CANASTOTA, N.Y. — Some opponents dared to call him “Slappy Joe,” which suggested his method of delivering punches resembled a schoolgirl having a hissy-fit.
“Jeff Lacy called me a slapper,” longtime WBO and THE RING super middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe was saying here Saturday afternoon at the International Boxing Hall of Fame, which will welcome him as one of its seven newest living members on Sunday. “But I must have slapped him pretty hard if you saw his face after the fight.”
Come to think of it, the Welsh southpaw must have slapped Roy Jones Jr. pretty hard, too. Fighting as a light heavyweight in his final pro bout on Nov. 8, 2008, in Madison Square Garden, Calzaghe was dropped by a Jones left hook in the first round, but dominated thereafter. He opened up a nasty gash over Jones’ left eye in Round 7 and rolled to a unanimous, 12-round decision, all three judges submitting scorecards favoring him by 118-109 margins.
OK, so Calzaghe wasn’t the kind of power-blaster who could turn somebody’s lights out with a single shot. But those 32 KOs he registered in going 46-0 as a pro are a testament to the value of accumulated damage.
“When he started boxing, I had a dream to make a human machine gun,” said Joe’s father-trainer, Enzo Calzaghe. “Remember, two shots in [a shotgun], one will miss. But a machine gun … I wanted Joe to throw punches in bunches, fast, fast, fast.
“I took the jab of Muhammad Ali, the speed of Sugar Ray Leonard and the southpaw force of [Marvelous Marvin] Hagler. When you put it together, it made a monster: Joe Calzaghe.”
The punch statistics from his career-ending domination of Jones, a future Hall of Famer himself, are telling. Calzaghe fired away 985 times, connecting on 38 percent, while Jones, who almost always had been a higher-volume puncher than his opponents, landed only 35 percent of his 475 attempts.
But it isn’t only Joe Calzaghe’s work rate that made him so special that he received a CBE – that’s Commander of the British Empire, an honor conferred upon him by Queen Elizabeth II herself a few months after his dismantling of Jones. It was his refuse-to-lose mindset.
“The fear of losing is the worst fear I ever had,” said Calzaghe, who took up boxing at 9, won his first schoolboy title at 13 and lost for the last time at 17, at which point he rattled off 56 consecutive amateur victories before crafting his unbeaten pro career.
And now “Slappy Joe,” whose sometimes-criticized style was nonetheless an undeniable artistic success, is a Hall of Famer.
The Marine Corps is always looking for a few good men.
In 1964, they found four of them at the U.S. Olympic Boxing Trials. Two – 125-pounder Charles Brown and 147-pounder Maurice Trilot – were part of the 10-man team that represented America at the Tokyo Olympics. Brown came back with a bronze medal.
But it is the two Marines who didn’t get to fight at that Olympiad, future Hall of Famers Ken Norton and Richard Steele, who had the greatest success in boxing. Norton went on to become WBC heavyweight champion, broke Muhammad Ali’s jaw and defeated him in the first of their three classic matchups and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992.
Norton, who was 70 when he died on Sept. 18, 2013, won three All-Marine heavyweight championships. His teammate, Richard Steele, was a two-time All-Marine champion as a 172-pounder and compiled a 12-4 record, with 10 knockouts, as a pro before he retired in 1970. But Steele didn’t stay out of the ring long, beginning a renowned career as a referee in 1972 that continued until his retirement in 2006. Steele, 71, now operates the Richard Steele Boxing Club in Las Vegas, and on Sunday he will join Norton as a Hall of Famer in an IBHOF 25th-anniversary class that also includes former champs Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad and Calzaghe, promoter Barry Hearn, journalist Graham Houston and photographer Neil Leifer.
On Saturday, Steele recalled the times when he, a more accomplished boxer, used to school Norton, who was nearly 40 pounds heavier but was still learning some of the finer points of the sport that would eventually make him famous.
“I’d hit Kenny and then get away fast,” Steele recalled. The two sparred frequently until Norton learned how to cut off Steele’s escape routes. And, well, that was that.
“I could handle him when we first started out, but over time he learned a couple of moves and it became apparent that he was just too big and strong for me,” continued Steele. “He hit me with an uppercut and I did a somersault. Broke three of my ribs. That was the end of me sparring with him.”
Steele was the third man in the ring for 167 world title bouts, including Aaron Pryor-Alexis Arguello I (his first major assignment), Hagler-Thomas Hearns, Leonard-Hagler, Julio Cesar Chavez-Meldrick Taylor I and Mike Tyson-Razor Ruddock I, one of five Tyson fights to which he was assigned. He credits his Marine training for his long career in boxing, on several levels.
“In my day, we won the Inter-Service Championship many years,” he said. “We had some of the best Marine Corps fighters ever. We took pride in being the best. Just going through Marine boot camp prepared you for any other kind of training. It was very easy for me to transition into boxing.”