Joe Calzaghe vs Bernard Hopkins
April 19th marked the twelfth anniversary of Joe Calzaghe’s stateside triumph over Bernard Hopkins. I remember watching the bout as a thirteen-year-old and staying up to the early hours to observe it live. From my recollection, it was a contest that was somewhat lacking in action, barring a Hopkins knockdown of Calzaghe early on. Calzaghe availed with a split-decision victory on the scorecards, much to the disdain of Hopkins, who was adamant he won, claiming he “took Calzaghe to school” and “made Calzaghe fight the fight he wanted”.
With the lack of boxing action due to the COVID-19 epidemic, many boxing fans are revisiting fights of yesteryear for their fix of pugilistic pleasure, myself included. Therefore I decided to revisit the Calzaghe Hopkins contest and score it as I saw it.
As a Calzaghe fan, I tried to score the fight as objectively as I could, and if anything, tried to be favourable to Hopkins to avoid any bias.
Calzaghe reigned as world champion in the super-middleweight division for ten years. He had high profile unification fights against the likes of touted superstar Jeff Lacy, and a then-undefeated Mikkel Kessler, and at one point or another, held each of the big four recognised world titles along with the coveted Ring Magazine title.
After the undisputed victory against Kessler in 2007, Southpaw Calzaghe set his sights on cementing his legacy by moving up to the light-heavyweight division to take on the legends of the sport. He earmarked Roy Jones Jr as a potential opponent, but also Bernard Hopkins, who long ruled the 160lbs division.
In 2005 Hopkins lost his middleweight crown with successive blemishes at the hands of Jermaine Taylor, which left Hopkins looking to move up in division. He skipped super-middle where Calzaghe was competing, to fight at light-heavy and take on domestic rival Antonio Tarver, for the Ring Magazine 172lb title along with the lowly regarded IBO title.
Despite Tarver being fresh from his triumph over Roy Jones Jr in their rubber match, ‘The Executioner’ took Tarver to school, and cruised to a UD decision. After Hopkins beat Tarver, the Phillie native followed up with a win against Ronald ‘Winky’ Wright. After his victory, he called out Calzaghe, who was due to fight Kessler, a bout that would be his final at 168lbs.
After his victory over the ‘Viking Warrior,’ Calzaghe signalled he would likely look to move up. Not weeks after his monumental victory over Kessler, the Newbridge boy travelled to Las Vegas in support of fellow Brit Ricky Hatton, when the ‘Hitman’ famously fought Floyd Mayweather. It just also so happened that Golden Boy supremo, Bernard Hopkins was also in attendance.
Over the course of fight week, Hopkins and Calzaghe clashed several times. Firstly Hopkins taunted Calzaghe as he filmed an HBO fight preview clip. They then squared up on stage at Hatton’s weigh-in, and had to be separated, before meeting later in a lobby. This would be the scene of Hopkins’ infamous and frankly distasteful “I would never let a white boy beat me” rant, which was recently echoed by young superstar Devin Haney, something which he has apologised for.
After a period of short negotiations between Calzaghe, then 44-0-0, and Hopkins, then 48-4-1, a deal was made for a bout on April 19th, 2008 at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas.
As ever, Joe was trained by his late-great father, Enzo Calzaghe, whereas Hopkins had a trio of trainers accompanying him to the ring in the shape of Freddie Roach, Nazim Richardson and former opponent, John David Jackson.
There was a decent undercard with big names like Audley Harrison and Nathan Cleverly, but also young superstars in the making, such as Danny Garcia, Danny Jacobs and Jermell Charlo, who have each gone onto become superstars and world champions.
Just after the legendary Michael Buffer called the fighters, Joe Cortez was announced as the referee to boos from the mostly pro-Calzaghe crowd. This was due to his much-criticised handling of the Hatton Mayweather bout. Soon the ring emptied, and the two men set to work.
Although Calzaghe came out and took the centre of the ring, starting aggressively, it was Hopkins who started best, by knocking Calzaghe down very early on. Hopkins connected with a straight right counter and charged toward Calzaghe, bundling the Welshman over. Calzaghe was not hurt and was straight up. Calzaghe jumped up and began putting pressure on Hopkins, but failed to really land anything, as he struggled to work Hopkins out. Other than the knockdown, nothing much happened.
Again Calzaghe the aggressor and again, Hopkins continued with the straight right-hand counters as Calzaghe came in, and followed up with a charge, to get Calzaghe inside. Calzaghe was busier, and landing some of his fast slapping punches, but Hopkins was tight and connected with a few right hands. It was evident that the fight was to be a dirty one; Calzaghe caught Hopkins with an accidental low blow, while Hopkins repeatedly came in with his head. Both fighters looked to land what they could in clinches, and often were pulled apart by Cortez. Although Calzaghe was busier, Hopkins landed the cleaner punches.
The third innings was much of the same. Calzaghe had the centre of the ring, and Hopkins appeared quite comfortable with his back to the ropes, looking to land the right-hand counter. There was a lot of holding in clinches, and not a lot of clean work from either man, although the more noticeable work came from Hopkins, although Calzaghe was getting closer. Not too much to split either man.
In round four Calzaghe began to find his range, and we began to see some of his trademark dancing feet. He started to land his southpaw jab and caught Hopkins with a few straight lefts. Again, Cortez had to break up clinches and warned both men for punching round the back of the ear. Although Hopkins did land a few right hands, it seemed as though Calzaghe was beginning to figure out the Philadelphia man.
More of the same. Calzaghe pushed Hopkins onto the ropes before the American fired back a right hand and charged at Calzaghe. The Welshman landed a few flurries in close, though none of the work was particularly easy on the eye. As the round closed to an end, both men did manage to land clean punches, and Cortez had to separate them at the end of the round, as things begin to look like they may hot up.
Calzaghe continued to force the pace but struggled to land anything of any significance. Hopkins continued with the same tactics he had deployed thus far and landed a right hand. Both men deployed dirty tactics in clinches with shots around the back of the head. This led to the most exciting moment of the round in which Cortez, trying to pull the two pugilists apart, inadvertently threw Calzaghe to the floor.
I dislike giving rounds as draws when scoring, but I struggled to find anything to merit giving the round to either fighter, although HBO scored it to Calzaghe, as did two of the judges.
I thought round seven was Calzaghe’s best round, as he landed a few crisp, clean punches and kept up the unrelenting pressure on Hopkins. As Hopkins tried to counter Calzaghe with the straight right, Calzaghe would spring back and counter the counter. It was clear; he was beginning to get the measure of Hopkins. However, at the end of the round, Calzaghe landed a few flurries and was wobbled by a straight right reply from Hopkins, caught off balance rather than hurt.
Getting a bit repetitive. Calzaghe, the aggressor, was throwing his slapping punches in bunches, and Hopkins was working off the back foot looking to time Calzaghe. The issue with Hopkins is although he makes Calzaghe miss, he fails to make him pay. If you are going to fight on the back foot, you need to land some effective counterpunches, and Hopkins was unable to do this. Would think Hopkins needs to start looking at changing tactics.
Calzaghe started the ninth well, landing a sharp straight left down the pipe on Hopkins. Hopkins did manage to score a straight right, his best shot for quite some time. Hopkins began to look tired in this round due to Calzaghe’s constant pressure.
Round ten was a bit of a weird one, with Calzaghe doing the wiggle at the backside of Hopkins following Cortez splitting up the two. Hopkins forced Calzaghe’s head down, and Calzaghe responded with a shot just slightly below the waistline of Hopkins. Cortez ruled a time out for the accidental low blow. Hopkins took advantage of the break and milked the shot, much to the displeasure of the crowd and Calzaghe. As Hopkins took his time to get back underway, Calzaghe conducted the chants of his fans. When the action got back underway after several minutes, Hopkins looked better for the rest, and fought sharper, landing shots as he did early on. Calzaghe matched him though peppering his with the fast flurries he had so far, although again, a lot missed. Hard to split, but I would give Hopkins the benefit of the doubt because I would hate to call it another draw.
Hopkins was still looking to get to Calzaghe on the inside and try and rough him up, but Calzaghe continued to land and scored a few crisp, clean shots. Hopkins again complained to Cortez looking for a low blow, though the referee urged him to continue. A close round again, and Hopkins did try and engage, but Calzaghe landed more frequently and landed the better shots.
Calzaghe started well, touching Hopkins with a few clean jabs, followed by straight lefts. Hopkins didn’t really engage at all for the majority of the round, with Calzaghe sustaining the pressure. The only shots Hopkins appeared to land were in a short-lived trade-off at the end of the round when they were once again pulled apart by Cortez.
My Scorecard: 115-113 Calzaghe
I scored conservatively and looked for reasons to give to Hopkins as opposed to Calzaghe to ensure I avoided any preferential treatment. Round ten could have gone either way, and if round six were scored to Hopkins rather than a draw as I had it, Calzaghe would still have won by a point.
Like when I first watched the fight as a thirteen-year-old, I didn’t find the fight enthralling. It was two world-class fighters, with styles that didn’t gel, and could only set up for an ugly battle. Not a stellar contest by any means, but two stellar opponents contested it.
The official scorecards led to a split decision victory for Calzaghe. Ted Gimpza scored it 115-112 Calzaghe while Chuck Giampa gave it 116-111 Calzaghe. Adelaide Bryd, best known for her horrendous scorecard in GGG vs Canelo I, somehow made it 114-113 Hopkins.
Hopkins lamented the scorecards, which is kind of hard to understand, as his tactics remained the same as the fight went on, and he wasn’t landing anywhere near enough to win a large share of the rounds. Calzaghe was the winner and no question about it, he deserved to win.
Despite being the grand old age of forty-three, Hopkins continued to fight on for another eight years. After the Calzaghe loss, he went on to beat Kelly Pavlik, and also re-matched Roy Jones Jr and avenged his loss from way back in 1993. He then drew and won the rematch against Jean Pascal, which gave him the Ring Magazine and WBC-light heavyweight titles, which he would later lose to Chad Dawson after they fought twice, the first an NC and the second an MD for Dawson.
However, Hopkins was not done. He then fought Tavoris Cloud to take the IBF title at the grand old age of 48. His victory made him the oldest world champion ever, beating the record that was before held by the legendary George Foreman. Still, Hopkins fought on, and successfully defended his title against Murat, before unifying with the WBA title against Shumenov at the age of forty-nine, extending his world champion record by another year.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Hopkins then tried unifying again against the upcoming Russian Sergey Kovalev. However, it looked as though father time finally caught up with ‘The Alien’, and we had come to witness a changing of the guard with Kovalev winning with ease.
However, crazily ‘B-Hop’ was not done. Hopkins insanely fought one final time against Joe Smith Jr at the age of fifty-one, and was memorably knocked out of the ring. It was after this that Hopkins finally bowed out of the sport that saved his life.
Despite losing his first professional contest, boxing took Hopkins from inmate of Grateford Prison to a Hall of Famer. By unifying both the middleweight and light-heavyweight divisions, and also becoming the oldest ever world champion in boxing history with a record of 55-8-2-2, Hopkins has cemented his legacy as one of the all-time greats.
After availing over Hopkins, Calzaghe went onto fight once more, and he bested Roy Jones Jr at Maddison Square Garden. Despite being put down again in the first, Calzaghe cruised to a unanimous points victory against the legendary Jones, although Jones was over the hill by this point.
The victories against the Americans allowed Calzaghe to walk away from boxing unbeaten, a feat not many in history have ever achieved. Despite Carl Froch repeatedly calling Calzaghe out, the Welshman resisted and has maintained his perfect record of 46-0-0. He bowed out of the sport on his terms, having won the best titles, and having fought many of the best fighters of his generation, such as Eubank, Woodhall, Bika, Manfredo, Lacy, Kessler, Hopkins and Jones Jr. In 2014 he was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame, and he remains one of, if not the best British boxer of all time. Quite the legacy and quite career for a man who was quite the fighter.
By Aaron Ludford of SimBoxx 🥊
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