Calzaghe Laments Abandoned Tradition

Joe Calzaghe wants more of the world’s leading fighters to remain at and build their legacies in their natural weight divisions.

The 51-year-old recently celebrated 15 years in retirement, having last fought when he improved his record to 46-0 with victory over the once-great Roy Jones Jr. By the time of that fight at Madison Square Garden in New York he had established himself as not only the finest super middleweight of his era, but among the finest of all time.

Calzaghe’s reign as world champion started in 1997 when he won the vacant super middleweight title against Chris Eubank and ended an impressive 10 years later, when after further notable victories over, among others, Robin Reid, Richie Woodhall and Jeff Lacy, against Mikkel Kessler he unified the titles of the WBA, WBC and WBO.

He next proceeded to, in his final two fights, dethrone Bernard Hopkins as the Ring Magazine’s light heavyweight champion, and at the same weight outbox Jones Jr, but did so at a time when his legacy at 168lbs was already secure. 

In the modern era Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, among Calzaghe’s successors as the world’s leading super middleweight, has twice abandoned and returned to his favoured division to instead fight at light heavyweight – in victory over Sergey Kovalev and in defeat by Dmitrii Bivol. Speculation also persists that in 2024 he will fight Terence Crawford, the world’s leading welterweight, at 168lbs.

Crawford, not unlike Alvarez, recently established himself as his division’s undisputed champion, but he will be leaving behind a perhaps more essential fight against Jarron “Boots” Ennis if he moves up. Alvarez also previously defeated Jermell Charlo, who as the undisputed light middleweight champion had the chance to reign as Calzaghe did at super middleweight, but instead chose to fight the Mexican who remains the sport’s most lucrative draw. 

By the time Calzaghe and Hopkins fought in Las Vegas in 2008 the Welshman was no longer capable of safely making the super middleweight limit. At a time when attention is focused on Junto Nakatani’s attempts to become a champion in a third weight division – at bantamweight against Alexandro Santiago – and Nakatani’s compatriot Naoya Inoue, a four division champion, has spoken of his plans to remain and reign at super bantamweight, Calzaghe said: “I stayed at super middleweight for 14 years. I killed myself to stay at super middleweight. 

“I’m going to be biased. [But] before [in 2006 beating] Lacy I was struggling, and there was a [possible] fight at light heavyweight – in 2005; I’d had a couple of not-great performances – against Glen Johnson. 

“He was light heavyweight champion – and it’s mad how things work. I was going to fight him, because a fighter called Mario Velt who I [in 2001] knocked out in the first round was mandatory – he became number-one challenger [for a rematch in 2005].

“I remember Frank [Warren, my promoter] saying Sky wouldn’t buy that fight – there’s no money in it, so I was going to fight Glen Johnson. But I got injured again, the fight didn’t happen; I stayed at super middleweight, and the gentleman that won the purse bid actually paid a load of money for [the rematch with Velt] so I was pretty happy and went over and beat him in five rounds – although it wasn’t televised over here [In the UK]. 

“The year after that, the [career-defining] Lacy fight came along. But it’s crazy what would have happened – I might have stepped up to light heavyweight. Being injured was probably a good thing, because everything took off as a super middleweight after that; my legacy as a super middleweight. I could have moved up in weight, won that fight and gone back in weight, but legacy-wise, me staying at that weight and winning all the belts… I’m old school. ‘Be the best in your division.’”

In the modern era Mikey Garcia is an example of a high-profile fighter who perhaps damaged his reputation when in 2019 he moved up to welterweight from lightweight to fight and ultimately lose to Errol Spence. A kinder route contributed to Adrien Broner being described as a “four-division champion” which flatters him in the context of comparisons with fighters like Calzaghe and others of earlier eras – Kostya Tszyu and Marvin Hagler are others – who built their reputations on their success at a solitary weight.

“Unfortunately the politics of boxing – it’s very hard to get all of the belts,” Calzaghe continued. “It’s very hard to have unified champions. That’s the only thing I dislike about boxing – in this day and age you’ve got fighters avoiding each other. The heavyweights are a prime example. It’s all about the money. You’ve got [Anthony] 

Joshua; [Oleksandr] Usyk; [Deontay] Wilder and [Tyson] Fury. Why are them guys not fighting each other? 

“It frustrates me as a boxing fan – f****** just get them in the ring. They’re avoiding each other to make paydays with other people and fight other people, but I think that’s just the way it is now – there’s so much money involved. 

“I didn’t have that situation when I was fighting. If somebody said to me, ‘Here’s £10m – fight this guy’, it’d be hard to turn down wouldn’t it? The dynamics are different. It’s a bit frustrating for the purist boxing fans hoping those fights are going to happen, but it’s best to stay at one weight and dominate the weight and win all the belts. It’s rare to go up and down in weight, but it’s also rare to be the undisputed champion.”