Joe Calzaghe, his father/trainer Enzo and his promoter, Frank Warren, have been plotting the right course to take that will properly allow the Pugilistic Prince of Wales to make his mark upon America. For more than five years, they have drawn up blueprints for the mission to impress the US. They targeted Bernard Hopkins, and had a deal with B-Hop, only to have him double his asking price after agreeing to meet the Welsh southpaw. They zeroed in on Roy Jones, who scotched that best laid plan when he got KTFO by Antonio Tarver. The brain trust and the boxer have fixated on a new bull’s-eye, and I have to say, this candidate to put Calzaghe over the top with the US fight fans is the most logical person at this stage of the game. Yesterday, during an intimate media luncheon in Manhattan, Calzaghe and Warren shared their latest foil that they believe will elevate Calzaghe another few notches upward on the pound-for-pound lists: Jermain Taylor.
“Jermain Taylor is number one for me,” said Calzaghe. “He beat Hopkins, he’s young, undefeated, a massive test.”
To be upfront, I haven’t always been gentle in my critiques of Calzaghe, for staying put and taking the safer, more lucrative-in-the-short-term paydays on his home turf. And I haven’t always been so benign in my criticism of Warren, for posturing in securing opponents for Calzaghe, and letting money matters cloud his decision-making, instead of perhaps taking less money but gaining a greater upside benefit by matching Calzaghe with an American mega-star. Perhaps, I insinuated, Warren didn’t want to risk sending his prized possession into overly risky battles, and risk losing his cash cow. Yesterday, I was happy to shake hands with both men, and let them attach a face to a byline, so they might be able to properly picture my big, bald head with darts in it the next time I write something they maybe don’t fancy.
But meeting Calzaghe, who was humble and affable, and Warren, who ponied up for some damned fine Chilean sea bass, was beneficial to me. It humanized the two, and forced/allowed me to recast my take on Calzaghe slightly.
First, I have to look back on Calzaghe’s latest outing, against Sakio Bika on Oct. 14, and lessen my negativity on JC’s performance that evening in Manchester.
As I told Calzaghe, I believe my expectations were raised so high with his masterful work against Jeff Lacy, in his fight-of-the-year March victory, that when he looked so ordinary against the awkward ruffian Bika, I cringed. The fighter set me straight on the Bika bout, with ample humbleness and admirable honesty.
“I wanted to knock Bika out,” he said. “I was up for the Lacy fight. If I lost to Lacy it would have been catastrophic. People would have said about me, ‘I told you.’ With Bika, it’s not the same. You have to have that fear factor. As I said when I spoke to Sugar Ray Leonard in London, if I don’t perform my best against Bika I’m still going to win probably.”
Props to Calzaghe for this explanation. Hey, the guy is 34, he’s been around the merry-go-round so many times, he can’t be blamed for getting bored. He’s done more road work than a paver. He’s done enough situps for a lifetime.
Calzaghe shed more light on the Bika brawl, and the reason behind his less than stellar showing.
“After Lacy, I was trying too hard,” he said. “It was my first fight for HBO, I wanted it to be spectacular.”
Also, because of the old, familiar hand woes, Calzaghe sparred just 40 rounds for Bika, and those were light rounds.
Going back another fight, to the Lacy effort, Calzaghe showed his humble side to even greater effect.
“On the Lacy fight, I gladly went twelve rounds, but I ask, will I ever fight that good again? Who knows?”
So I must publicly backtrack, and dial back the criticism on Calzaghe a sliver: after all, the man hasn’t lost in 42 bouts. Do I think maybe some slightly tougher opponents could have been summoned over the years? Perhaps. But the 168-175 neighborhood isn’t like the golden palace of the welterweights. There aren’t too many Hall of Famers dotting those ranks in the years Calzaghe has hit his prime.
And I will dial it back further if his American Invasion 2007 comes off.
The plan for the attack as of now: fight in his homeland, in Cardiff, probably in February. The foe could be Danish WBA/WBC 168 titlist Mikkel Kessler, as Warren has been back and forth in early talks with Kessler’s promoter, Mogens Palle. Or the foe could be an American of high standing, perhaps Glen Johnson, who lost a split decision to IBF light heavy champ Clint Woods on Sept. 2. Then, after heavy HBO publicity work, a scrap with WBC/WBO middleweight champ Taylor, hopefully in Madison Square Garden, perhaps in June or July.
Warrenhas already run that by Lou DiBella, Taylor’s promoter, and DiBella seems game.
Calzaghe understands that New York is the media capital of the world, that Las Vegas is the epicenter of the fight game. To truly get his just props, and be thought of not as someone who played it safe and feasted on home cooking, Calzaghe knows he will have to come here. And he’s not sounding like he’s considering ducking Taylor.
“If I fight Taylor like I did versus Lacy, nobody can beat me,” he said. “Nothing’s certain, but I’m confident I’ll win. Jermain Taylor and me would be a megafight.”
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