Joe Calzaghe

JOE CALZAGHE is a Welsh former professional boxer who had the distinction of remaining undefeated in a career stretching from 1993 to 2008. He held world championships in two weight classes, including the unified WBA (Super), WBC, IBF, WBO, Ring Magazine and lineal super-middleweight titles, and The Ring light-heavyweight title.

Calzaghe is the longest-reigning super-middleweight world champion in boxing history, having held the WBO title for over 10 years and defending the title against 20 boxers (a record in the division, shared with Sven Ottke) before moving up to light-heavyweight.

As his super-middleweight and light-heavyweight reigns overlapped, he retired with the longest continual time as world champion of any active boxer at the time. Calzaghe was also the first boxer to unify three of the four major world titles (WBA, WBC, and WBO) at super-middleweight, and was the first Ring champion in that weight class.

Between 2006 and 2008, Calzaghe was ranked by The Ring as one of the world’s top 10 active boxers, pound for pound, reaching a peak ranking of third in January 2009. He retired in February 2009 with an undefeated record of 46-0, and as a reigning world champion. As of 2020, BoxRec rates Calzaghe as the greatest super-middleweight of all time, as well as the greatest European boxer, pound for pound, of all time.

Calzaghe was born March 23, 1972, in Hammersmith, London, to an Italian (Sardinian) father, Enzo, and a Welsh mother, Jackie, who hailed from the mining town of Markham, Caerphilly.

His parents briefly moved to Sardinia but the family later returned to Britain and lived in Markham for three years before they moved into their own home on a council estate in Pentwynmawr, Newbridge, near Caerphilly.

Calzaghe attended the local school, Pentwynmawr Primary, along with his two sisters, Melissa and Sonia, and developed a keen interest in playing football. He joined Pentwynmawr FC at under-10s level, playing as a midfielder and scored consistently during his early years.

At the age of eight, he was given a children’s boxing toy that developed his interest in the sport and his father made a punching bag from an old carpet. He joined his first boxing club, Newbridge Amateur Boxing Club, at 10 years-old and the sport quickly took priority for the young Calzaghe as he gave up playing football after two years.

Calzaghe moved on to Oakdale Comprehensive School at 11, but was targeted by bullies as a teenager due to his smaller stature at the time, becoming the target of regular verbal abuse that left him isolated. Although the culprits left him alone after a year, Calzaghe later admitted that he “never recovered from the abuse” and left school without sitting any of his GCSEs.

In 120 amateur contests, Calzaghe won four schoolboy ABA titles, followed by three consecutive senior British ABA titles (British Championships) between 1990 and 1993, which were won in three different weight categories, welterweight, light-middleweight and middleweight.

He reportedly had an amateur record of 110–10. Calzaghe received his last two defeats in a boxing ring at the hands of Michael Smyth in the 1990 Welsh ABA final, and against Romanian amateur Adrian Opreda at the 1990 European Junior Championships in Prague.

By 1993 he had held Amateur Boxing Association (ABA) titles in three different weight categories, the first British boxer to do so. He also held titles from the National Association of Boys Clubs (NABC) and the Gaelic Games.

In September 1993 Calzaghe made his professional debut at Cardiff Arms Park on the Lennox Lewis vs Frank Bruno bill, halting 23-fight veteran Paul Hanlon in one round.

By June 1995, Calzaghe had won nine out of nine fights, seven in the first round and two in the second. At the end of 1995 Calzaghe was voted Young Boxer of the Year by the Professional Boxing Association and the Boxing Writers’ Club, with Barry McGuigan top-tipping Calzaghe for 1996: “He punches ferociously, moves superbly and has the best of the European technique and US aggression.”

He won the British title, stopping Steve Wilson in the eighth round and then went on to win his next 13 fights before he being given a shot at the WBO super-middleweight title.

In November 1996, Calzaghe moved to Frank Warren’s stable. Warren, who had managed Nigel Benn for his first 20 fights, declared: “Joe Calzaghe is a far better prospect, in fact he is my fighter for the new millennium.”

Warren spent the summer of 1997 chasing a fight for Calzaghe with either WBC champion Robin Reid or Irish WBO champion Steve Collins. The fight with Collins was arranged, but at a late stage Collins withdrew because of injury, was stripped of his title, and then retired.

After Collins retired, a fight against British boxing legend Chris Eubank was quickly set up for the vacant WBO title on October 11, 1997, in Sheffield. Calzaghe emerged victorious over the two-time WBO champion, knocking the granite-chinned Eubank down in the opening seconds and claiming a unanimous points win.

The judges scored the contest 118–110, 118–109, and 116–111 in favour of Calzaghe. Eubank said of Calzaghe in a 2006 interview: “Joe is the proper article, a true warrior.” Calzaghe conceded that Eubank, even in his comeback, gave him the toughest fight of his life. His popularity grew alongside the wider cultural movement of ‘Cool Cymru’ and Calzaghe was symbolic of the new Welsh identity which was forming.

In 1998, he defended his title against Branko Sobot (winning by technical knockout in three rounds) and then went on to defeat perennial contender Juan Carlos Gimenez Ferreyra (TKO after nine rounds), a former opponent of both Benn and Eubank. Calzaghe became the first boxer to stop Gimenez Ferreyra, something which Benn, Eubank and Roberto Durán had failed to do in the past.

In 1999, Calzaghe started out by fighting his domestic rival, Robin Reid. After four rounds of the fight, Calzaghe seemed in total control and on his way to a comfortable victory, but then Reid won the next couple of rounds and it became a highly competitive fight thereafter. It was arguably the closest that Calzaghe came to losing in his entire professional boxing career. After 12 rounds, the judges scored the fight for Calzaghe via a split decision (two judges scored it 116–111 for Calzaghe, while the other judge scored it 116–111 for Reid).

Calzaghe finished the year with another points win against Australian Rick Thornberry, where he broke his hand in the third round after looking like overwhelming his opponent early on.

2000 started with another points decision against fellow Briton David Starie. This was followed by impressive wins against Omar Sheika, by fifth-round stoppage, and a TKO over former WBC world champion and close friend Richie Woodhall in 10 competitive rounds.

2001 began with an impressive first-round-stoppage win over the unbeaten German number one contender Mario Veit (30–0), followed by a fourth-round stoppage win against American contender Will McIntyre on the Mike Tyson–Brian Nielsen undercard in Copenhagen, Denmark, marking his first defence outside Britain.

2002 started with unanimous points wins against former IBF world champion Charles Brewer of the United States in Cardiff, followed by a shut-out 12-round unanimous decision over Miguel Angel Jimenez (120–107 for Calzaghe on all three judges’ scorecards), and then a quick second round TKO of American Tocker Pudwill in Newcastle in December.

Calzaghe’s only fight of 2003 was in June against another former world champion, in the shape of American Byron Mitchell at the Cardiff International Arena. Calzaghe won by TKO in the second. Calzaghe suffered his first career knockdown in the second round, before rising to halt Mitchell in the very same round, thus becoming the first boxer to stop Mitchell.

2004 started out with a defence against Armenian contender Mger Mkrtchian in Cardiff where he won easily by a seventh-round knockout, followed by a points win over Egyptian-American Kabary Salem in Edinburgh in October.

Veit worked his way to a rematch against Calzaghe in Braunschweig, Germany, in July 2005, marking Calzaghe’s second defence on foreign soil. Calzaghe beat Veit by technical knockout in the sixth round. On September 10, 2005, Calzaghe fought the Kenyan boxer Evans Ashira and won by a comfortable unanimous decision over the former middleweight title challenger, despite breaking his left hand in the third round. Calzaghe fought on one-handed, winning 120–108, 120–108, 120–107.

His scheduled bout with IBF world champion Jeff Lacy for November 5, 2005, was initially cancelled due to Calzaghe’s injured left hand. It was rescheduled for March 5, 2006, where Lacy was beaten by a unanimous points decision.

On October 14, 2006, the tough Cameroonian-Australian Sakio Bika challenged Calzaghe. Two points were deducted from Bika for head butts, one of which led to a severe cut over Calzaghe’s left eye which would cause him problems for the duration of the bout. However, Calzaghe won the fight by clear decision to continue his undefeated run.

Calzaghe met Peter Manfredo Jr on April 7, 2007, in front of 35,000 fans at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Calzaghe was victorious on a third-round stoppage, unifying the super-middleweight division.

In May 2007, Frank Warren released details that Calzaghe had accepted an offer of $5 million to fight undefeated WBA world champion Mikkel Kessler. The bout took place at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on November 4. The fight was a unification bout for the WBO, The Ring, WBA (Super) and WBC super-middleweight titles. Calzaghe won by unanimous decision, surpassing the 20 defences made by Bernard Hopkins and Larry Holmes at middleweight and heavyweight respectively.

On April 19, 2008, at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, Calzaghe defeated Hopkins and won The Ring light-heavyweight championship by a split decision in his first ever fight in the United States.

In July 2008, after Calzaghe’s split from promoter Warren, it was officially announced that the 39-year-old Roy Jones Jr and 36-year-old Calzaghe had reached an agreement to fight for The Ring light-heavyweight championship at Madison Square Garden in New York City on September 20.

Jones was on the comeback trail, and coming off a win over Félix Trinidad. After Calzaghe injured his right hand in training, the fight was postponed, with November 8 being set as the new date. Calzaghe was put down in the first round. Two close rounds followed before Calzaghe took control of the fight. In the eighth round, Jones sustained a cut over an eye, nearly forcing a stoppage. All three judges’ decisions were 118–109 for Calzaghe.

In February 2009, Calzaghe announced his retirement from professional boxing, with fellow boxer and friend Ricky Hatton describing him as “the best British fighter we’ve ever had.”

Following his retirement, Calzaghe started his own boxing promotion company, Calzaghe Promotions, with his father Enzo.

Calzaghe was often referred to as the ‘Pride of Wales’ or the ‘Italian Dragon’, the latter being a play on the moniker ‘Italian Stallion’ and a reference to his multiple heritages (the dragon being both a prominent Welsh emblem that appears on the Welsh flag and a figure in Sardinian myth).

Calzaghe was the first person to be awarded the Freedom of Caerphilly County Borough, in 2009. The award was presented to Calzaghe in front of his family — father and trainer Enzo, mother Jackie, sister Sonia, (then) girlfriend Jo-Emma Larvin, and his two sons.

Already an MBE, he was elevated to CBE in the 2008 Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Joe Calzaghe on Strictly Come Dancing Picture credit: BBC

In 2007, Calzaghe won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award, making him the first Welsh winner of this accolade since David Broome in 1960. Calzaghe was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2014 alongside Oscar de la Hoya and Felix Trinidad.

Calzaghe won the 2010 Soccer Aid, a British charity football match with the Rest of the World team beating England, and Joe scored the Rest of the World team’s first goal. The game was tied after full-time but the Rest of the World won on penalties.

In 2012, Calzaghe made a cameo appearance as himself in an episode of the UK TV comedy drama Stella.

Calzaghe split up with his girlfriend of five years, Jo-Emma Larvin, in 2009, after participating in the seventh series of the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing series, partnering with Russian professional Kristina Rihanoff. Calzaghe and Rihanoff began a relationship soon thereafter. However, the couple announced the amicable break-up of their relationship in August 2013.

Joe Calzaghe’s Undefeated Professional Boxing Record
46–0 Roy Jones Jr, 8 Nov 2008 Madison Square Garden, New York City.
45–0 Bernard Hopkins, 19 Apr 2008 Thomas & Mack Center, Nevada.
44–0 Mikkel Kessler, 3 Nov 2007 Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales.
43–0 Peter Manfredo Jr, 7 Apr 2007 Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales.
42–0 Sakio Bika, 14 Oct 2006 MEN Arena, Manchester, England.
41–0 Jeff Lacy, 4 Mar 2006 MEN Arena, Manchester, England.
40–0 Evans Ashira, 10 Sep 2005 International Arena, Cardiff, Wales.
39–0 Mario Veit, 7 May 2005 Volkswagen Halle, Braunschweig, Germany.
38–0 Kabary Salem, Oct 2004 Royal Highland Showground, Edinburgh, Scotland.
37–0 Mger Mkrtchyan, 21 Feb 2004 National Ice Rink, Cardiff, Wales.
36–0 Byron Mitchell, 28 Jun 2003 International Arena, Cardiff, Wales.
35–0 Tocker Pudwill, 14 Dec 2002 Telewest Arena, Newcastle, England.
34–0 Miguel Ángel Jiménez, 17 Aug 2002 Cardiff Castle, Cardiff, Wales.
33–0 Charles Brewer, 20 Apr 2002 International Arena, Cardiff, Wales.
32–0 Will McIntyre, 13 Oct 2001 Parken Stadium, Copenhagen, Denmark.
31–0 Mario Veit, 28 Apr 2001 International Arena, Cardiff, Wales.
30–0 Richie Woodhall, 16 Dec 2000 Sheffield Arena, Sheffield, England.
29–0 Omar Sheika, 12 Aug 2000 Wembley Conference Centre, London, England.
28–0 David Starie, 29 Jan 2000 MEN Arena, Manchester, England.
27–0 Rick Thornberry, 5 Jun 1999 International Arena, Cardiff, Wales.
26–0 Robin Reid, 13 Feb 1999 Telewest Arena, Newcastle, England
25–0 Juan Carlos Giménez Ferreyra, 25 Apr 1998 National Ice Rink, Cardiff, Wales.
24–0 Branko Sobot, 24 Jan 1998 International Arena, Cardiff, Wales.
23–0 Chris Eubank, 11 Oct 1997 Sheffield Arena, Sheffield, England.
22–0 Luciano Torres, 5 Jun 1997 Whitchurch Leisure Centre, Bristol, England.
21–0 Tyler Hughes, 22 Mar 1997 Wythenshawe Forum, Manchester, England.
20–0 Carlos Christie, 21 Jan 1997 Whitchurch Leisure Centre, Bristol, England.
19–0 Pat Lawlor, 15 May 1996 STAR Centre, Cardiff, Wales.
18–0 Warren Stowe, 4 May 1996 Goresbrook Leisure Centre, London, England.
17–0 Mark Delaney, 20 Apr 1996 International Centre, Brentwood, England.
16–0 Anthony Brooks, 13 Mar 1996 Brent Town Hall, London, England.
15–0 Guy Stanford, 13 Feb 1996 Welsh Institute of Sport, Cardiff, Wales.
14–0 Stephen Wilson, 28 Oct 1995 Royal Albert Hall, London, England.
13–0 Nick Manners, 30 Sep 1995 Festival Hall, Basildon, England.
12–0 Tyrone Jackson, 8 Jul 1995 Barbican Centre, York, England.
11–0 Robert Curry, 19 May 1995 Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre, London, England.
10–0 Bobbie Joe Edwards, 22 Feb 1995 Ice Rink, Telford, England.
9–0 Frank Minton, 14 Feb 1995 York Hall, London, England.
8–0 Trevor Ambrose, 30 Nov 1994 Civic Hall, Wolverhampton, England.
7–0 Mark Lee Dawso, 1 Oct 1994 National Ice Rink, Cardiff, Wales.
6–0 Karl Barwise, 4 Jun 1994 National Ice Rink, Cardiff, Wales.
5–0 Darren Littlewood, 1 Mar 1994 Town Hall, Dudley, England.
4–0 Martin Rosamond, 22 Jan 1994 Welsh Institute of Sport, Cardiff, Wales.
3–0 Spencer Alton, 16 Dec 1993 Newport Centre, Newport, Wales.
2–0 Paul Mason, 10 Nov 1993 Town Hall, Watford, England.
1–0 Paul Hanlon, 1 Oct 1993 Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff, Wales.