MICHAEL PEARLMAN SAYS: Calzaghe is the greatest, but so unlucky to miss the boat twice

South Wales Argus: (6747918) (6747918)

AFTER the astonishing spectacle at Wembley Stadium on Saturday night, I couldn’t help but think about the man who this weekend will enter boxing’s Hall of Fame, Newbridge’s own Joe Calzaghe.

This won’t be a ‘Calzaghe would’ve beaten Carl Froch’ column, though I firmly believe he would have, but Joe and the Cobra are worthy of some scrutiny with one set for a top honour and the other fresh off a victory and occasion to savour.

It would be entirely remiss not to praise Froch, especially in light of a piece last week calling for him to show far more class and humility towards opponent George Groves.

Post fight that’s exactly what happened, Froch, swept away by the magnitude of the occasion and having survived an extremely close contest, was every bit the ambassador and statesman for British boxing you’d wish for.

The fight was close, that can’t be disputed, though whether you preferred Froch standing his ground and using his reach of Groves’ busier work, was purely a matter of taste. For the record I had Groves winning rounds 1, 2, 3 and 7 and Froch 4, 5, 6, but you always felt Froch had the power and he did a great job coping with Groves’ superior speed.

However, while the fight, tactical and measured compared to the thunderous battle that ended so controversially in Manchester, was engaging, the night as a whole was a wonderful shot in the arm for British boxing.

I was lucky enough to be at the Millennium Stadium when Calzaghe fought Mikkel Kessler in front of 50,000 and Saturday was bigger still, a once a decade sort of occasion where people with no interest whatsoever in boxing are discussing “the fight.”

Victory means Froch takes his place among the pantheon of great British boxers and he can probably expect ‘the call from the hall’ sometime in the future.

However, this weekend in New York it is super Joe who enters the Hall of Fame and as a first ballot entrant to boot, a reminder that he’s the last British boxer to transcend the sport.

Calzaghe went in the space of two years from often-derided and virtually unknown boxer who happened to be a world champion for a decade to bona fide national treasure.

Remember, Calzaghe is a rare fighter to be named BBC Sports Personality of the year, the ultimate public slap on the back and vote of acceptance, and it must be bittersweet for him that Saturday’s massive spectacle centred on two super middleweight fighters, with a third, James DeGale, also taking centre stage.

With the supremely talented Andre Ward also on the scene, Calzaghe, proud as he rightly is of his career, must rue how badly his loving parents Enzo and Jackie mistimed his entry into the world.

Joe is one of the greatest British boxers in history, with an unblemished record of 46-0 and having beaten every single big name he could’ve faced, but his generation wasn’t as competitive as the one that came before it, nor the one that followed.

People will always ask retired sportsman if they have regrets and Calzaghe’s must be that he missed the boat twice, through absolutely no fault of his own.

A generation of British fight fans were captivated by battles featuring Chris Eubank, Michael Watson, Nigel Benn and Steve Collins, yet Calzaghe only got to face Eubank.

Then, a couple of years after Calzaghe moved up to light heavy and went out on his terms with two huge fights in the United States, along comes the lucrative super middle ‘super six’ event featuring Ward, Froch, Kessler, Andre Dirrell, Arthur Abraham and Jermain Taylor. Yet Calzaghe only got to face Kessler.

Fast forward to 2014 and once again it is the super middleweight division that has captivated the British boxing fans and has taken the sport, if only for a weekend, mainstream.

When Calzaghe’s career skyrocketed after he destroyed Jeff Lacy, Froch became a running feature of Joe’s column I ghosted in the South Wales Argus.

This up and comer was constantly deriding Calzaghe, to the point where Joe became truly aggravated and would often fire back at Froch, labelling him “robotic and slow,” among other insults. A fight between the pair was mooted many times, but never truly came close to happening.

Joe felt his ambitions had been truly fulfilled by beating Kessler at the Millennium Stadium to unify the division and then by fighting in America’s boxing capital, Las Vegas and its temple, Madison Square Garden.

By becoming a light heavyweight world champion and vanquishing huge names Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones – with the last six years making the Hopkins victory look like the best of Calzaghe’s career – the pride of Wales had nothing left to prove.

However, in hindsight, what a crying shame Calzaghe didn’t end with a homecoming against Froch.

In New York, approximately four hours after Calzaghe had embarrassed Jones, he revealed to a select few his intention to retire, a few beers worse for wear in a Manhattan bar.

The timing was ironic, because I’d just chatted with Joe’s solicitor at the time – Gareth Williams, who represents Ricky Hatton and has been involved in boxing for the best part of a decade – who was already making plans for one last hurrah for Calzaghe in the UK.

It was fair to say that Calzaghe could’ve boxed a broom at that point in Wales and 50,000 would’ve turned up, but what a shame he didn’t get the chance to face Froch to settle the arguments once and for all.

It’s a total non-starter now, Calzaghe went out on his own terms and shouldn’t and won’t ever ponder tarnishing his legacy by returning to the ring.

But it’s truly cruel that Calzaghe didn’t face the best of the generations than proceeded and succeeded him, aside from Eubank and Kessler.

Because, and I won’t be alone in believing this, for my money, Calzaghe would’ve beaten them all.

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