Joe Calzaghe will walk into Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Saturday night in front of more than 50,000 people to trade punches in what is potentially the world’s best boxing match this year.
Welshman Calzaghe, 35, has been the World Boxing Organisation super-
middleweight champion since 1997 and he will try to defend his title for the 21st time when he meets Danish fighter Mikkel Kessler, 28. In addition to Calzaghe’s WBO belt being at stake, Kessler will be defending his World Boxing Association and World Boxing Council titles.
What makes the match perfect is that both fighters are unbeaten – the Welshman in 43 contests, the Dane in 39. Neither takes any prisoners, either. Thirty-two of Calzaghe’s victories were stoppages, with 29 the corresponding tally for Kessler.
“This is one of, if not the, biggest fight that I have ever done,” said Frank Warren, Calzaghe’s promoter. “It has everything for boxing purists and it brings together the best two in the business at their weight and that always attracts the casual sports fan.”
It has taken Calzaghe a long time to gain the respect that his record deserves but now, as he edges closer to the record books, he is recognised as one of the finest active boxers. Only four men have made more than 20 title defences and Calzaghe has promised to box twice more after tonight, which would in theory put him in joint second place if he continues to win. The record of 25 is held by Joe Louis.
“I’m not interested in Louis’s record,” says Calzaghe. “I’m just here for one or two more fights after Kessler and then I’m gone.”
Saturday night’s fight is arguably this year’s best because, unlike some of the high-profile contests that have taken place in the US between faded boxers from different weight categories, this is a fight between two unbeaten men at the same weight.
Kessler won the WBA title in 2004, added the WBC version in 2006 and in his last fight he impressed in the US when he easily defeated Librado Andrade, the previously unbeaten Mexican.
Calzaghe moved to another level last year when he took the International Boxing Federation super-middleweight title from the heavily favoured American Jeff Lacy.
“I knew that Lacy would be an easy fight and it was,” said Calzaghe. “Kessler is much better and I’m expecting possibly the hardest fight of my career and that is what I have prepared for.”
After the Lacy fight, there was talk of a fight in the US for Calzaghe but once again the high-profile champions from middleweight and light heavyweight demanded too much money. Calzaghe was forced to relinquish the IBF title for lack of a reasonable opponent.
Yet he says: “I’m happy now. I’m walking out in front of 50,000 of my fans to defend my world title and in the opposite corner there is an unbeaten world champion. It’s what we dream of as boxers.”
Calzaghe’s decade at the top is coming to an end, but he will be too experienced for the younger man in a fight that should enhance both of their reputations.