Joe Calzaghe retired from boxing last month. Calzaghe was generally regarded as the top fighter active in the 168 and 175 pound divisions. Debate about his career tends to center on whether he was merely a good fighter in a weak era, a great fighter, or an all-time great. I think he was a great fighter, who could have held his own with any boxer in his weight class, from any era; he was perhaps the most skilled boxer active when he retired, handicapped only by rather fragile hands.
The most obvious aspect of Calzaghe’s technique is his tremendously high work rate. He averaged perhaps 70 punches per round, and could easily throw over 100. He was also notable for fighting every minute of every round, evincing superb conditioning. Although I wouldn’t characterize Calzaghe as a “pressure” fighter (as that term suggests a swarmer, who leads with his face as much as his fists) his constant activity and relentless assault would often overwhelm an under-prepared opponent, and tire any man who faced him.
For example: vs. Lacy, Manfredo.
Movement and Defense
Calzaghe was a hard man to hit, and a a harder man to hit cleanly. He was a master of reading and timing his opponent, and could fight effectively with his hands by his sides. In tougher matches, Calzaghe seemed always to be an inch or two out of position to be hit cleanly, so that his opponents blows lost much of their force.
For example: vs. Lacy, Jones.
Although rarely tested, due to his aforementioned defense, Calzaghe also possessed a tremendous chin. He could take a punch as well as any fighter in the game. This meant that even those opponents who could pierce his defense would be frustrated, as their blows would not suffice to deter Calzaghe from his game-plan, let alone stop him.
For example: vs. Eubank, Kessler.
Calzaghe, was, in my opinion, the smartest fighter of his era. Watching his matches, one can see him studying his opponent, and adopting his style to pair his strengths against his adversary’s weaknesses. Perhaps this is best illustrated by Bernard Hopkins’ assessment that he (Hopkins) had Calzaghe fighting his fight …. for half the match.
For example: vs. Hopkins, Jones.
Calzaghe has fragile hands, which troubled him throughout his career. Despite them, he was able to retire with an undefeated record, having beaten every man he faced. While this is a tribute to his skill, those hands would be undeniable handicaps when facing an equally skilled fighter from another era in a fanciful, all-time-great matchup.
Calzaghe was a great boxer. No one ever beat him, and there is no one active today who can plausibly claim that he would be likely to. It was a treat to watch him fight, and to see him overcome his one weakness.