Welsh boxer Joe Calzaghe MBE, also known as ”The Pride of Wales”, will go down as one of the best pound for pound boxers in the history of the sport.
Born in Hammersmith, London in 1972, he is the most successful boxer Great Britain has ever seen. Calzaghe is the longest reigning title holder at any weight class in the sport of boxing at the moment, after he recently surpassed the ten year mark as the WBO Super Middleweight champion. He is also the BBC Sports Personality of the Year for 2007 beating Lewis Hamilton into second, after he
achieved just over 28% of the public votes. This made him the first Welsh winner of the award since show jumper David Broome won it in 1960.
Although he was born in London, he has spent all his life in Wales, living with his Welsh mother Jackie, and Sardinian father Enzo, who is also his trainer. This mixed heritage is also why he is sometimes referred to as the “Italian Dragon”.
Calzaghe first put on a pair of boxing gloves at the age of nine and was immediately more comfortable being a southpaw. His success started as early as his teens when he entered the record books as the only British amateur boxer to hold 3 ABA Boxing titles at three different weights (Welter, Light Middleweight and Middleweight). This feat has only ever been achieved by one other boxer in the history of the sport.
Calzaghe the Professional
Calzaghe started his professional career in the Cardiff Arms Park in September 1993, and made his debut on the Lewis-Bruno bill the following month. In the following two years, Calzaghe won all nine fights by knockout, but was yet to feature in a title fight. It was because of this that the Welshman left the management of Mickey Duff and Terry Lawless and moved to Frank Warren’s stable in 1996. Warren was optimistic about Calzaghe and his potential. Comparing the Welshman to Nigel Benn, someone who he managed previously, Warren stated, “Joe Calzaghe is a far better prospect, in fact he is my fighter for the new millennium.”
First Taste of Success
The choice to move management seemed to work almost immediately. After just two fights under Warren, he had his chance at a title. In October 1997, Calzaghe faced British boxing legend Chris Eubank for the WBO Super Middleweight title in Sheffield. Eubank was a strong favourite, but Calzaghe shocked the boxing world by defeating the two time WBO champion after he knocked down Eubank in the first round, before winning by a unanimous points decision. This was the first real success for Calzaghe. The boxing world began to take notice.
A Long Seven Years
After taking the title off of Eubank, Calzaghe had to wait a further seven years for a unification fight. It was during these seven years that Calzaghe’s reputation began to grow. His boxing credentials were proven again in 2005, when he fought Kenyan boxer Evans Ashira. Somehow, and amazingly, Calzaghe broke his left hand in the third round yet still managed to win the fight one-handed by a unanimous decision.
Calzaghe finally got the opportunity for a unification fight against the American, and IBF World Champion, Jeff Lacy in 2006. Lacy was the pre-fight favourite with the bookmakers and pundits alike. However, just like Eubank and many others before, Lacy failed in his conquest to beat Calzaghe and win his WBO title. Joe Calzaghe gave an astonishing performance, after he threw and landed over 1,000 punches, winning by another unanimous points decision.
The performance against Lacy was Calzaghe’s best to date. Many have said that it was one of the finest world championship displays by a British boxer, even better than that of Eubank, Benn and Lennox Lewis. Calzaghe was now a recognised force in world boxing.
Unfortunately, Calzaghe was forced to relinquish his IBF World Championship due to commercial reasons. Calzaghe instead chose to go ahead and defend his WBO super middleweight title against former ‘Contender’ star Peter Manfredo Jr. The fight took place in April 2007 in front of 35,000 fans at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Fighting the ‘Contender’
This fight was one of the most eagerly anticipated of 2007. However, it lasted barely three rounds after Calzaghe was too strong for Manfredo. The fight was stopped in the third round as Calzaghe began to land several punishing blows on Manfredo, who had nothing to throw back in return. Although some commentators at the time said that the stoppage was a little premature (Manfredo had little bruising), it was clear that Calzaghe only needed a couple more minutes to knock out his opponent.
Undisputed Champion of the World
In November 2007, Calzaghe faced the most important challenge of his career; after he accepted a $5 million (US) offer to fight Mikkel Kessler. The fight was a unification bout for the WBO, WBA, WBC and Ring Magazine super middleweight titles. In the big occasion, Calzaghe duly delivered again. ‘The Italian Dragon’ won by a unanimous decision and, in the process, became the first undisputed super middleweight champion of the world. The victory also meant that he surpassed the 20 defences made by Bernard Hopkins and Larry Holmes at middleweight and heavyweight respectively.
Where now for the Pride of Wales?
With his outstanding record of 44 wins in 44 fights, it is clear that Joe Calzaghe will go down as one of the best boxers Great Britain has ever had, and maybe the best full stop. It remains to be seen whether or not Calzaghe will better Joe Louis’ record of 25 defences, particularly as Calzaghe looks to retirement, but it would take a brave man to bet against it. His boxing legacy was fulfilled following wins over Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jnr. to set his professional record to 46-0.
- BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year – Winner (2001, 2006, 2007)
- BBC Sports Personality of the Year – Winner (2007)
- WBO Super Middleweight Champion – October 11th 1997 to Present
- IBF Super Middleweight Champion – March 4th 2006 to November 27th 2006 (vacated)
- WBC Super Middleweight Champion – November 4th 2007 to Present
- WBA Super Middleweight Champion – November 4th 2007 to Present