By Sammy Rozenberg
A historic night at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. In his very first fight in the United States, Joe Calzaghe (45-0, 32KOs) sealed his legacy by winning a split-decision over recognized light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins (48-5, 32KOs). The scores were 114-113 Hopkins, 115-112 Calzaghe and 116-111 for Calzaghe.
Calzaghe, 36, did not get off to a good start. Hopkins, 43, dropped him with a right hand in the very first round and began to bully Calzaghe on the inside. As the rounds went on, Calzaghe began to get his rhythm going by landing combinations at close range, and using his left hand to push Hopkins back. Hopkins’ key weapon was his right hand, but after a few rounds Calzaghe could see the right hands coming and blocked the shots with his glove.
The fight was ugly, as many boxing pundits expected, with a lot of holding initiated by Hopkins and roughhouse tactics by both fighters. According to CompuBox, Calzaghe landed more punches on Hopkins than any of his previous opponents.
“The knockdown in the first round was a flash. I wasn’t hurt. I knew it would be ugly, but a win is a win. Maybe I’ll fight Roy Jones Jr. next. I’ll have to talk to my team and see what we plan to do,” Calzaghe said.
Hopkins felt he was robbed of an easy decision and although he vowed that Calzaghe would be his last fight before retirement, he left the door open for yet another ring return in the future.
“I won a unanimous decision and I made it look relatively easy. I knocked him down. I controlled the pace. I made him fight my fight,” Hopkins said. “I’ll talk with my partners at Golden Boy Promotions and my wife and make a decision on what I plan to do next.”
They simultaneously ruled their respective weight divisions for ten-years, but their life stories are worlds apart.
The life of Bernard Hopkins has been a wild one. During his teenage years, Hopkins was not competing in the amateurs or even thinking boxing. He was trying to survive on the streets of Philadelphia by robbing hustlers. He paid the price as some of the people he robbed would retaliate. Hopkins was stabbed three times during his youth, twice in the back and once near his heart. The wound near his heart almost caused him to bleed to death and he spent 30-days in the hospital as a result.
Hopkins was later sentenced to 18-years in prison for nine felonies, but only spent five-years behind bars. It was at Graterford State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania, that Hopkins, prisoner number Y4145, began to learn the sport of boxing. After his release from prison, Hopkins vowed never to return and began training for a career in boxing.
He turned pro on October 11, 1988, and lost a light heavyweight contest to Clinton Mitchell by majority decision. He stay out of the ring until February 22, 1990, returning to the ring as a middleweight to win his first pro fight against Greg Paige. The win over Paige would begin a 22-fight win streak. He woundn't lose again until 1993, when he was outpointed by another future superstar in Roy Jones Jr.
In December of 1994, Hopkins won his first world championship, the IBF middleweight belt, with a seventh-round knockout of Segundo Mercado. For years, Hopkins was living in the shadows of the sport. He finally came out of the shadows in 2001, when he agreed to take part in Don King's middleweight tournament to unify the titles. He would decision Keith Holmes in April 2001 to win the WBC's version of the middleweight title. In the final bout of the tournament in September 01, Hopkins, a sizable underdog, dominated and stopped the undefeated Felix Trinidad before a hostile crowd in New York's Madison Square Garden.
It took a few years before we saw take part in another mega-fight, this time with Oscar De La Hoya in 2004. He stopped De La Hoya in nine-rounds with a bodyshot to the liver. It was the first and only time that De La Hoya was ever stopped as pro. He also picked up De La Hoya's WBO middleweight title, becoming the first fighter in the history of the sport to simultaneously hold the WBO/WBA/IBF/WBA titles. Not long after his bout with De La Hoya, he became a partner in De La Hoya's new promotional company, Golden Boy Promotions.
He made a record 20 middleweight title defenses before losing for the fist time in twelve-years to Jermain Taylor in 2005. A rematch later that year would see Hopkins lose another decision to Taylor. After spending almost his entire career at middleweight, Hopkins made a decision to move up by two weight divisions to challenge the recognized champion at light heavyweight, Antonio Tarver. Once again playing the role of the underdog, Hopkins would enter the ring in 2006 to unexpectedly dominate Tarver for all twelve-rounds. He retired afterwards, but returned in 2007 to decision Winky Wright at a catch-weight of 170-pounds.
Hopkins has nothing left to prove in the sport. The best option right now is retirement, but Hopkins appears to have a hard time staying away from the ring.
While Hopkins was running the streets in Philadelphia, across the ocean in Wales, Calzaghe was growing up like the average career boxer. He began fighting at the age of nine and had over 120 amateur fights. He won four schoolboy ABA titles and three consecutive senior British ABA titles (British Championships) from 1991 to 1993. Several reports have said that Calzaghe only lost a single amateur bout. On the undercard to Lennox Lewis-Frank Bruno in October of 1993, Calzaghe made his pro debut by stopping Paul Hanlon in the first round.
In November of 1996, Calzaghe signed up with one of the most well-known promoters in the UK, Frank Warren. It was Warren who carefully guided Calzaghe pro career and made him a superstar in Britain. One October 11, 1997, Calzaghe beat aging British icon Chris Eubank to win the WBO super middleweight title.
It wasn't until March of 2006 that Calzaghe began to make a name for himself in America. He went up against IBF champion Jeff Lacy in a unification bout. Lacy was a heavy favorite to win in every corner of the sport. Even UK writers had listed Calzaghe as the underdog. He proved the critics wrong by easily dominating Lacy for a twelve-round decision.
In November of 2007, Calzaghe would score the biggest win of his career by winning a twelve-round decision over unbeaten WBC/WBA champion Mikkel Kessler to unify the super middleweight division. With the win over Kessler, Calzaghe's 21st defense of the title, he broke the consecutive title defense streak of Hopkins.
It took him a long time to come across the ocean to America, but now he is here. A lot of options are in front of him, including Roy Jones, Kelly Pavlik, Chad Dawson, Antonio Tarver, Felix Trinidad and even a Hopkins rematch.
On the undercard;
Heavyweight Audley Harrison (22-3, 16KOs) stopped Jason Barnett (10-7, 4KOs) in five-rounds to get his career back on track.
Junior welterweight prospect Danny Garcia (5-0, 5KOs) destroyed Guadalupe Diaz (4-3-1, 1KOs). Garcia is slated to return to action on the June 7 undercard to Kelly Pavlik-Gary Lockett at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
Middleweight prospect Danny Jacobs (5-0, 5KOs) had the longest bout of his short pro career when it took him four-rounds to stop Leshon Sims (5-8, 3KOs). Jacobs dropped Sims in the third and fourth.
Lightweight Hylon Williams (1-0, 0KOs), 17-years-old, made his pro debut with a four-round unanimous decision over Marcos Mendias (0-2, 0KOs). Williams was an excellent amateur star, winning numerous titles and compiled a record of 145-20. He is also slated to fight again on the undercard to Pavlik-Lockett on June 7.