There were those that thought Joe Calzaghe deserved consideration to be declared the top pound-for-pound fighter in the game after he put on a pugilism clinic against highly hyped muscleman Jeff Lacy in March. Quite likely, those Calzaghe rooters won’t be so intent on lobbying for Calzaghe to be anointed the top active boxer if they took in his performance against Cameroon-born Sakio Bika at the M.E.N. Arena in Manchester, England on Saturday evening.

Calzaghe, age 34, remained undefeated, upping his record to 42-0 (31 KOs) with a unanimous decision victory that allowed him to hold on to his WBO and IBF super middleweight crowns. But he did so in less than stellar fashion.

But by no means, however, should all blame be assigned to the Wales banger; rather, the 27-year-old Bika (20-2-2, 13 KOs) was the catalyst in making the twelve-round bout a sloppy, ragged affair.

Bika, who gave an energetic but crude showing, was penalized a point in the fifth round for using his head to butt Calzaghe. The point didn’t affect the scoring of the bout, as judge Phil Edwards saw Calzaghe ahead 116-111, while John Lawson and Jose Rivera both scored it 117-110 for the Welshman.

It was the 19th successful WBO title defense for Calzaghe but this one won’t draw a sliver of the admiration and buzz that his win over Lacy provided.

Coming in to the bout, there was much talk of whether or not Calzaghe would make the trek overseas to America, and try his luck on our shores. That talk will probably cool a bit, after this rust-colored performance. It’s a shame that CompuBox wasn’t on hand to count punches landed and tossed, or there would be hard proof that there were far more swings and misses than solid connects.

Bika started off tentatively, and began a pattern of grabbing in the first round. The tomfoolery began in the second, as Bika and Calzaghe engaged in trading after the bell. In the third, Bika proved ineffective at a distance, and equally ineffective in close. He seemed hesitant to press the action often in the scrap.

In round four, Calzaghe had the crowd buzzing with a swift shoeshine and Bika got his revenge, in dastardly fashion. When Calzaghe found himself tangled in the ropes, Bika swatted him twice on the back of his head, and was chided by the referee. Calzaghe landed a sweeping left, which scored well, but didn’t phase the challenger, who showed a strong chin from bell to bell. Bika butted Calzaghe in the round and opened a slice over the champion’s left eye. The wound was attended to and didn’t affect the outcome.

Referee Mickey Vann took a point from Bika for a headbutt in the fifth and the Australian based boxer also began to score with lead rights.

In the sixth round, it must have dawned on the watchers that these two fighters did not have a complementary style; their rhythms were off, and a pleasing tempo never came to be.

In the seventh, Calzaghe landed a mean right to the body, leading watchers perhaps to wonder where the body work was, from both boxers. Perhaps Calzaghe was put off by Bika’s trunks, which were hiked over his belly button.

Bika slips punches well, so even though he is an awkward man, he doesn’t leave himself as open to being hit as one might think.

The action progressed much the same way in rounds eight thru twelve, with both men showing admirable stamina, but not so much scientific sweetness.

Post bout, Calzaghe assessed his outing.

“To be honest, I’m disappointed in my performance,” he said. “It was my first performance on TV for HBO and I was eager to impress.”

His ailing hand, the boxer said, kept him from getting sparring, so as a result, his timing was off.

Calzaghe said he wants the soon-to-be-unretired Bernard Hopkins next, perhaps in the US.

“Hopkins is the man,” he said. “I’ll fight Bernard Hopkins in his own garden. Hopkins is the sort of fight I get up for.”

“I’m looking forward to coming to America and showing you guys I am the real deal.”

A true pound-for-pound stalwart would have handled the awkward Bika with more aplomb than Calzaghe did. Of course, his injuries factored in to his showing, but resilience has to be factored in to the equation when slotting boxers in the P4P debate. The Canastota-bound greats, however, can overcome the wear and the tears, and deliver the goods. Calzaghe delivered a win, but in mediocre fashion.