JOE CALZAGHE – Back In Action Tomorrow Night!

By Matt Winsper


JOE CALZAGHE – Back In Action Tomorrow Night!

Joe Calzaghe, the Welsh wizard who cast a spell on Jeff Lacy back in March, makes his return to the ring tomorrow night at the same MEN Arena in Manchester, England where he took Lacy’s IBF Super-middleweight title from him with a vicious beating.

Many hoped that, with the higher profile gained from hammering the top-ranked American, Calzaghe would be propelled into a series of superfights. However, with the rest of the division awaiting the result of Kessler-Beyer (also this weekend) for the remaining WBA and WBC belts, Joe has had to make do with a ‘filler’, and the unheralded 27year old Sakio Bika of Australia via Cameroon fits the bill.

It’s not a terrible match...Bika certainly looked capable enough in his first world title challenge against Markus Beyer in May this year. After four close rounds, the fight ended prematurely with a technical draw from an accidental head-butt, and many ringside observers smelled an upset brewing before the unsatisfactory ending.

But Beyer, to everyone except the German’s camp, is an entirely different prospect to 34 year old division leader Calzaghe. The ‘Italian Dragon’ (his father/trainer Enzo is from Sardinia) has been mixing in world class since defeating British star Chris Eubank way back in 1997 for the relatively minor WBO crown. Eubank was floored twice, outsped and outfought, and a new star was born on that October night in Sheffield...almost nine years ago to the day. During that time, some quality super-middleweights have come and gone - Sven Ottke, Robin Reid, Jeff Lacy, Eric Lucas and more. They all had their day in the sun and then faded from view, whilst Joe Calzaghe is still here, and is still the best of the bunch.

The way he destroyed Jeff Lacy, favoured by many to beat him, to win his first major world crown was critically acclaimed by all – even Lacy’s own camp. Manager Gary Shaw admitted, “I’d have put my house on Lacy knocking this guy out. Full credit to Joe. He did everything he had to.”

Trainer Dan Birmingham was also forced to concede of Joe, “That was one of the best performances in boxing I’ve seen.”

Calzaghe was a master class on the night. He hit Lacy from every angle, very hard and very often. The Floridian slugger tried his best, but lost virtually every round and was floored in the final session before limping to the bell. But Calzaghe was well up for this fight, determined and focused like never before in his career. In contrast, he has also looked pretty mediocre in previous engagements, especially when they were mark-time fights like this one on Saturday night.

How can we forget Calzaghe walking onto a big right hand from Egyptian mauler Kabary Salem in 2004? He went down – heavily – and was forced into a messy, unimpressive scrap before emerging victorious on points. And then there was the dull win over Miguel Jiminez in 2002 before his fans at the magnificent setting of Cardiff Castle. In that fight, Joe realised the guy in front of him was content to mess him about for 12 rounds, and was content himself to pop out the jab and outbox him over the distance. It was effective, but hardly inspiring.

This tells us that Joe, clearly one of the finest fighters in the world at the moment with a  41-0-0 (31) record, can sometimes fight down to the level of his opponent...especially when looking past them to a future big date. And the dates don’t come much bigger than taking on the winner of Kessler-Beyer sometime next year, which will produce the first ever undisputed super-middleweight champion. That’s good compensation considering Joe’s preferred date with Glencoffe Johnson at light-heavyweight was scuppered by the Jamaican losing to bitter rival Clinton Woods last month.

So in the meantime, Joe gets a fight in which there is little to gain. Simply put, now he has established himself as a true world star, he has to get rid of the likes of Sakio Bika in double quick time with little effort.

Bika, born in Cameroon and based for his pro career in Australia, has fought mostly at middleweight. Over the last few years, he has collected a few regional belts, such as the Australian national title, and the Ocean Pacific crown. Despite this, the only two recognisable names on his log (Beyer and world rated middleweight Sam Soliman) are guys he failed to beat (although we can forgive him the unfortunate technical draw with Beyer).

This tells me that he falls very neatly into the ‘decent but not world class’ category of opponents. Strangely, plenty of these guys get world title shots at super-middleweight, but, hey, that’s boxing in the new Millennium. Of his 23 fights, the challenger has 20 wins and two draws agains the single loss to Soliman, with 13 stoppages. He seems a fairly decent puncher and showed some capability when in with Beyer, but a seasoned world champion like Calzaghe has seen his like a million times before.

Joe often starts very fast, blazing away with lightning combinations from his southpaw stance. However, at about the 4th or 5th round there is sometimes a turning point in his fights. If Calzaghe is motivated and on form (as he was for Lacy, Charles Brewer and Eubank), he’ll continue to blaze away, round after round, until his opponent either crumbles or staggers to the finish line.
If, however, Calzaghe is a little off (as he was for Salem, Jiminez and Evans Ashira), he’ll find himself boxing down to his opponent’s level and will be content with jabbing them from the outside and going the distance.

With Calzaghe’s career on a whole new level since defeating Lacy, I’m hoping we get the former every time from now on. I picture Joe coming out fast, as always, and refusing to let up, Bika being swamped by the multitude of combinations coming his way, and by the 5th being ready to crumble. That would send out a nice message indeed to the rest of the division, especially Kessler and Beyer, that Joe Calzaghe is STILL the man to beat.

The Pick: Expect Calzaghe, on a high since the Lacy destruction, to be on form. Whilst he’s looked a little stale in the past, he seemed thoroughly pleased to be in the ring in March, and is obviously enjoying boxing more than ever. If this is the case, Bika is in for a painful night. Calzaghe will keep his workrate up, and the African-Australian will realise there is a world of difference between Markus Beyer and Joe Calzaghe. In the fifth, he goes down a couple of times, more dazed than hurt, and gets rescued by the referee. CALZAGHE TKO5


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