Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Boxing Notes

It's been awhile, but there's a few thoughts I'd like to get off my chest.

First, Joe Calzaghe (46-0, 32 KOs), just coming off a decisive win over former pound-for-pound best Roy Jones Jr. (52-5, 38 KOs). Joe Cool has been talking retirement for awhile, and if he does, he's had a great career -- probably the best Super Middleweight of all time in the relatively new division.

But let's be clear on why Calzaghe isn't getting all the respect he thinks he deserves. For a long time, Calzaghe was perceived to be a typical sheltered European champion. There's a reason for that: he was. After winning the title from Chris Eubank in 1997, Calzaghe took a string of defenses against fighters ranging from solid to unremarkable. That's why when he took the fight against Jeff Lacy, then considered to be the next big thing in boxing, many were expecting Calzaghe to be smoked. To his credit, he proved everyone wrong -- dominating Lacy and essentially destroying the younger man's career.

Since then he has fought and won two more marquee battles: a wide victory against consensus #2 man Mikkel Kessler, and a split decision victory against Bernard Hopkins -- a win that, even if somewhat disputed, is significantly more impressive after Hopkins' subsequent demolition of Kelly Pavlik.

Those are all stellar wins. But by themselves, they are not enough for the living legend status Joe seems to covet. He really doesn't seem to understand that he hasn't been spending his whole career, or even most of his career, fighting the best opposition available. He really seems to think that his victory over a way-past-his-prime Roy Jones is a big deal. Is it true, as he says, that there always is and always will be some young gun coming up whom he "has to" fight (as an excuse to duck Chad Dawson)? Yes, but it's not like Calzaghe has spent the last decade fighting burgeoning superstars (let alone already established ones).

Contrast Calzaghe to current P4P #1 Manny Pacquiao, and the distinction becomes clear. After ascending to the elite levels of the sport, Pacquiao has been, over and over again, fighting the absolute best fighters he could find. Two fights against Marco Antonio Barrera. Three fights against Erik Morales. Two fights against Juan Manuel Marquez. Even his "easy" fights are still against pretty high level guys -- like Oscar Larios and Jorge Solis. And he continues to challenge himself, by stepping up in weight to thrash David Diaz, and then balloon way up in a fight against future hall of famer Oscar de la Hoya.

You become a legend by fighting, over and over, the best guys you can find. Calzaghe thinks he can slide into that status after a handful of (very, very) good wins. He doesn't get it.

.... Contender 3 champion Sakio Bika (26-3-2, 16 KOs) fights Contender 1 runner-up Peter Manfredo (31-5, 16 KOs) tomorrow night on Versus. I worry about Bika's ability to win a decision against the "Pride of Providence" in Providence. It's a good fight though, against two guys who (haters of The Contender notwithstanding) are properly labeled "fringe contenders" rather than "journeymen". Also on the card, Season 2 champion Grady Brewer (23-11, 13 KOs) taking on fellow Season 2 participant Cornelius "K9" Bundridge (28-3, 16 KOs). I expect Brewer, who really was a journeyman prior to his upset triumph, to struggle after a long layoff against K9, who has some career momentum even if we saw the likely ceiling on his talent after his thrashing at the hands of Joel Julio.

.... Finally, can I give out an ode to Teddy Atlas? He is under appreciated in boxing, I think, calling fights on ESPN. But he really knows his stuff, has a passion for the game and for the fighters, and best of all, always illustrates his points using delightfully bizarre sports analogies ripped from the athletic event of the day ("Speaking of the World Series, I think Smith needs to be the foul pole in this contest. Stay upright and on the outside -- tempt his opponent into going for the long ball..."). Plus, he rocks the Staten Island accident which makes him sound like he's been punched a couple too many times. He's really an asset to the sport, and that's no joke.

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