The fantasy matchups are back today with a dream fight at 168 pounds.
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Andre Ward vs Joe Calzaghe
Super middleweight is still a young division in boxing’s history. Its roots may have started in the 1960s, but it wasn’t really fully recognized until 1984, when the IBF created a 168-pound title, and the WBA and WBC followed suit in 1987 and 1988. The 1990s saw the division get a little more traction behind names like Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank, Michael Watson, and Steve Collins, and Roy Jones Jr and James Toney also briefly competed at the weight.
Jones is largely regarded as probably the best fighter with a run of any note at super middleweight, competing six times as a super middleweight and winning every fight by stoppage before moving up to 175 in 1996.
But “best” and “greatest” can mean different things. Jones’ run at super middle wasn’t lengthy enough, perhaps, to be called the “greatest” super middleweight of all time; his time at light heavyweight is really thought to be the peak of his career, I would say, when you combine ability and commercial notoriety. That’s when he was at his biggest as a star.
So who are the greatest super middleweights of all time?
Maybe Joe Calzaghe and Andre Ward. Neither man ever lost a fight in his career, and both stepped up to 175 to become the champ there, too, before they also both retired relatively young. Calzaghe stepped aside at age 36 after beating Bernard Hopkins and a washed Jones at 175 in 2008, and Ward hasn’t fought since 2017, when he retired at age 33 after two wins over Sergey Kovalev.
The peak for both, though, came at 168. That’s where they made their names and became pound-for-pound list standouts.
Calzaghe (career record of 46-0, 32 KO) turned pro in 1993 and won the British title in 1995. Early on he looked like a puncher — he started his career 22-0 with 21 stoppage wins — which clashes greatly with the larger perception of him, and considering once the competition stepped up, Joe went 24-0 with just 11 more stoppage wins, that’s earned. No one who watched Calzaghe’s really relevant years would argue he was a big puncher.
The Welshman won his first world title in 1997, beating Chris Eubank for the vacant WBO super middleweight title, which was lightly-regarded at the time but we may as well count it at this point. He defended that belt 17 times through 2005, before he was matched up with unbeaten American Jeff Lacy, a rising star who went over to Manchester to face Calzaghe.
The question now is whether Lacy was overhyped or Calzaghe just ruined him, because Calzaghe beat the brakes off Lacy, and Jeff never looked particularly good again. Calzaghe grabbed the IBF belt with that win, and defended both titles against Sakio Bika and Peter Manfredo before a big clash with unbeaten Mikkel Kessler, the WBC titleholder, in 2007.
Calzaghe beat Kessler, too, then made his move up to 175, having done as much as there was to do at 168.
Ward won gold at the 2004 Olympics, and to this day is the last male American boxer to win an Olympic gold medal. Turning pro that December, Ward didn’t exactly storm the gates of pro boxing, as he took his time putting things together, had a few little nagging injuries here and there, and then joined the Super Six World Boxing Classic, a round robin tournament at 168 pounds put together by Showtime in 2009.
Ward (career record of 32-0, 16 KO) announced his true arrival as a world class fighter with his own win over Kessler to kick off his tournament run in late 2009, and during the course of the event also handily defeated Allan Green, Sakio Bika, and Arthur Abraham, before outpointing Carl Froch in 2011 to win the tournament in Atlantic City. Ward’s win over Froch was sort of like Calzaghe’s over Kessler; in all reality, there was nothing left for Andre to do at 168.
He did fight two more times in the division. Chad Dawson came down from 175 in 2012 for a fight with Andre, and Ward destroyed him, and then Ward defended his WBA belt against Edwin Rodriguez in 2013 before moving up to 175.
Both Calzaghe and Ward were extremely smart fighters, incredibly crafty, got the absolute most out of their abilities, and didn’t care if they had to win in somewhat ugly fashion. Calzaghe was an absolute master at using the clinch to disrupt his opponents, while Ward, while never known as a huge puncher himself, was physically very strong and would often bully opponents.
Both were very sound defensively, sharp on offense, and had strong relationships with a single trainer, Joe with his father Enzo, and Ward with Virgil Hunter. The game plans were always well-engineered and well-executed.
These were not guys who often jumped off the screen as insanely good fighters, there wasn’t always a ton of flash to them, but they both really were absolutely fantastic.
Most likely, Ward-Calzaghe would not wind up on a Fight of the Year list, and there’s even a good chance a lot of people would be flat-out bored by what we’d get. But for the “chess match” fans, this one could be fascinating.
So who wins?
Who wins, Ward or Calzaghe?
This poll is closed