Let me introduce you to a world champion in a sport that most people will know, but you will have probably never heard of him. Meet the boxer Joe Calzaghe. Last Saturday Calzaghe won his second championship belt and became the IBF and WBO Super Middleweight champion of the World. He is now ranked first by two of the four sanctioning bodies and he is ranked third by one and fifth by the other. Think he’s a new boy? He’s been boxing professionally for 12 and a half years and has held his WBO championship for the last 8. Just to put that into a boxing context, Calzaghe has been champion of the world for longer than Ricky Hatton has been fighting professionally and before Amir Kahn was even in high school. He saw off Chris Eubank to win his WBO belt and has seen the likes of Nassem Hammed come and go. He has consistently been top of his game for 8 years and hardly anybody knows who he is. And he’s British.
Calzaghe is hugely respected within the sport. Boxing fans will know him well; he’s a super-fast southpaw with the stamina to match. He can keep up the pace for the full twelve rounds where most opponents will be flapping by the eleventh. He has never lost a professional fight. 41 wins out of 41 over a 12 and a half year career. The fight on Saturday was one of the best boxing displays I have seen since the Lewis-Tyson fight that effectively ended Tyson’s career. He pummelled Lacy for 12 rounds non-stop and won every round on points, which is rare in boxing, after going into the fight as the underdog.
After the fight, Barry McGuigan rated him pound for pound in the top 6 boxers in the world, quite a complement from a famous ex-world featherweight champion and Britain’s leading boxing critic. Most of the boxers you can recall are probably not as good as him. Ricky Hatton is on a similar level to Calzaghe, holding 3 championship belts in his respective weight but has not fought for as long, and he holds Calzaghe in very high esteem. He is one of the longest standing British champions we have and in one of the toughest sports. Calzaghe is comparable to Tiger Woods in golf but we have never really heard of him. In my opinion, he is the most underrated sportsman we have.
So how is it that he has been overlooked? Media coverage could be a possibility. We have seen many sports come into fashion and disappear as quickly. Remember curling in Nagano? If you don’t I would propose that you knew all about it at the time. We always seem to resort back to football for our ‘sports’ coverage. I would argue that we sometimes make heroes out of the wrong type of people. Take Robben or Drogba from Chelsea. They cheat every week by diving and roll around like they have been shot. On Monday morning, children go to school thinking that cheating to win is ok. I take the point that if we followed boxing as a national sport then children might think it is ok to fight each other but there is an honour and virtue in Boxing that a lot of people miss. There is a beauty in the beast. Boxing is still upstanding in maintaining the basic founding principle of sport; let the best man win in a fair contest. Unfortunately, this is something we seldom see in some of our mainstream sports.
The BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year is the best example of how the media influence our choice of sporting ‘heroes’. This year’s winner, Andrew Flintoff, beat the three-time World champion Ricky Hatton to the prize. Flintoff was outstanding in the Ashes but when the romance of the long, lost summer is behind us we are left asking what, in real terms, has he done to justify the acclaim when the England team are struggling and the prospects for the Ashes in 18 months time are not looking good. We got caught in the romance. Maybe we love it too much when the underdog wins. So why don’t we glorify Joe Calzaghe and our other great champions?Maybe his success is his biggest failing.
Maybe also our attitudes towards Boxing are too cynical. The truth is that all of our Boxing champions are normal, working class boys who have worked hard to achieve their goals. They are the perfect role models. They show that you can achieve anything if you want to. So maybe we should be looking more towards our true champions. So if there is British success in Germany in the summer, don’t forget our other World Champions when you’re toasting our winners.
By Sean Henderson