Joe Calzaghe deserves credit, no doubt, and no doubt in time he'll be a legend belonging to the Jimmy Wildes and the Ted "Kid" Lewises of yesteryear, but I have to disagree with your "rant" at the end. To be a great fighter, you have to beat great fighters when they're at or not too far from their best.
Otherwise, why isn't our own Terry Downes an all-time great with his win over a 44-year-old Sugar Ray Robinson, the greatest pound for pound fighter who ever lived?
The facts are these.
Calzaghe kept a useless belt in a dead division for far too long, and it was not until his win over Jeff Lacy did he have any marketable value beyond Britain. Calzaghe needed the recognition, so he should have been willing to go to them. Like Jones said, "Now that Joe's the man, I'm willing to come to Wales...but before, I was the man. You want some of my glory, you gotta come to me."
Calzaghe fought for the most part a string of nobodies: Pudwill, McIntyre, Starie, Thornbury, Salem, Jimenez, etc., etc., who in all honesty weren't in anyone's independent list as being a top 20 fighter in the division at the time. Most of the former world champs he fought had been beaten by rival champ Sven Ottke before he had faced them, and Chris Eubank was in the middle of a five-bout losing streak when he faced him.
The crux of everyone's argument seems to be Kessler and Lacy. You discuss reputation a lot, but there's a difference between hype and achievements of the fighters. I think Bernard Hopkins said it best when he said:
"Okay, he beat Jeff Lacy—give me a 'name' fighter he beat."
"Okay, he fought Kessler—give me a 'name' fighter he beat."
There aren't any. Kessler in particular fought similar flotsam to Calzaghe, with a well-worn Markus Beyer and Anthony Mundine as his only decent opponents—but name me decent fighters they beat, i.e. those who Joe Public would recognise?
At the end of the day, when Calzaghe fought Hopkins and Jones, their recent ring records coming into their fight with him were 2-2 and 3-3 respectively, and they had a combined age of nearly 85. Those are the only Hall of Fame fighters he faced, and both were obviously past their best.
Hopkins beat three HOF fighters and Jones beat five HOF fighters, including beating 20 current, future, or former world champs. Against his fellow peers, Calzaghe's ring legacy is nowhere near that of the last two fighters he fought.
If a 43-year-old Hopkins (I'm 23 and he's older than my mother) can put him down and push him to the brink of defeat, what do you think the Hopkins of a few years ago would have done?
If Roy Jones at nearly 40 can put him down and outspeed Calzaghe for the first four rounds, what do you think would have happened when Jones was the best P4P fighter in the world consecutively between 1994 to 2004? Everyone knows that Jones wasn't the same fighter anymore when he came back down from heavyweight. Joe knew it—he even wrote it in his autobiography.
People also say Jones and Calzaghe are close in age with only a three-year difference. But precious few fighters are successful past the age of 36. Take the following facts.
Roy Jones at 36 did not have any real defeat on his record, just a disqualification loss he reversed with a first round KO, which meant basically the man went 50-0. At 39 he's 52-5.
Muhammad Ali at 36 was 55-2. He retired at 39 with a 56-5 mark.
Lennox Lewis at 36 looked great thrashing an over the hill Mike Tyson, but at nearly 38 he was awful against Vitali Klitschko (and was losing).
Larry Holmes was 48-0 at 36, but at 38 he was 48-3.
Don't get me wrong—I give Calzaghe credit. I could name a ton of fighters who were beaten by last minute nobodies, but I think Calzaghe is great simply because of his longevity, that is all. But long undefeated records are common amongst stay at home European fighters.
Take Sven Ottke (34-0, 21 defences), Dariusz Michalewski (48-0, 23 defences), and our own Chris Eubank, who went 47 bouts unbeaten with 19 successful defences to his credit.