by David P. Greisman (photo by Ed Mulholland/FightWireImages)
His father was a jazz musician turned boxing trainer. The son became a virtuoso who plucked from two philosophies, tuning them until they were in harmony.
One is an art form, groundbreaking and soul shaking, based on fundamentals of improvisation, originality and change. The other is a sweet science, flesh thudding and bone rattling, rooted in strategy, predictability and adjustment.
Joe Calzaghe found comfort in each, crafting a style all his own, one of rhapsody, rhythm and beatings, a symphony when on key. His latest masterpiece may have been his last, a high note for a composer on the grandest stage of all.
In the boxing mecca of Madison Square Garden, Calzaghe took what could end up as his final bow, raising his gloved hands toward the rafters after landing those same fists 344 times on the face and frame of Roy Jones Jr.
Less than an hour earlier, those gloves rested on the canvas, Calzaghe hunched over and hurt just two minutes into the fight. For so long Calzaghe had been criticized for slapping with his shots rather than turning his punches over. Yet in this first round it was Jones who had landed a damaging blow with his right forearm.
That brought blood from the bridge of Calzaghe’s nose and fire from his veins. Against Bernard Hopkins seven months prior, Calzaghe had recovered from a flash knockdown in the opening stanza and rallied back en route to a split-decision victory. There would be no controversy this time. Calzaghe never lost another round.
Jones, emboldened by his early success, began to showboat, dipping his head forward, dropping his gloves and unleashing unorthodox flurries and counters from unexpected angles. Calzaghe, himself no stranger to grandstanding, brought his hands to his waist and rested his face within tempting proximity, occasionally keeping his forehead mere inches away from Jones’ arms, pulling away only when his opponent took the bait.
Each pot-shotted. Each shoe-shined. Each danced. Jones had raised roosters at his Florida panhandle ranch. Now these two were cockfighting, heads forward, strutting, spurring each other on.
Jones was winging it for old time’s sake. There he was, in the ring with the best light heavyweight in the world. Five years ago that had been him. Five years ago to the day, Jones had earned his last win over a top 175-pound fighter. On that night he had been tested in a give-and-take affair against Antonio Tarver, Jones’ first fight since he’d challenged John Ruiz and became the first former middleweight to capture a heavyweight title in more than 100 years.
Six months after outpointing Tarver, Jones found himself in a rematch and in an unfamiliar position – on his back. The one-punch knockout would be the first of three straight losses, the end of an era that dated back to the previous decade.
Jones could have retired in 2004, when Glen Johnson left him unconscious. Jones could have retired in 2005, when he celebrated the moral victory of lasting the distance in a rubber match with Tarver. He continued on, though, fighting once in 2006 and once again in 2007, a fading superstar facing lesser names on smaller shows.
He won, and he won again in January when the spotlight finally returned, when the smaller, slower, rustier Felix Trinidad came back to boxing and allowed Jones to show off what remained of the speed and skills that once made him stand out.
Jones could have continued on the senior tour on which so many of his fellow aging contemporaries have embarked, the rich seeking to stay relevant. His best no longer made him better than the rest, but instead he chose to step into the role of challenger, one final test of what he had left.
In the opening rounds, Jones, 39, was competent and competitive but far from comparable to Calzaghe, who at 36 and undefeated through 45 fights was still outclassing all comers. Calzaghe dug right hooks into Jones’ side, sent straight left hands into Jones’ mug, brought blood flowing from over Jones’ left eye and showed himself, against a man who was a legend in his own time, to be a cut above.
“I’m trying to get him,” Jones said in his corner before the ninth round began. “I can’t get him.”
Jones couldn’t get him 316 times. Of the 475 punches Jones threw, he landed just one-third, an average of just 13 a round. That output just about matched the work rate of Jones’ last three fights, in which he landed 14 of 37 shots for every three minutes. In his prime years, between 1998 and 2002, Jones still threw only 39 punches per round, but he would land an average of 20, a connect percentage of better than 50 percent.
Forty-five percent of Jones’ power punches landed against Calzaghe. But Calzaghe, as he has done in the past, adjusted early in the fight, ducking to his right to make many of Jones’ crosses, which had landed before, miss their target. And when he wasn’t elusive, he was active, hitting Jones with more punches than anyone else ever had before – 344. Calzaghe more than doubled Jones in number of shots landed, hitting him nearly 29 times a round.
What Jones could still do, Calzaghe could do better. So as Jones followed Calzaghe around the ring, attempting to land, Calzaghe had little difficulty strafing the person in front of him. And when Jones went to the ropes, Calzaghe was there with a flurry, never letting him rest.
All three judges at ringside saw Calzaghe the easy victor, 118-109, each scoring the first three minutes 10-8 to Jones and then giving Calzaghe every round after.
It was a fitting coda to Calzaghe’s career.
The final movements to his symphony included victories over previously undefeated titlists in Jeff Lacy and Mikkel Kessler and experienced future Hall of Fame inductees in Hopkins and Jones. He cleared out the super-middleweight division and then inserted himself into the top echelon of light heavyweights. Calzaghe mentioned retirement before this latest bout. Though he has not yet made a decision, this last win would prove a suitable swan song.
The 10 Count
1. With the cancellation of ESPN2’s “Wednesday Night Fights” and, now, Telefutura’s “Solo Boxeo” series, the Sweet Science will probably become even more reliant on the pay-per-view and premium cable realms.
“Solo Boxeo,” which started on Univision in 2000 and moved to Telefutura two years later, will wrap up in December as a result of the network looking to save money on one of its priciest programs, according to ESPN.com scribe Dan Rafael.
“Solo Boxeo” ran some 48 days a year, paying promoters a license fee of approximately $60,000 to put on what often were some very good fights. “Wednesday Night Fights,” which was canned for the same reason, complemented ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights” and delivered the occasional entertaining card, too.
Suddenly numerous fighters who are not able to make it onto HBO or Showtime will have but two regular options for exposure: “Friday Night Fights” or cable station Versus. Budding prospects will have a more difficult path to stardom. And boxing will be seen by fewer and fewer.
2. It’s a shame, too, because “Solo Boxeo” last week brought a candidate for fight of the year in Rogers Mtagwa’s dramatic knockout of Tomas Villa. That bout alone had far more excitement than the three offerings on the lousy Calzaghe-Jones undercard.
3. At least HBO commentator Max Kellerman was able to provide this unintentional gem when, during one undercard bout, he spoke of Joe Calzaghe with brilliant logic: “Undefeated fighters are hard to beat.”
4. Politics and Pugilism: Though Joe Mesi remains undefeated in the ring, the same cannot be said about his foray into the electoral world.
Mesi was vying for a seat in New York’s state senate, having gained the Democratic Party’s nomination with a win in September’s primary election. Last Tuesday, however, ended with Republican candidate Mike Ranzenhofer (whose name I misspelled two months ago) on top, 54 percent to 46 percent.
“I think I did well for a first-time candidate,” Mesi told the Tonawanda News. “We said back in March that this was going to be a competitive race, so it’s no surprise to us. We knew we were going to be outspent in a Republican district, but we overcame a lot.”
Mesi’s campaign received $774,024.46, spending $551,173.32, according to the most recent filings with the New York State Board of Elections. In contrast, Ranzenhofer’s bid took in $1,049,067.15 in funds, spending $706,359.46.
Mesi last appeared in the ring in October 2007, taking out Shannon Miller in less than three minutes. At 36-0 (29 knockouts), perhaps this once touted heavyweight prospect will now return to settling matters with his fists.
5. Aussie Aussie Aussie (Oy): Beautiful one-punch knockout last week from Ahmed Elomar, who landed said shot on the previously unbeaten William Kickett. Not as pretty? The melee that followed both in the ring and in the crowd.
6. The extracurricular activity following Elomar-Kickett was nothing compared to that after Riddick Bowe-Andrew Golota in Madison Square Garden, but, well, that 1996 riot was precipitated by Golota’s fouls upon a different kind of Down Under.
7. Boxers Behaving Badly update: A Texas middleweight who was on trial for allegedly beating a man to death in June 2007 has been sentenced to 10 years of probation, according to the Associated Press.
Kurtiss Colvin, a 22-year-old who has yet to have his first professional fight, was found guilty last month of aggravated assault with serious bodily injury. He had previously been charged with manslaughter after allegedly punching and killing a 40-year-old man who apparently had been riding in a car that accidentally struck a child in east Austin.
The child suffered minor injuries. The man and the car’s driver exited their vehicle, only to be attacked, police said. Colvin was accused of punching the man and leading the assault. He had faced up to 20 years in prison.
8. Dodgeball, an occasional update: On a mixed Monday night, the Washington Redskins were outclassed against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but Aim Low showed its strength with a dominant victory over Ball Dodgers GB. Though some players were nursing injuries, the team played nearly flawless dodgeball, triumphing by a 6-0 margin. Team record: 3-0. This past week’s post-game beer of choice: Smithwick’s Imported Irish Ale.
9. Great moments in boxing history: Trenton Titsworth and Jesse Vargas were fighting on the non-televised undercard to HBO’s Oct. 4 “Boxing After Dark” broadcast. Jim Lampley, Max Kellerman, Lennox Lewis and Harold Lederman were nevertheless ringside and commentating for a scene that HBO thankfully uploaded for our enjoyment onto YouTube.
Jim: A sudden awakening for Trenton Titsworth along the ropes. Mostly he’s holding.
Lennox: Titsworth is talking in there. He needs to be throwing some punches in there and not talking.
Jim: Now Titsworth goes down after the punch which Vargas threw on the break, and which the referee is going to rule was an illegal punch. It looks as though Titsworth might think that his jaw has been broken, Lennox, or the orbital bone. One of the two.
Referee David Denkin: I got timeout. This fighter [points to Titsworth], unsportsmanlike conduct, kissing that fighter. You do not kiss a fighter. One point. Two points, intentional. Two points. [Points to Vargas] One point for him hitting back. One point. One point. Okay. [Points to Titsworth] Two points.
Max: Two points for kissing?
Denkin: You’re going to get disqualified, got it? Because you’re unsportsmanlike. Now box. This is your last chance, or I’m disqualifying you. Let’s go. Got it? You understand? Box.
Jim: I’m told that our crack production team has the Titsworth kiss. And we will see the curse of the Titsworth kiss.
Lennox: Well Vargas definitely did not like being kissed.
Jim: Let’s see what prompted the two-point penalty. The Trenton Titsworth kiss. And there it is. Indeed, he kissed Vargas behind the ear, which prompted Vargas to knock the living shit out of him. A lot of guys will do that when you kiss them.
Lewis: Yeah, I think I would act the same way as well.
Max: You know, I’ve never seen a referee change his mind in the middle of a point deduction and say, “One point, you know what, two points, it was intentional.” And I thought the ref did a hell of a job.
Jim: He was assertive, that’s for sure. No nonsense.
Lennox: How can you say you never meant it?
Jim: Harold, how do you have it scored through three?
Harold: The intentional kiss rule. In round three, David Denkin took a point away from Jesse Vargas so he gets nine. Titsworth lost two points so he gets seven.
Jim: And though kissing has been ruled out, Titsworth shows he can still hug, as he’s been holding Vargas for the early part of this round.
Max: With a name like Titsworth, he’s lucky he didn’t feel him up. I wonder how many points come off for that move.
Harold: Three points.
10. Al Michaels had “Do you believe in miracles?” Howard Cosell had “Down goes Frazier!” Max Kellerman, your place in the broadcasting pantheon may forever be defined by an iconic call of your own: “Two points for kissing.”
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. He may be reached for questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
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