Joe Calzaghe: The Greatest Champion You Never Heard of

jonathan staubCorrespondent IFebruary 7, 2009

He was quick, powerful, relentless, and technically sound. Pound-for-pound, he was rated by ring magazine as one of the top 10 fighters in the world. He defended his titles successfully 21 times in a row of the course of 11 years.

One other thing, on Thursday, Feb. 5, he retired from the sport of boxing as one of the rare fighters who can boast an undefeated record over the course of their career. 46-0 with 32 knockouts.

He is the "Pride of Wales", the "Italian Dragon", he is "Super" Joe Calzaghe; and he just may be the greatest champion you never heard of.

Now that he is retired, and it is permanent according to Calzaghe, the debate about his place in history, among boxing's all-time greats, will begin.

He can boast an accomplishment that greats such as Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, "Sugar" Ray Robinson, Oscar De La Hoya, Bernard Hopkins, Joe Frazier, Joe Louis, Roy Jones Jr., and Julio Cesar Chavez can not.

He retired undefeated.

That accomplishment alone puts him in select company. Rocky Marciano (49-0) and Floyd Mayweather (39-0) are the only other two recognizable names to boast such a feat.

Ask anyone that is not a hardcore boxing aficionado if they know Ali, Foreman, Tyson, etc. and most will at least recognize the name and know they are a boxer. The avid sports fan will even know a bit about their career.

Ask those same people if they know who Joe Calzaghe is and you'll hear more no's than you can count. Even hardcore sports fans may draw blanks when asked.

I, myself, can even say that I once succumbed to a lack of knowledge about the greatest Welsh fighter that ever lived.

This, however, is the fate that Calzaghe brought upon himself. Calzaghe did not fight on American soil until his bout with Bernard Hopkins on Apr. 19, 2008. The 45th of 46 professional bouts for a man that had his first professional fight in 1993.

Boxing has suffered a severe hit to it's popularity with the rise of MMA, and a lack of real star power to draw people in. Boxing's biggest draws are aging ex-champions who are far past their prime.

Ask people in Wales, and England, about Calzaghe and they will tell you he can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Ask Americans and they know very little about the man.

Fortunately for Joe the people that will ultimately decide his place in history are those that have heard of him.

Those people know that only Joe Louis (25) and Darius Michalczewski (23) are the only fighters that have more successful consecutive title defenses than Calzaghe.

They know that Calzaghe is not only undefeated, but second to Joe Louis on the all-time record list for consecutive victories in a single weight class.

He is also second to Louis in regards to the longest uninterrupted run as a champion. Louis was heavyweight champion for a little over 12 years. Calzaghe has been an uninterrupted champion for a little over 11 years.

As an amateur Calzaghe won three consecutive ABA titles in different weight classes before turning pro in 1993. Four years after turning pro he won the vacant WBO Super Middleweight Title over Chris Eubank.

Calzaghe suffered his first professional knockdown in 2003, at the hands of Byron Mitchell.

Also, Calzaghe got cut for the first time in his professional career in 2006 due to multiple head butts from Sakio Bika.

While Joe Calzaghe is known as one of the finest men to ever set foot in the ring, he is also one of the finest outside of it. He is a devoted father and family man who is proud of his roots. He frequently vacations to the town his father/trainer Enzo was born. Calzaghe has trained with his father since the day he turned pro.

Calzaghe has also won the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year award; becoming only the third boxer to do so.

Calzaghe has also acknowledged that breaking Joe Louis' records are very tempting and appealing, but has been quoted as saying "I don't know if I want to take Joe's record, he's a legend."

It's hard to believe that boxing could keep such an amazing ambassador to the sport, as well role model outside of the ring, a secret for so long.

If not for stumbling upon a swarm of media surrounding a boxing ring last April on a trip to Las Vegas I may still not know Joe Calzaghe. If not for hearing a group of Welshmen singing and waving a flag in the lobby my dad and I may not have turned to see a mysterious figure shadow boxing for photos in that very ring.

It wasn't until I returned home and gained access to the Internet that I was able to learn about Joe Calzaghe and his contributions to the sport of boxing. I'll never forget the text message my dad sent me the day after we returned home.

"Hey Jon that guy we saw in Vegas, Calzaghe, is 44-0."

Unfortunately this is the price that is paid for a champion who didn't fight on American soil until just under a year ago. Boxing officials should be kicking themselves for not exposing Joe Calzaghe to the world on a much grander scale.

We are victims of our own creations. We choose to follow the circus side stories of ear biting, aging champions trying to relive their youth, or "Pretty Boys" flaunting money around and living extravagant lifestyles.

We are more concerned with celebrities that screw up their lives, photo's of celebs taking out their trash, shows like TMZ, following celeb rehabs and relationships, or reality shows that we try to lose ourselves in so as to forget the grind of daily life.

We focus more on the bad than the good and personally I feel cheated for not being exposed to such a great champion, but more importantly a great man, sooner. Joe Calzaghe did things the right way, through hard work and dedication. He respected the world around him and it respected him back.

Boxing lost a great chance to promote their sport through the right kind of athlete. A clean, simple, and everyday kind of 'Joe'.

Sadly that 'Joe' will remain the greatest champion no one in this country has heard of for a long time.