Joe Calzaghe – 1993-2008, 46-0 (32)
In recent years those who vote in the Modern category have enshrined more fighters from outside the United States, and Calzaghe will likely become the first from Wales to be honored among the Moderns. Should that happen, he will join countrymen Jimmy Wilde, Freddie Welsh and Jim Driscoll, who were elected into the Old Timers category.
The “Italian Dragon” is one of only six fighters ever to retire undefeated and untied – Rocky Marciano, Sven Ottke, Michael Loewe, Edwin Valero and Pichit Sithbangprachan are the others. Of those, only Ottke’s numbers come close to Calzaghe’s in terms of long-term title fight success but unlike the German, Calzaghe’s resume is virtually free of questionable hometown verdicts. The closest Calzaghe came to losing occurred when he beat Robin Reid by split decision in February 1999 and when he came off the floor to win Hopkins’ lineal light heavyweight belt by a split nod that should have been unanimous in his next-to-last fight. Otherwise it was largely smooth sailing for “Super Joe,” whose blazing hand speed and extraordinary volume punching pounded out an unbroken string of successes.
Credentials for Elevation: Among undefeated-and-untied champions who remained retired, Calzaghe’s 46 straight wins ranks second to another fighter of Italian extraction – Marciano’s 49. He and Ottke share the super middleweight record for title defenses at 21 but there are two factors that vault the Welshman ahead. First, while Ottke added the WBA belt to his IBF strap by beating Byron Mitchell (then defending those belts four times before retiring at 34-0 in 2004), Calzaghe became a three-belt titlist by decisively out-pointing a young and hungry threat in WBA/WBC titleholder Mikkel Kessler. In fact, the WBO’s Calzaghe twice unified belts, for before meeting Kessler he added the heavily favored Jeff Lacy’s IBF strap to his mantle by meting out a prime-killing 12-round beating.
The second line of demarcation is Calzaghe’s late-career surge that included victories over marquee opponents like Lacy, Kessler, Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. While Ottke continued to win, his last four fights were against David Starie, Mads Larsen, Reid and Armand Krajnc – good fighters with good records but not a future Hall of Famer in the bunch.
In terms of time, Calzaghe’s 10-year 11 month reign as WBO super middleweight titlist is only exceeded by Johnny Kilbane and Joe Louis. Calzaghe’s tenure started with a 12-round win over Chris Eubank, over whom Calzaghe scored a knockdown in the fight’s opening moments. Other Calzaghe victims who held belts include Reid (W 12), Richie Woodhall (KO 10), Charles Brewer (W 12) and Mitchell (KO 2), who gave Calzaghe a brief but mighty scare by flooring him earlier in round two.
What Critics Will Seize Upon: Calzaghe could have further cemented his status as his era’s best 168-pounder by beating Ottke in a unification match but despite their lengthy parallel reigns they never fought each other. It also would have helped had he fought three-time WBC titlist Markus Beyer along the way. Chronic hand injuries kept Calzaghe on the sidelines from time to time, making one wonder if he could have made a run at Louis’ all-time record of 25 defenses. Otherwise, there isn’t much about which to complain. He addressed the “never leaving Europe” criticism by fighting Hopkins and Jones in the U.S. and the Lacy and Kessler victories answered most questions regarding his supremacy at 168.
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