Calling Out the Haters: What Joe Proved Last Night

Scott has a real gift for being diplomatic and running a good ship here at Bad Left Hook. It's one of the main reasons this blog has thrived and expanded its reader base (it doesn't hurt that he is also a talented and prolific sports writer). But I'm not going to be so diplomatic here.

In a recent post  Scott asked, "did Joe Calzaghe prove anything last night?" I know he meant to ask what Joe proved as a boxer, and I'll get to that shortly. But one thing last night's fight proved convincingly is that no matter what Calzaghe does--no matter who he beats and however convincingly--there is a large and vocal group of fans who will take the occasion to announce that Joe is a chump. A slapper. A fight dodger. Not a real man. A coward. A wimp. A sloppy boxer. A lucky boxer. A sheltered boxer. And above all else, an asshole.

Ignoring the last point (which I sort of agree with), is anyone else but me sick and tired of this kind of talk? And with every win, the chorus just seems to get louder. When a boxer's triumphs result in increasing condemnation of his ability, rather than acknowledgment of his achievement, it's fair to ask if the situation tells us more about the haters than about the boxer. I know Scott and many others, who have judiciously criticized Calzaghe, do not fall into this set. But they exist, and there are a lot of 'em.

Is it because Joe's white? For a few, maybe, but I doubt that's it. Is it because he's not American? Somewhat, I suspect, though not really. It may be more that he's from Wales, which makes him more or less British in many American's eyes, and I do believe that American fans, for whatever reason, have a history of being biased against British fighters. No, I think the real reasons are his showboating, his mouth, and his boxing style. Jones fans, in particular, probably hated seeing Calzaghe out Jonesing Jones at his own game. But I'm going to ignore the showboating thing, which I admit sometimes irritates me too. Joe's mouth has been a subject of much discussion here at BLH, and I've already made my opinions known about that. But what about his style?

Slappy Joe. We've heard it; we've seen it. I'm not arguing that he doesn't use pitter-pat punches. He inarguably does. But when a boxer is as successful as Calzaghe has been, I think it's time to ask if there might not be more going on here than meets the eye. Which brings us to what I think Joe proved last night. I've already argued that Joe's clinches are not a sign of weakness but a powerful tool in his arsenal (the same could be said for Hopkins, though Hopkins abuses it more). His rapid light flurries are an even more powerful tool, and it's a tool more uniquely characteristic of Joe's particular genius as a fighter.

Joe's slappiness, if you will, is at the heart of his greatness. It is not a weakness but a profound strength.

It's not so much that he uses these light flurries to set up the one big blow. Rather, these light punches serve multiple purposes. For one, they are at the core of his defensive style. As we saw last night, you just can't get your thing going with so much leather in your face, even if it doesn't hurt. For one, it impedes your visibility, your ability to get a good look at the holes in your opponent's D. Joe's slappiness, along with his deft head movements, are why he is able to get away with letting his guard down so much. When opponents try to take advantage of the exposure, the flurries come. Eventually, you don't even see these openings as opening any more. You know what's coming when you try. And the commentators are left asking why you're not taking advantage of all the openings Joe is giving you.

They are also at the core of his offense. The cumulative effect of such punches is significant, as we saw most pronouncedly against Lacey. But moreover, I noticed something last night that I hadn't clearly seen before: what starts out as a slap doesn't always end up that way. Hear me out. I'm saying that a big part of Joe's punching style is the punch that is devastating precisely because it starts out light. The slappiness leads Joe's opponents to believe that they can take it all night long, waiting for the big punch. That's what Jones seemed to think, allowing Joe in and just covering up, almost rope-a-dope style at times, in the belief that he will eventually get the big blow in.

But they start to hurt much more quickly than expected. Joe starts his flurries very weak and light in order to encourage such laxity for when he wants to use his energy on the harder blows.

Watch the flurries carefully: slap, slap, slap, (opponent, feeling little pain, relaxes, but with all the leather coming at him, waits and has his offense temporarily spoiled) ... Joe sets his feet a little more and starts to bring his elbows in ... slap, slap ... bam, bam, bam. Then clinch or back off. Rinse and repeat.

Those "bams" may not have one-punch power, but they are deceptive in their ability to deal damage. Last night, this was especially true of Joe's early assault to Jones's midriff, which was brilliantly executed and took Roy's legs completely out of the fight by about round three. It was all downhill from there for Roy.

Some say Joe is an ugly fighter, and with his clinches and slaps, I can see why. But personally, I've come to appreciate and respect his style. It's subtle. It's tactical. It's energetic. And above all else, it is completely unique. For better or worse, there has never been a fighter like Joe Calzaghe. Love him or hate him, for me at least, he is a fascinating study in idiosyncrasy and eccentric ring intelligence.

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