Calzaghe a slap happy champion
By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Boxing Contributing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network)
Most fighters would take the term "slap puncher" as an insult.
Of course, Joe Calzaghe is a little different than "most fighters."
The unbeaten Welshman, who cracked the world's consensus elite by undressing Jeff Lacy in March 2006, has become the Ozzie Smith of the ring -- winning 43 straight bouts with the sort of backward superlatives that made the former St. Louis Cardinals shortstop a Hall of Famer.
But where the rangy Smith was "good field, no hit" all the way to Cooperstown, the 35-year-old WBO super middleweight champion has racked up 20 defenses and clinched a spot in Canastota with a "good speed, no power" flair only recently recognized by fans outside the United Kingdom.
He can translate that momentum into long-due recognition Saturday night, when he faces fellow 168-pound belt-holder and fellow unbeaten Mikkel Kessler in the unification main event of HBO's "World Championship Boxing" card from Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales.
Joe Calzaghe has won 43 straight bouts.
"Look at Lacy?s face after (our) fight. He looked like he'd been run over by something, you know? All smashed up and that. And if I can slap that hard, I'm pretty happy with that," Calzaghe said, on a recent media conference call. "You know, that's pretty good. (So) I don't really take much notice.
"But I suppose Ali slapped. Roy Jones slapped. All fighters slap sometimes. That's just the way it is. You throw a dozen punches in a couple of seconds, not every one?s going to be a correct punch, so to speak. A lot of them are going to be half-arm punches, but that's my style. At the end of the day, I get the job done."
He?s gotten it done without fail in a professional career that began in 1993 and has yielded the aforementioned 20 defenses of a vacant title he captured with a unanimous 12-round nod over London-based veteran Chris Eubank at Sheffield Arena in 1997.
Eleven of those defenses have ended in stoppages, including a third-round blowout of dubious "Contender" alum Peter Manfredo Jr. in April -- Calzaghe's last fight. Other foes failing to go the distance with the 5-foot-11 1/2 southpaw include Omar Sheika (TKO 5), Richie Woodhall (TKO 10) and Mario Veit (TKO 6).
Calzaghe himself got off the canvas in a June 2003 match with American Byron Mitchell, rising from a first-round knockdown to stop the Alabama native in the second.
"I'm going to slap Kessler pretty hard as well," he said. "And the good thing is, he?s going into this fight thinking I can't punch. I'm really looking forward to wiping that smile off his face on fight night, because both my hands have been really strong in training.
"The only time that my punching power is lacking is when I break my hands or I have a hand injury. But for this fight my hands have been strong and I'm really looking to unleash some power punching."
Ironically, it's Kessler?s hands that have been rumored damaged as of late, though the 28-year-old Dane has offered no comment since blowing off his own conference call opportunity.
The Copenhagen native is 39-0 with 29 knockouts and four defenses of the WBA super middle crown that he won from Manny Siaca in November 2004. He last fought on March 24, punishing Librado Andrade for 12 rounds in a unanimous decision win that was scored a 120-108 shutout by all three judges.
Still, Calzaghe seems unmoved.
"He could be one of my toughest opponents. So was Jeff Lacy, on paper, the toughest opponent, but at the end of the day look what happened there," he said. "I think his record speaks for himself. He's undefeated. He's young. He's at his peak. He's 39-0.
"So of course, all the statistics add up to being potentially my toughest fight, but potentially being the toughest fight and actually being the toughest fight (are) two different things. Like I said, I'm 100 percent confident I'm going to win this fight. This is why I picked this fight and I pushed for this fight, and I think I can do a good job on this guy."
No argument here, Joe.
I've seen Lacy?s face. Now, I'm a believer.
FitzHitz says: Calzaghe by decision.
I've never met the man, but it feels like Mario Serrano and I should be best friends.
Hardly a day goes by when his name doesn't show up in my e-mail inbox, a far better communication rate, in fact, than many people I've called acquaintances for more than 20 years. And this week, there seems to be pretty good reason to listen to what he's saying.
Serrano, a California-based publicist, is busily touting the wares of IBF featherweight champion Robert Guerrero -- who'll risk his belt for the third time, well, sort of -- when he faces 27-year-old Martin Honorio on the undercard of the Juan Manuel Marquez/Rocky Juarez show Saturday night in Tucson, Ariz.
Guerrero, nicknamed "The Ghost," is 20-1 with 13 knockouts in a pro career that began with a four-round decision over Alejandro Cruz back in April 2001.
He won the title with an eighth-round stoppage of Eric Aiken on the Peter- Toney undercard in Los Angeles in September 2006, then escaped billing as a one-hit wonder after a loss to Orlando Salido was changed to a no-contest and the title declared vacant when Salido reportedly tested positive for steroids.
Guerrero stopped Spend Abazi in his subsequent outing, once again capturing the IBF crown and setting up the match with Honorio, a Golden Boy Promotions stablehand who's 6-0-1 since last losing in November 2004.
The Mexico City native has earned five straight wins by decision, including a unanimous 10-round verdict over previously unbeaten Steven Luevano, who's since gone on to win the WBO?s 126-pound title.
"I win this fight, it means a lot. It means a lot," Guerrero said. "It would be a title defense for me. It will catapult me into bigger fights. Thinking maybe I can get a fight with the main event or a fight with Pacquiao. Get into bigger fights with bigger names and start making a dent."
Both the Guerrero bout and the Marquez-Juarez main event were scheduled for Sept. 15 in Las Vegas before the card was postponed by a Marquez hand injury.
Now the WBC's champion at 130 pounds, Marquez last fought March 17 at Mandalay Bay, where he outpointed Marco Antonio Barrera over 12 rounds to improve to 47-3-1 and capture his fourth title belt.
Juarez, who lost a pair of decisions to Barrera in 2006, has won two straight since, stopping Emmanuel Lucero in five and winning a unanimous 12-rounder from Jose Andres Hernandez to up his mark to 27-3.
Saturday's fight will mark his fourth try at a world title, including the two Barrera losses and a narrow decision loss to Humberto Soto for the WBC's interim featherweight belt in August 2005.
"I was watching the Barrera-Pacquiao fight, and all I could hear is Pacquiao versus Marquez," Juarez said. "I'm thinking as I'm sitting on the couch, Marquez still has to fight Rocky Juarez Nov. 3, why are they counting me out? But it's not something that I allow to affect me. It just gives me that much more motivation to just train harder, because they're counting me out.
"I know there are a lot of fans out there, and a lot of boxing critics who feel I can't beat Marquez. They're counting me out. It affects me in a way, but I think it motivates me to prepare for this fight even more."
FitzHitz says: Marquez by decision; Guerrero TKO 9.
It's not a championship fight quite yet, but the winner of Friday's match between former title challenger Calvin Brock and unbeaten youngster Eddie Chambers will have a leg up on the rest of the field.
The heavyweights will meet at the Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma, Wash. to fill the remaining finals slot in the four-man IBF tournament, designed to provide the winner a 2008 shot at incumbent champion Wladimir Klitschko.
The event kicked off with its first semifinal last weekend, won convincingly by Russian prospect Alexander Povetkin via 11th-round TKO over two-time world title claimant Chris Byrd.
Brock, 32, met Klitschko in an unsuccessful bid for the IBF/IBO belts last November, losing by seventh-round stoppage after he was felled by a punishing overhand right from the 240-pound behemoth and deemed unfit to continue by referee Wayne Kelly.
He?s won two straight since, defeating journeymen Ralph West and Alex Gonzales by first-round KO and eight-round decision, respectively, to improve his career mark to 31-1.
He'll be guided on fight night by his father, Calvance, who?s taken over as chief second in the absence of Tom Yankello -- dispatched after the Klitschko loss.
'I know I didn't lose (to Klitschko) because I wasn't good enough. That wasn't the reason why,' Brock said. 'I had everything I needed and I didn't bring it into the ring with me. It wasn't me out there. And that was the most heartbreaking part of it all.'
Chambers, a 25-year-old from Philadelphia, has won 29 straight bouts -- 16 by knockout -- since turning professional in 2000.
His resume is largely non-descript, though he has scored decision wins over Ross Puritty, who stopped Klitschko in 1998; and Dominick Guinn, who challenged for the lightly regarded IBA title in 2005.
"I don't do a lot of studying about my opponents," Brock said. "I see his style and his size, but that's really about it. I go into a fight thinking he's got to worry more about what I'm going to do than the other way around."
FitzHitz says: Brock by decision.
Elsewhere this weekend, Japanese hero Takefumi Sakata fights on home turf for the third straight time Sunday, when he defends the WBA flyweight title against Thai challenger Denkaosan Singwancha at the Super Arena in Saitama.
Sakata, now 31-4 with 15 knockouts, grabbed the belt in his third opportunity, stopping previously unbeaten Lorenzo Parra by third-round TKO on March 19 in Tokyo. He'd failed in his first two shots against Parra, dropping majority decisions in June 2004 and September 2005.
Defense No. 1 came July 1 in Tokyo, where he beat another former conqueror, Panamanian left-hander Roberto Vasquez, by unanimous decision.
He'd lost a split nod to Vasquez in December 2006 in Bercy, France.
Singpancha, who?s 40-1 with 16 KOs, has won 20 straight since his lone career loss -- an 11th-round TKO to then-champion Eric Morel for the WBA crown in October 2002.
The 31-year-old last fought on Sept. 14, winning a unanimous 12-round decision over Richie Mepranum in defense of his Pan-Asian Boxing Association flyweight title.
Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at email@example.com. He is a periodic contributor to the Dave Smith Show, broadcast weekdays from 6 to 9 a.m. on Sporting News Radio (radio.sportingnews.com).