To Solve The Old Man’s Riddle, Calzaghe Out-Hustles Hopkins

Back in December, Bernard Hopkins said in a face-off against Joe Calzaghe, “I will never lose to a white boy.” Calzaghe said in return: “If you fight me, you will lose.” Calzaghe was right. In a match-up of two of the five best fighters in the world, it was Calzaghe who triumphed, however narrowly, both on my scorecard — barely — and on the scorecard of the judges — likewise. It started as an ugly, boring fight (once the unexpected knockdown of Calzaghe in the first round passed) and steadily built in drama because of the strategery of it all and the sense that it was going to be a close decision. The difference, as widely expected from those who picked Calzaghe, was just that the 36-year-old out-hustled the 43-year-old Hopkins. Hopkins landed all of the cleanest and hardest punches of the fight, but Calzaghe landed more… more, in fact, than anyone ever has against the defensive wizardry of The Executioner. The weight difference between the two men proved mostly irrelevant, although the knockdown makes you wonder. Calzaghe fought his whole career before tonight as a super middleweight (168 lbs.). Hopkins spent almost all of his career at 160, but has been pretty good since becoming a light heavyweight (175 lbs.). In the first round, Hopkins caught Calzaghe with a clean counter right hand, his signature punch, and Calzaghe went down. Not hard. Gently, really, despite how clean the blow was, like Hopkins laid him upon the ground. Still, Calzaghe no doubt felt that one. He’d already planned on keeping his punch count fairly low by his voluminous standard, but I think, with the exception of his rebound round two, it was enough to put him on guard until about the fifth. That’s when Calzaghe found the timing and distance. Hopkins had been tying him up well, and by that I don’t mean “what was good for the aesthetic of the fight” but “what was good for Hopkins to keep the pace where he wanted it.” In the middle rounds, Calzaghe was able to jab his way in, avoid Hopkins’ clinches and get out of harm’s way enough to win most of them. At the end of the seventh, Hopkins caught him with another clean counter that knocked Joe C Wales off balance, but I gave the round to Calzaghe anyhow. By the 10th, Hopkins needed a breather. So when Calzaghe landed a low blow, one that was partially blocked by Hopkins, Hopkins went into full-on acting mode and pretended that his ability to have children again in his lifetime was jeopardized. I just didn’t buy it. Calzaghe, hilariously, pretended to “freak” Hopkins a little as he went on his knees. It was a jerk move, but then, I can’t say Hopkins hadn’t earned the humiliation karmically, what with all the racial, national and general disrespect he’s shown to every opponent he’s ever fought. I thought Hopkins won that round, strangely, so no matter how contemptuous I, the audience and the HBO broadcast team was of Hopkins’ mock-suffering, it did the trick. But Calzaghe went back to out-hustling Hopkins again. I scored it 114-113 for Calzaghe. A friend at my place, acting as Judge #2, scored it 114-113 for Hopkins. Our decisive judge and another friend, Judge #3, scored it 114-113 for Calzaghe. In other words, we had a split decision for Calzaghe, just like the real judges did, albeit a little closer than their verdicts. Calzaghe, besides the weight, overcame a fair amount to win. Referee Joe Cortez must hate Great Britain, because Calzaghe got a lot of attention for his fouling, which was prolific, while Hopkins did not, who was just as prolific and was the primary instigator. Still, at least Cortez didn’t dock anyone a point, thus making it an improvement over his “performance” in December’s welterweight (147 lbs.) fight between Brit Ricky Hatton, the deductee, and Floyd Mayweather, Jr., the beneficiary of said deduction. A point deduction for either man would have been crucial in such a closely-scored bout. Hopkins, despite looking his age more than ever, looked more or less like Hopkins from the last three years or so: Throw 30 punches a round, land some accurate shots, knock down or wobble (but never finish) his opponent, and leave his fate to the scorecards. Unlike in his clearer wins over Antonio Tarver and Winky Wright, however, you never got the sense that he was putting enough rounds in the bank. He just kept doing the bare minimum he needed to win most of the rounds in both those fights, and in this one, in large measure because Calzaghe was forcing the action, he left too much up for debate. When that happens, judges are usually going to reward aggression. Calzaghe was the guy forcing the action. Hopkins, whether because of Father Time or personal choice, wasn’t. Advantage: Calzaghe. I thought it was Hopkins who would solve the puzzle of Calzaghe, who never before had suffered defeat, but in the end, it was Calzaghe who unlocked the riddle of Hopkins, who has never been beaten soundly, and truthfully, still hasn’t. But Calzaghe solved it enough to convince me, and the judges. Next for the winner: Calzaghe said he would like Roy Jones, Jr., and you know, I’m warming to it. Jones, at 39, has rehabilitated his career enough to make that one credible. Plus, he does some things that could give Calzaghe a little trouble, like potentially out-quicking him. I’m not saying I would pick Jones to win, because I wouldn’t — I think Calzaghe would beat Jones pretty soundly. But Jones has some power, and Calzaghe, for whatever reason, be it Hopkins’ technical accuracy or the weight difference at light heavy, showed more dents in his chin Saturday than he has in a long time. In other words, I’ll take Calzaghe-Jones. Middleweight boss Kelly Pavlik is an excellent option as well, but his team has him booked through damn near 2009, so I suspect that one’s down the line if at all. Next for the loser: Believe it or not, Hopkins said before this fight he’d retire after it, no matter what. I have cause for doubt. One, he’s already retired once, and flirted with it again and again, and well, I suppose there’s someone out there in the world who finds this whole hokey-pokey amusing or fascinating, because every star athlete is constantly performing the same little schtick. Me? I’ve never hidden the fact that Hopkins’ personality and in-ring style grates on my soul, but even if he keeps looking older in each fight, it’s obvious he’s still an elite boxer. I won’t cry if he disappears, but given my respect for his abilities, it almost seems a shame to leave so much water un-wrung from the wash cloth. I will forever be interested in Jones and Hopkins concluding their careers against one another, in a long overdue rematch between two of the pound-for-pound best of the last decade-plus.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.