On October 11th, 1997 32 year old former world champion Chris Eubank met fellow countryman Joe Calzaghe, then 25 years old, in a truly epic encounter, not just for British boxing but for the world pugilistic scene in general. The fight would be at the Sheffield Arena and the vacant WBO World Super Middleweight title was on the line.
After fighting his last fight in July of 1997, veteran champion Steve Collins of Ireland had retired and left the WBO World Super Middleweight Title without an owner. Collins had taken the belt from Eubank back in March of 1995, ending Eubanks reign at just over four years. Though Eubank lost a re-match with Collins in September of 1995, his career record stood at an outstanding (45-2-2) and if you include his time with the WBO Middleweight belt, Eubank had held a world title for roughly five years. Having held this particular belt for four years already, pedigree earned Eubank a shot at the WBO’s Super Middleweight belt.
While Eubank was nearing the end of his fine career, twenty five year old Joe Calzaghe (22-0), who held the British Super Middleweight title, was just getting started with his hall of fame career. Calzaghe had originally been slated to face Collins, who injured himself and retired just a few weeks before the fight in what was the up and comer Calzaghe’s first world title shot. Eubank, a proud and valiant warrior, stepped in for the fight on short notice. To give Calzaghe credit, that detail of a changed opponent should not be lost, as Collins and Eubank are very different fighters. But the now vacant world title was on the line, and Calzaghe was hungry for the recognition a world championship would bring him.
The live atmosphere in the Sheffield Arena was electric, with both men having a lot of crowd support. That same night, England’s football team had secured a place in the 1998 World Cup with a 0-0 tie in Rome over Italy which certainly added to the festive atmosphere. The support co-main event saw “Prince” Nazeem Hamed bring the whole show with a seventh round stoppage of Jose Badillo that would go down as the 8th defense of his WBO Featherweight title. For the Eubank-Calzaghe fight, Ahmed would sit ringside and take part in a constant dialogue with Eubank throughout the twelve rounds, as Eubank several times emphatically told him to “shut up” while he was fighting.
Michael Buffer did the introductions, and Joe Cortez was the referee. As the two men entered the ring, Eubank looked focused, his muscular body tense as he seemed to engage his gloves in a staredown. For his part, Calzaghe was not tense at all, rather he seemed loose and relaxed. In retrospect, Calzaghe already had that steel-eyed confidence he would show throughout his career.
The bell rang, and Eubank came out fast, determined to take it to Calzaghe. Less than 15 seconds into the fight, Eubank was sitting on the canvas. He appeared unhurt, but he was down and he was eying Calzaghe with a new measure of respect. It was a “good shot” as Eubank mouthed to Calzaghe while he took the count.
Eubank would ride out the storm in the opening rounds. He appeared determined to get inside and hammer Calzaghe, but the lithe Hammersmith born fighter appeared a step ahead in the fight throughout the early rounds. In the middle rounds however, Eubank still had a reserve of energy and when Calzaghe slowed down a bit, he found success with body shots. Eubank would attempt to rush Calzaghe like he did at the start of round 1 several times with some success in the middle rounds, as he was able to crowd Calzaghe and land inside.
After round seven, when Calzaghe’s punch output had dropped considerably and Eubank had launched many withering shots, Eubank slowly turned to the crowd and pumped his fists in the air. The crowd responded. Though battered, the aging champion still had some fight left in him. And Calzaghe, who had 21 KO victories in his 22 wins, had only been the distance once, in an eight rounder (to Eubank’s cousin Bobbie Joe Edwards). There were open questions about his stamina and his overall ability to manage a full twelve round fight.
But Calzaghe would answer the critics, stepping it up as the middle rounds became the late rounds. In the 10th round, Eubank was hit with a short shot as he came forward, forcing him to put his gloves to the mat momentarily. It was ruled a knockdown, and the ruling took more of the wind out of Eubank’s sails. Calzaghe showed a maturity in the ring he had not had a chance to show before as he closed out the fight strong. Eubank landed a hard shot that may have hurt Calzaghe just as the fight came to an end, but it certainly was a case of too little, too late. They embraced briefly, with Calzaghe disengaging as he looked to celebrate in his corner. Buffer announces the judges cards after the full twelve rounds, “Dave Parris scores the bout 118-109, Paul Thomas scores it 116 to 111 and Roy Francis scores it 118-111 for the winner, who is now WBO Middleweight Champion of the World, Joe Calzaghe!”.
After the win, Calzaghe would hold the WBO title for ten years, until he gave the belt back to move up a weight division. Calzaghe would fight twice more, and he would retire with an outstanding record of (46-0). In his last defense of the title, Calzaghe was 35 years old and facing the challenge of a 28 year-old bruiser from Germany named Mikkel Kessler, who was undefeated at 39-0. Just as Eubank had passed the mythical torch to Calzaghe when they fought, it looked as if Calzaghe was now in the position to lose his place to the younger Kessler. Instead, Calzaghe put on a dazzling fistic display that some call the most inspiring fight of his career. After that, he would move up to Light heavyweight and defeat Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. before calling it quits for good. He was inaugurated into the Canastota, New York International Boxing Hall of Fame with the Class of 2014. For Calzaghe in many ways his hall of fame run started 18 years ago today, when he defeated Chris Eubank.