On May 22, 1993 Roy Jones used his gifts of speed and improvisation to capture a 116-112 decision (3x) over Bernard Hopkins and with it the vacant IBF middleweight title. In doing so, Jones landed 206 of his 594 punches, including 49 percent of his 357 power shots.
It would be nearly 15 years before another opponent would enjoy such offensive success against "The Executioner," who in his later years had developed a sophisticated defensive shield that not only limited his foes’ success but also their willingness to test it. But on Saturday longtime super middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe, another creative speed-oriented ring master, eventually solved the riddle and won Hopkins’ Ring Magazine light heavyweight belt by landing 232 blows, breaking Jones’ record by 26. The split decision that should have been unanimous was perhaps the crowning moment of Calzaghe’s career because he soundly defeated his most celebrated opponent in that opponent’s home country – the United States.
In the end, Calzaghe proved to be as statistically dominant as he was strategically. CompuBox compiles round-by-round statistics in three categories – jabs, power punches and overall punches – and out of a possible 36 rounds Calzaghe amassed a 33-1-2 advantage. The only round Hopkins "won" was the jabs in round two when he was 1 of 4 to Calzaghe’s 0 of 15, and the two "draws" were also jab rounds – round one in which neither man landed a jab, and round six when each connected on three.
At first, Hopkins appeared to pull Calzaghe into his web as he scored a first-round knockdown and held Calzaghe’s high-octane offense in check in round two. In those rounds, Hopkins limited Calzaghe to 35 punches per round and the challenger didn’t land any of his 33 jabs. Calzaghe looked uncomfortable and out of sorts as he was out-muscled and out-maneuvered at close range, and Hopkins’ "less is more" approach paid dividends. Although Calzaghe had a 20-12 connect advantage overall, Hopkins’ powerfully accurate counter rights and Einstein-like ring intelligence enabled him to seemingly establish the rules of engagement. The key word, however, is "seemingly."
All of that changed in round three as Calzaghe settled down and began to piece together the offensive elements that make him a special fighter. First, Calzaghe threw 23 jabs, which set the table for a 70-punch round that saw him connect with more punches (23) than the previous two rounds combined (20). Such was also the case in his power punch output as he landed 19 of 47, which nearly matched the 20 of 47 he posted in the first two stanza. Meanwhile, Hopkins was just 10 of 45 in the third.
From that point forward, it was off to the races for the Welshman.
As Calzaghe gained confidence, the ingredients of his success came together and the statistical gaps he created reached definitive levels. From rounds three through 12, Calzaghe was 212 of 570 (37 percent) while Hopkins was 115 of 424 (27 percent), averaging nearly 10 more connects per round.
The gulf in offensive success was most glaring in the final half of the bout, when Calzaghe totaled 20 or more connects in each round while Hopkins had fewer than 20 connects (his high water mark was in the eighth when he landed 15).
Because of the fight’s guerrilla warfare nature, the jab wasn’t a factor for either. Calzaghe was 45 of 224 (20 percent) while Hopkins was a mere 11 of 93 (12 percent). In 10 of the 12 rounds Hopkins landed one or fewer jabs while Calzaghe landed four or more jabs in eight rounds, including all of the final six. In power punches, Calzaghe was 187 of 483 (39 percent) and Hopkins was 116 of 375 (31 percent), meaning Calzaghe landed nearly six additional power shots per round.
At age 43, Hopkins is a physiological marvel and he long ago stamped himself as a future Hall of Famer and one of the best, most accomplished fighters of his era. But the combination of time and a younger man’s difficult style proved to be too much even for a fighter of Hopkins’ acumen. Hopkins said he had "a big announcement" after the fight which some interpreted as his retirement. The loss may push him to do just that.
As for the 36-year-old Calzaghe, many options await – Antonio Tarver, Glen Johnson, Roy Jones and Chad Dawson at light heavyweight or perhaps Kelly Pavlik at 168. No matter what route he chooses, however, the fact remains that he is one of the very best this sport has to offer and like Hopkins before him he has that status at an age that usually meant the end for previous generations of fighters.
In other words, "the end" may just be the beginning of something huge for Calzaghe.