Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Don't Bet Against Joe Calzaghe

Joe Calzaghe thinks he'll still be #1 after facing Mikkel Kessler on Saturday.

It’s the biggest fight that planet earth has to offer on Saturday night.

When Joe Calzaghe and Mikkel Kessler step through the ropes and square off at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales they will do so in front of a live crowd in the neighborhood of 50,000 as well as a worldwide television audience.

And the critics tell you boxing is dead.

Calzaghe is of course the long reigning WBO and The Ring Magazine champion whereas Kessler holds the WBA and WBC titles. Ever since promoter Frank Warren first announced the match back in July of this year the boxing world has waited with baited breath for this fight to happen.

But the biggest question in everyone’s mind is this: “Who will win?”

Well, it says here that Joe Calzaghe will make easy work of Mikkel Kessler. And why would you disagree?

Joe Calzaghe hasn’t lost since 1990. Yes, that’s right, 17 years as both amateur and professional. Greatness came early and the young Calzaghe entered the record books as the only British amateur boxer to hold three ABA titles at three different weights while compiling an amateur record of 110-10. Since ending his amateur career and turning professional in 1993 on a Frank Bruno undercard, Calzaghe has gone unbeaten with 10 straight years as champion, 20 successful title defenses and he’s amassed a record of 43-0 (32) KO’s.

Former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis thinks that Joe Calzaghe might just be one of the best fighters that Great Britain has ever produced.

“He has a very unusual style,” says Lewis of the southpaw Calzaghe. “He has great rhythm, great hand speed and great movement. He throws punches from different angles and you know, you throw a punch and he hits you three times.”

When asked to compare Calzaghe to the best fighters in the pound-for-pound ranks, Lewis, who has seen Calzaghe fight in person many times, was even more glowing in his praise.

“I don’t see any fighter that fights like him,” says Lennox. “I’m telling you, he’s got quick hands and he’s always throwing punches. His punch rate is incredible.”

Just ask Jeff Lacy about hand speed and punch rate. Despite Lacy’s excuses for losing against Calzaghe in March 2006, Calzaghe tattooed him with over 1,000 punches. Maybe that had something to do with him losing?

Excitable HBO boxing analyst Max Kellerman says this about Calzaghe. “If you look at the history of boxing, very few fighters, far fewer than most people realize, have ever gone through say, ten straight top-10 contenders without a loss. Joe Calzaghe is undefeated in his professional career and he’s been fighting world class opposition for over a decade!”

Most will tell you that Joe Calzaghe was a natural from the very time that he first laced up a pair of boxing gloves at only nine years of age. His father, Enzo, has always trained his son, and he echoes the sentiment that Joe was very good from the very beginning.

“I remember the very first day I took him down to the gym,” says Enzo. “The trainers’ name was Mark Williams. I said to Mark, ‘Do you mind if we come in? Joe wants to have a go at boxing.’

“Mark said, ‘No problem.’ “And after a quick look he said, ‘Enz, he’s been boxing for years.’ “I said no he hasn’t.” Mark said, ‘You’ve got a very open class kid there.’ “I didn’t even know what open class meant. I said what does open class mean? He said, ‘Very good.’ “I said, Oh, that’s great. I liked that.”

And that’s the day the boxing career of Joe Calzaghe began.

The fight against Kessler will take place on Calzaghe’s home turf in Wales and for him it will be his biggest and most important fight in front of his own fans. Kessler, the anti-hero in this epic, is coming in from Denmark.

Lennox Lewis, who fought around the world, at home in front of his British fans and also in Wales when he beat Frank Bruno, knows a lot about the often times raucous fight crowds in Great Britain.

“The British sports fans love him,” says Lennox of Calzaghe. “He is their hero. He loves the sport, he wants to prove himself and every time he steps in the ring he is always fighting for respect. British fans are very passionate about boxing and very passionate about their heroes. Calzaghe has great support from the fans right now.”

While you won’t find a nicer guy outside the ropes than Joe Calzaghe, inside the ring he is a tiger. After the first round against Jeff Lacy he went back to his corner, sat on his stool and said to his father of Lacy, “He ain’t shit.” Calzaghe then went on to humiliate Lacy in a fight that many figured Joe would have no chance in.

So what does Calzaghe himself have to say about the man he will face in just a few days?

“I think his record speaks for itself,” says the Welshman. “He’s undefeated, he’s young. He’s at his peak. He’s 39-0, so of course all the statistics add up to him being potentially my toughest fight. But potentially being the toughest fight and actually being the toughest fight is two different things.” And then Joe Calzaghe smiles.

As it stands, Calzaghe is a 2-1 betting favorite but those odds figure to get even closer by the time the first bell rings on Saturday night.

So where should the bettors put their money?

“I’m one hundred-percent confident that I’m going to win this fight,” says Calzaghe. “This is why I picked this fight and why I pushed for this fight, and I think I can do a good job on this guy. You know, he’s potentially the toughest fight of my career, but I’m hoping it’s not going to be the toughest fight of my career. As long as I prepare like it’s going to be the toughest, it won’t be the toughest.”

By all accounts, Calzaghe has trained like a banshee for this fight. He has been known to fight down to the level of his opposition and he has admitted that he has had trouble “getting up” for fighters like Sakio Bika or Peter Manfredo who he perceived to be less than the best competition. But for this fight that will likely not be an issue.

“I’m looking for big fights, big performances, and to get there I need a fight that I get up for,” says “The Pride of Wales” as he is often referred to. “After twenty-five years in boxing you have to motivate yourself…so these are the sort of fights that I want to fight.”

In this story, the last word goes to Enzo Calzaghe who has seen every fight and every fighter that his son has faced in the past 25 years. He has seen every punch in training and in the actual fights and here are his thoughts:

“It doesn’t matter what Kessler brings to the table,” says Enzo.

“If Joe comes in at one-hundred percent, I don’t have to worry one damn bit because at the end of the day, Joe boxes his own fight. Kessler will be his own self...and Kessler stands no chance with Joe Calzaghe. Joe’s better because he’s boxed people like Kessler before. Ask Kessler if he’s boxed anyone like Joe. I very much doubt it indeed.”

You can bet on it.

October 2007

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