Of two things we can be sure. Joe Calzaghe has had quite enough of Bernard Hopkins and Saturday night’s fight at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas never should have been contested on this side of the Atlantic.
The normally affable Welshman was anything but Tuesday following an open media workout at Planet Hollywood, which is hosting the fight and not happy about it because the way tickets are not selling the hotel stands to lose an estimated $5 million.
How slow are ticket sales? Slow enough that the fight’s promoter, Oscar De La Hoya’s company, already agreed to give back $2 million of the $11 million site fee it was paid by hotel chairman Robert Earl. Givebacks are not the norm in boxing and neither are guilt feelings but tickets were going so slowly that Golden Boy realized a bath like this taken by a new player on the business side of the sport might remove them from boxing for good. Hence benevolence reigns.
Now had Hopkins been willing to go to England or Wales rather than insisting the undefeated super middleweight champion make his first appearance in the United States, they could have sold as many tickets as they could print. Put into an outdoor stadium knowledgeable British boxing officials say, the fight could have sold over 60,000 tickets. Taken into one of the larger indoor venues it would have at least matched the 35,000 Calzaghe drew against lightly-regarded Peter Manfredo, Jr. and possibly done more if they could have found a way to shoe-horn more bodies into one of that island nation’s biggest sporting arenas.
But Hopkins refused to leave the U.S. to fight, insisting he was the legend while Calzaghe was just another foreign champion who had to prove himself in boxing’s mecca. Maybe Hopkins is a legend but not all legends can sell tickets.
Although they will surely try, it will be difficult to argue after the fact that Calzaghe is an unknown factor to the average American fight fan and hence didn’t draw. He may be, but that was all the more reason to take this business overseas, where he was a proven ticket seller even against a drab opponent like Manfredo.
HBO would perhaps not have been happy but they would have been happier with a raucous arena jammed with fight fans Saturday night than the half-empty tomb the Thomas and Mack Center is going to be, even with an estimated 9,000 Brits having made the journey to follow Calzaghe. So much for home field advantage.
As for the undefeated (44-0) super middleweight champion himself, he was uncharacteristically sarcastic this week when talking about Hopkins. Not in a rash way but in the kind of menacingly measured tone that made clear he has grown tired of the 43-year-old Philadelphian’s act.
As has long been his style, Hopkins has been cajoling and insulting Calzaghe since last December, when the two first came face-to-face in Las Vegas before the Ricky Hatton-Floyd Mayweather, Jr. weigh-in. That day Hopkins promised Calzaghe he would “never lose to a white boy.’’
The pale Brit is about as white as a boy can get but he took the racial slur in stride at the time, criticizing Hopkins for taking the promotion in that direction but otherwise minding his tongue. That was no longer the case Tuesday however when Calzaghe cut loose with a string of expletives while calling Hopkins a “phony.’’
It was an unexpected blast and what it meant will be debated until the result is in. Was it a confident Calzaghe finally in full fighting fettle and fearing no one? Or was it a concerned Calzaghe overwhelmed by the moment and trying to mask those emotions?
Time will tell and in not too short a time either but people who know him best insist he’s been quietly saying the same thing to friends and the British press for some time. So for now let Calzaghe’s words speak for themselves until he can allow his fists to do the talking.
“All this s--- about being ‘The Executioner’ and wearing that stupid (leather) mask and telling everyone he’s a legend, what the f--- is that?’’ Calzaghe snapped. “You are a f------ phony mate. A phony. Let’s have it right. This will be his last fight.’’
Calzaghe has promised he will not only defeat the RING magazine light heavyweight champion but render him unconscious in his first foray up at 175 pounds. Since no one can remember the last time Hopkins (48-4-1, 32 KO) was even wobbled, let alone legitimately on the floor, such talk seems as much rubbish as Hopkins’ promise Calzaghe will have to be saved by his father in the way that Felix Trinidad had to be by his when he was given first a boxing lesson and then a beating by Hopkins.
That was nearly seven years ago and Hopkins has stopped only two opponents since, De La Hoya being the last 3 ½ years ago. Calzaghe knows this and insists that it makes Hopkins’ threats ludicrously empty.
“We did a face-off at each stop on the press tour and he’d be saying things like, ‘Say goodbye to your babies. Are you ready to die?’ I just looked at him and smiled and said, ‘Do you believe what you’re saying?’ He says all this and then he gets in the ring and runs. Some of what he says is ridiculous.’’
Certainly as executioners go, Hopkins is a gentle one. A counter puncher by trade with a skillful use of his head, both literally and figuratively, as an added weapon, Hopkins is neither a devastating puncher nor a high-volume puncher. He is slick, cautious by nature, intelligent and the kind of guy who can do a lot of damage over 12 rounds. But fearing for your life is not the first thing that comes to mind when an opponent thinks about him.
That seems particularly true for Calzaghe, who is confident that his skill and the fact he is busy while Hopkins is ponderous bodes well…for him.
“He can’t outbox me and he can’t outfight me,’’ Calzaghe insisted. “So eventually if he’s going to go defensive like Winky Wright and I’m going to outbox him or if he comes inside, he’s going to get beat on the inside.
“I’ll be aggressive and see where we go from there. Maybe he might stand toe-to-toe, he might run, he might look to land the big right hand (which Calzaghe, like all southpaws. is admittedly susceptible to). Who knows? Who cares? At the end of the day I’m just going to go there and do what I always do and it’ll be enough.
“I throw more punches and land more punches. That’s what it comes down to. That’s the basics of boxing – to land more and punch more. Seriously, I’m so relaxed about this fight I can’t tell you how confident I am that I’m going to win.
“He brings nothing to the ring and nothing outside the ring I haven’t seen before. I just don’t want to win this fight, I want to knock him out.
“I’m fighting in Vegas with an American referee, American judges, outside my comfort zone. My first fight at light heavyweight and my first fight away so all those things in combination make this a difficult fight. I’m not going to deny that but I’ll prove to everybody what I’m about.
“He keeps saying he’s 11-0 against southpaws. Well, I’m 37-0 against right handers. He says he’ll never lose to a white boy. Well, I’ve never lost to anybody. I’m undefeated for 18 years. If you can’t be confident in your own ability after being undefeated that many years, you’re never going to be confident. If I can’t beat this old man I’ll retire and I won’t show my face in public ever again.’’
You can’t get more confident than that, frankly. Or more clear about your feelings. Now all Calzaghe needs to do is show the world he is what he says he is – no ordinary Joe.