fighting and boxing. I believe I have a superior work rate and the energy to break him down in the second half of the fight. He's still dangerous. He throws fast punches and fast combinations, and so do I, so I think it will be a good fight to watch."
Jones, who owns a victory over Hopkins in 1993 when both were in their 20s, should pose a completely different fight against Calzaghe than Hopkins did earlier this year. But the objective will be the same: Neutralize Calzaghe's high punch output.
"Bernard does a lot of things different than I do," says Jones. "Bernard does a lot more clenching than I'm known to do and his style is different than my style. I will be neutralizing (Calzaghe's fast offense), but not the same way."
Jones figures he has the hand speed and footwork to counter anything Calzaghe brings with him. He gives the Welshman credit for what he's been able to accomplish but doesn't give him much chance of winning.
"He punches more than anybody I've seen as far as my weight class goes," Jones says. "I can't tell you that he's nothing special because that's not true. He is something special. But there's nothing special that's going to happen on his part that night."
Even when the American boxing public didn't know much about Calzaghe, Jones says he was well aware of him.
"When I was on top, I saw everything," Jones says. "If you were within four weight classes of me, I had my eyes on you, because either you were looking at me or I was coming to get you.
"Calzaghe's whole family and country has wanted to see him fight me for about 10 years now. If he beats me, he's going to be so happy, he won't have a choice but to retire. But 'if' means a lot of fricking thinking is going on."
As their own promoters, Calzaghe and Jones were able to reach agreement on a fight that many feel should have happened long ago. The knock on both champions is that they didn't take on all comers when they were in their prime. But they each dispute that assertion.
"There was talk about me fighting Roy Jones years ago, but it was always the fact that Roy Jones didn't want to come over here and maybe he had other fighters to fight when he was on top of his game," Calzaghe says. "But the fight is happening now. It wasn't meant to be then. It was meant to happen now, the same way that the Hopkins fight happened in April rather than six or seven years ago."
Jones is adamant that he maximized his time as the pound-for-pound champion and ducked no one, even to his detriment.
"Look at where I went," Jones says. "I went everywhere, heavyweight, light heavyweight, super middleweight. I didn't care where it was. They called my name and I went. What other guy did that successfully? That's the same thing that might have come back to haunt me. But I think I took perfect advantage of my opportunity."
As their lone high-profile common opponent, Hopkins says talk of Jones vs. Calzaghe being a fight for the best fighter of this generation is just that. Talk.
"I think that's good promotion, but I don't think that's true," says Hopkins, who has declared that he wants the winner of the Nov. 8 fight. "It's one of the biggest fights around, but it's not one of the greatest of this millennium."
If Calzaghe vs. Jones can unfold as one of the best fights this year, most fans would agree that's plenty good enough.
I think that's good promotion, but I don't think that's true," says Hopkins, who has declared that he wants the winner of the Nov. 8 fight. "It's one of the biggest fights around, but it's not one of the greatest of this millennium.
Posted 12:00 AM | Oct 28, 2008
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