Unbeaten Calzaghe Climbs Off Canvas to Get Split Decision

AP, April 20, 2008

Joe Calzaghe leaped onto the unfamiliar ropes with more hope than confidence, punching his fists skyward but also looking over his shoulder at the judges’ table.

The Pride of Wales had just finished a messy, difficult American debut against Bernard Hopkins, the 43-year-old master who excels at making younger foes look foolish. Calzaghe couldn’t be sure he had done enough to win—until the final judge’s scorecard hailed him as the best light heavyweight in the world.

Calzaghe kept his unbeaten record intact with a split-decision victory Saturday night, tenaciously rallying in the final rounds to end his first Vegas show with a flourish.

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Hopkins (48-5-1) knocked down Calzaghe (45-0) with a sneaky right hand just 70 seconds in at the Thomas & Mack Center. With grabby defense and canny counterpunching, Hopkins repeatedly negated Calzaghe’s attempts to trade blows and gain physical control, causing more frustration than Calzaghe has ever felt.

But during the 18 years since he last left a ring in defeat, Calzaghe learned he must always keep punching. Constantly wading into the teeth of Hopkins’ defense, he never stopped trying to wear down his older opponent, eventually gaining control in the final rounds—but still wondering about his fate.

Judge Ted Gimza scored it 115-112 for Calzaghe, and Chuck Giampa favored Calzaghe 116-111. Judge Adalaide Byrd gave it 114-113 to Hopkins, as did many reporters at ringside—including The Associated Press, which also favored Hopkins 114-113 despite Calzaghe’s dominance in the final five rounds.

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Saturday’s bout has been anticipated for at least six years by fight fans who craved the stylistic contrasts between two of the longest-reigning champions in boxing history. After several false starts and disputes, the bout gained steam last December when Hopkins and Calzaghe got into a shouting match one day before Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s fight with Ricky Hatton.

“I would never let a white boy beat me. Never,” Hopkins proclaimed, and Calzaghe quickly agreed to find out whether the Executioner was correct.

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