Sunday, April 20, 2008

Calzaghe reigns supreme over Hopkins

By JE Grant

Joe Calzaghe made his way to America for the first time in his 45-fight career and made the most of it by capturing the World Light-Heavyweight Championship from the wily Bernard Hopkins April 20 in Las Vegas.

Calzaghe, 45-0 (32 KOs), Wales, United Kingdom, 173, threw more and landed more of every type of punch, while pressuring  the 43 year old champion throughout the contest.

In the opening round, Hopkins, 48-5-1, 1NC (32 KOs), Philadelphia, 173, sought to move and tie-up the charging Calzaghe. Early in the round Hopkins caught Calzaghe with a well-timed, sharp right hand that deposited the challenger on his pants. That punch, which did not appear to hurt Calzaghe, was the only moment in the round that belonged to Hopkins but it nevertheless gave him the only 10-8 round of the bout.

Calzaghe’s slashing (or maybe even slapping) punches in round two gave him the the round and set the tone for the remainder of the fight. He chased and slapped home a series of punches all in an effort to at least touch Hopkins in all his cagey splendor.

For his part Hopkins predictably moved, clinched, delayed and occasionally threw single punches designed to steal rounds. He mounted almost no sustained offensive, rarely landed a jab and did not seem intent on doing any real damage. It was clear his main goal was to get late into the fight in the hopes an energetic Calzaghe would fade. He didn’t.

Round after round of the same ugliness continued until the final bell. From round 5 forward Calzaghe’s flow of punches increased and the frustration of Hopkins led to less and less offensive output. 

Hopkins even reached into his bag of tricks when, in the 10th round, Calzaghe landed a marginally low blow with questionable velocity or power. Referee Joe Cortez gave Hopkins took several minutes to recuperate but wisely ruled that no point would be deducted. Although only Hopkins knows for sure the severity of the pain, one must contemplate the possibility that his tank was running low and he needed the breather.

When queried about his measured offense, Hopkins offered what he thought was an insight to his skill.

"I was just pacing myself for the long haul," he told HBO’s Max Kellerman. It actually appeared that he was marshaling a dwindling reservoir of energy.

Scoring of the split vote was odd. Chuck Giampa scored it 116-111 Calzaghe, Ted Gimza had it 115-112 for Calzaghe, and Adalaide Byrd somehow tallied the bout 114-113 for Hopkins. JEBoxing agreed with Giampa at 116-111.

The win gives Calzaghe the long-awaited recognition on this side of the Atlantic that escaped him as he defended his super-middleweight belt in Europe 21 times. Many (including this writer) criticized his opponent selection along the way.

His more recent victories over the previously undefeated beltholders Jeff Lacy and Mikkel Kessler, while eliminating any doubts as to his grit and ability, left only the need for a major win in America to firmly place him near the top of today’s pound-for-pound roster.

His win over Hopkins, however ugly it was, established Calzaghe as a premier fighter on a world stage.

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