This past Saturday in Puerto Rico, Ivan Calderon lost his bid to recapture the WBO strawweight title when Moises Fuentes stopped him in five rounds. For those who pay attention to boxing’s smaller weight classes, Calderon’s setback might not have come as a shock, but the defeat has definitively ended the relevancy of one of the sport’s best pure boxers.
Calderon (35-3-1, 6 KO), during his first title reign, made 11 defenses of the WBO 105-pound title and hardly lost a round along the way. The 2000 Puerto Rican Olympian’s sublime boxing skills completely offset his lack of power, and his movement and air-tight defense befuddled his opponents, rendering them amateurs in the face of Calderon’s pugilistic genius.
After vacating his 105-pound title, Calderon moved up to light flyweight, where he also captured the WBO strap. Six defenses would follow before Calderon succumbed in back-to-back bouts to hard-hitting Mexican Giovani Segura.
In losing twice to Segura (28-2-1, 24 KO)—the first time via knockout in the eighth round, the second time via a thudding body shot in only the third stanza—it seemed plausible to suggest that Calderon had simply run into a bigger, stronger man and was out of his element as he moved up in weight.
Such is the justification that often accompanies the immediate decline of once-great champions, and Calderon, much like returning former champion Ricky Hatton, is not immune to fans and pundits sugar coating defeats, while also focusing on endless excuses or small nuggets of optimism to sustain their viability.
When Calderon defeated .500 fighter Filipe Rivas via split decision and somehow found his way into a title shot at 105 pounds, his past success seemed to preclude excessive judgment or scrutiny about not only whether Calderon deserved a title fight, but whether such a fight against Fuentes (16-1, 8 KO) was good for his personal health or well-being.
According to Dan Rafael’s report on ESPN.com of Calderon’s loss, the former champion boxed well early before Fuentes caught up with the faded champion, pinned him against the ropes and eventually scored the fifth-round stoppage after Calderon had hurt his right arm and taken three knees due to excessive punishment.
Before examining how Calderon’s defeat should act as a potential warning sign for Ricky Hatton’s comeback, it behooves readers to remember Calderon as the sublime boxer who was a two-division world champion with a remarkable 18-3-1 record in world title fights, not as someone who was stopped in three of his last four bouts. Hopefully, the Hall of Fame will ensure that this is the case five years from now.
Now obviously, Ricky Hatton (45-2, 32 KO) is the antithesis to Ivan Calderon as a boxer. Where Calderon relies on movement, defense and skilled boxing from the outside, Hatton opts for aggression, fighting on the inside and a relentless application of strength to out-work his opponents.
Still, as valued former champions, both have seemed to ignore the effects of high-profile stoppage losses in an effort to continue fighting and recapture past glory. If the process of aging in boxing is fickle, one cannot suggest that either an older brawler or technician has the better chance of surviving to an advanced age when competing at the world level.
Therefore, since Hatton is a much stronger pound-for-pound puncher than Calderon is, one cannot argue that his ability to stop an opponent more regularly gives his comeback and decision to fight into his mid-30s a better chance of succeeding.
Boxers must be examined case by case, and while Hatton does stand the chance to have some success during his comeback, it is more likely to end the way Calderon’s career has played out than rising to the heights of, say, Bernard Hopkins past the age of 35.
Hatton has been stopped in both of his genuine, elite-level fight—first by Floyd Mayweather in 10 rounds, followed by a brutal second-round knockout loss to Manny Pacquiao three fights later that effectively ended Hatton’s first career.
For boxers like Calderon and Hatton, the parameters of a successful comeback hinge on their resume. Because they both reached the sport’s pinnacle, a return to championship form is the only acceptable goal. While Hatton could defeat Vyacheslav Senchenko (32-1, 21 KO) in his comeback fight, returning to the elite level is likely to produce negative results.
Even fighting the likes of Paulie Malignaggi, whom Hatton stopped in 2008, might be out of reach considering Hatton’s layoff and fighting style. To be successful, Hatton needs to absorb punches and make his fights physically grueling, and one wonders whether his punch resistance will be up to the task.
An article on eastsideboxing.com by Michael Collins suggesting that Hatton could immediately find himself in a title fight if he defeats Senchenko provides logical speculation but is somewhat disconcerting. The reality of Hatton’s title aspirations might be a case of the public demanding too much of a former hero.
Sometimes, former champions need a definitive sign to firmly indicate when it’s time to hang up the gloves. Ivan Calderon appeared to get that rude awakening on Saturday. Conversely, for Ricky Hatton, getting knocked out by Manny Pacquiao has left him wanting, which is fine (to a certain extent) and understandable.
Hopefully, Hatton proves people wrong, but before jumping into a dangerous title shot, he should consider the case of Ivan Calderon. Taking the proper time to assess his abilities after such a lengthy absence from the ring would be wise; otherwise, Hatton might quickly rejoin the ranks of fallen, once-great former champions.