As two of the highest regarded boxers in recent times, the undefeated former champions were considered the cream of the crop in their era at super-middleweight and light-heavyweight.
The fighters received a host of accolades during their careers and have subsequently received legendary status in their retirement. It can, however, be quite uncomfortable sitting on the fence all the time, so what about it? ‘The Welsh Dragon’ vs ‘Son of God’ both at their absolute prime. Who wins?
Well, in order to have any sort of clue, we need to break down each man’s attributes and strengths; this cannot be completed in one or two paragraphs. Some of this analysis is easy to display such as the difference in style or the record. Other qualities may be more intangible and can come down to perception which is therefore largely subjective.
Ultimately, this is an opinion by one writer and is open to the fair scrutiny of any boxing fan. By writing this, my aim is not to diminish either fighters’ accomplishments inside the ring, but rather, it gives me an excuse to list the triumphs each man experienced, while also entertaining the idea of a fantasy matchup.
SPEED AND FOOTWORK
Both the Welshman and the American knew all about speed. Often dazzling their opponents with deadly combinations, the two men could access velocity that their opponents simply could not. In terms of pure hand speed, there were few fighters that could match the quicksilver assault of ‘Super Joe’.
The output oftentimes embarrassed and outmatched challengers. The blurring rate of straight punches would blind his opponents to the oncoming slapping hooks coming around the guard. Switching up levels constantly to maintain a full-bodied battering, Calzaghe would rarely leave room for anyone to fire back. This was perfectly demonstrated in one of Calzaghe’s most famous bouts when he unified the WBO, IBF and Ring magazine titles against the extremely dangerous and powerful ‘Left hook’ Jeff Lacy in 2006.
Notably, Calzaghe managed to land 40 punches in just 15 seconds against the betting favourite Lacy in round six of their bout. Moreover, when we consider his footwork, Calzaghe moved in or out of punching range with deadly reflexes. Pirouetting to find angles on the inside and escaping in the blink of an eye, Calzaghe demonstrated why the feet are as important as the hands in the sport of boxing.
Ward has shown turbo swiftness throughout his career when putting together punches. Typically, his jab landed twice before it was registered by his opponents, exhibited clearly in his bout against Allan Green in 2010. During this bout, Ward’s jab would remain incessantly in Green’s face, who was unable to read when it was oncoming. Ward’s footwork was sublime, having mastered cutting off the ring and closing the distance with lightning pace.
However, the raw speed of Calzaghe edges Ward and this is largely due to the difference in styles (which we will get to). The switching between outboxing and the close volume punching style of Calzaghe necessitated absolute radical speed.
When it comes to laser point accuracy, look no further than these couple of superstars. Finding the sweet spot with bullseye level precision was a trademark for both of them. The undefeated warriors found a variety of ways to get around tricky defensive fighters and land their punches. Perhaps the fairest way to assess this metric is to look at a common opponent of theirs, Mikkel Kessler.
Kessler was a multiple-time super-middleweight world champion and a true monster of the division. Calzaghe faced the Danish fighter in 2007 when he boxed Kessler to a decision win. Calzaghe landed 28% of his total punches (285/1010) and 32% of his power punches (148/460).
Kessler, undefeated since Calzaghe, would face Ward just two years later. This time the bout was ended in round 11 in favour for Ward by a technical decision from a clash of heads. Ward threw considerably fewer punches overall (even when we factor in that they shared one less round) but landed more accurately with 34% of his total punches, landing (225 / 667) and 40% of his power punches landing (132 / 330).
In one of the more crushing examples of ‘Son of God’s’ accuracy, we look at his bout in 2010 against former WBC and IBO Super middleweight champion Sakio Bika, another common opponent of Ward and Calzaghe. During this fight, Ward landed a whopping 59% of his 235 of 398 punches. Simply outrageous.
Schooled by the great trainer Virgil Hunter throughout his life, Ward made accuracy his hallmark through grinding repetition in training. The American’s piston-like jab rarely missed its mark and it landed generally at a much higher success rate than the Welshman. This matched with his zeroed-in counterpunching with the lead hand hook and uppercut at close range made for a near-perfect offence every time. exactitude when throwing punches gets the upper hand over Calzaghe.
One of the more sophomoric approaches to boxing is to centre any debate around who owns the most power. Calzaghe and Ward have so much more to talk about than ‘one-hitter quitter’ punching and neither fighter are remembered for possessing huge concussive force.
Both relied on a more technical approach to the sport. This was largely due to the similar injuries that plagued both men’s careers, the more significant niggle in the right shoulder of the American and the left hand of the southpaw Brit. These injuries, which required multiple surgeries for both at different stages, invariably forced their power hand to be thrown less and with less force than their full potential uninjured ability.
Andre possesses 16 knockouts from his 32 wins (50% ratio) and Joe has 32 knockouts from his 46 wins (69.5% ratio). On paper, Calzaghe’s KO ratio looks more than adequate for a super-middleweight. When you compare the records of both fighters further you will see that in their first 12 bouts, Calzaghe pounded out 11 of his first 12 opponents inside the distance compared to just five out of 12 for Ward. However, looking closer, the quality of early opponents for Calzaghe in contrast to Ward’s does leave some doubt as to the grandeur of this feat. The Welsh man’s first 12 opponents had accrued a mammoth collective 185 defeats, meanwhile, Ward’s opponents at this stage had a combined 45 defeats.
Some may argue that Ward managed to carry some power up to light-heavyweight against one of the best light heavyweights in the last 30 years and unbeaten previously, Sergey Kovalev. Ward managed to knock ‘the Krusher’ out in their rematch in 2017. Others might point to Calzaghe knocking down the granite chinned Chris Eubank in their encounter. However, when looking at the bulk of their careers, it is extremely difficult to see any sort of gap between the two.
“The best defence is a good offense”- George Washington……. Or is it Mr Washington? Both fighters were very sound defensively, neither fighter having taken a huge amount of damage in their career. Calzaghe has tasted the canvas three times and Ward just twice. This was owed partially to their strong chins, but mostly to their ability to stay out of danger.
‘The Pride of Wales’ chose on many occasions on keeping his opponents at range with activity, peppering his them with the jab almost constantly. The long 73 reach would negate his opponent’s offence by acting like a barge pole to push off. His ability to clinch at critical times has rarely been matched ever. This was perfectly illustrated against the dangerous Mikkel Kessler who he was able to jab and hold, completely shutting out any danger and frustrating the powerful Dane. Another attribute to his defence was his lateral movement with his feet, which shifted him away from his opponent’s danger shot.
Ward had a similar ability with the clinch and was exceedingly strong physically. Able to muscle back most of his opponents, the gifted American could nullify any inside work coming his way. Within the clinch, Ward was brutal and known for his roughness; it would not be unusual for an elbow or head to cause significant hurt to his opponents.
His defence however mostly centred around otherworldly parrying and head movement. He was able to read shots with his excellent reactions and deflect or slip oncoming shots, placing him in an excellent position to counter. The poise Ward displays against Sullivan Barrera in their 2016 bout as he effortlessly parries, jabs, blocks, and counters Barrera over and over again is breathtaking to review.
Calzaghe’s defensive movement is a marvel to rewatch; however, he had the tendency to become emotionally invested in a bout, showing at times disdain for his own defence and was drawn into a shootout with several dangerous fighters. He had his chin tested in big fights against the likes of Bernard Hopkins, Bryan Mitchel and Kebabry Salem. Ward took barely any damage throughout his career and pursued an airtight defence in nearly all his exchanges, remaining constantly aware of what comes back his way.
The ringcraft displayed during the two dominant champions’ careers is nothing short of genius. Both fighters carried with them a cerebral approach to the squared circle every time they fought.
Andre Ward had honed his skills during a prolific amateur career, where he won a haul of national-level silverware before bringing back the gold medal in the 2004 Olympics. The fleetfooted muscle memory instilled in him from his elite amateur career resided in his professional career. Ward was a natural southpaw who elected to fight mostly in the orthodox stance. Ward would section off the early rounds to invest in body punches, specifically targeting the sides when he clinched which was often. As one of the best in-fighters of his era, Ward would engage his opponents for some ‘phonebooth’ fighting after their legs had been sapped of a lot of their energy.
This worked in particularly stunning fashion against Sergey Kovalev during their rematch when Ward committed to softening the body early in order to slow his formidable Russian rival. Additionally, his deceptive footwork ensured confusion and chaos for any offence that was placed on him. Carl Froch had enormous difficulty when he faced Ward due to the tactics the American employed in 2011 during the super-six tournament. Constantly stepping to Froch’s left side, Ward was able to refute the majority of Froch’s power shot which was the right cross.
Ward’s counter punching is legendary and will be remembered as one of the best in recent times. His sense of distance came down to millimetres. Often fooling his opponents into appearing closer than he was, he left fighters like Froch perplexed and out of answers. Even more impressively, Ward broke his hand early in this bout and rather than fight in the trenches, Ward adopted an excellent counter-punching strategy to see out a win, basically one-handed for a lot of the fight.
Joe Calzaghe reached less prodigious heights than the Olympics in his own amateur career. However, the welsh man with Italian heritage picked up a litany of national-level titles and has an unconfirmed record of 110-10. If this is even close to true it is truly mind-blowing to consider that he turned professional at the young age of 20.
Calzaghe’s career was kick-started by his Father who operated Newbury Boxing Club. Enzo Calzaghe trained his son for the entirety of their career and maintained as close a relationship as any we have seen in the boxing world of any fighter and trainer.
Calzaghe had an unassailable strategic mind. He could construct and adapt a plan tailored to his opponent. Whether it was aggressively shutting out a power punching danger man like Jeff Lacy, or creating an unpleasant, rough, and cagey environment for a wiley Bernard Hopkins, ‘Super Joe’ came prepared.
Calzaghe was also an excellent counter puncher in his southpaw stance and punished opponents with traps as they moved in. This was exhibited explicitly in his bout against the then WBC champion Chris Eubank in 1997, who suffered cuffing check hook counters when he moved in.
Andre Ward would always fight shrewdly, remaining at a distance when he needed, closing in when he had to and hurting his opponents without over committing. Ward’s mind was always focused on winning; emotions were rarely involved, remaining calm and collected throughout his career. But if a naughty shoulder barge or a cheeky elbow was needed, then it was needed. Ward could, however, rack up an early points deficit due to his slow start; Arthur Abraham controlled the first half of their fight by simply being busier, as did Sergey Kovalev when they fought.
This is something Calzaghe could perhaps exploit. Nevertheless, looking at the intellectual side of each other’s boxing ability, it is hard to look past the aptitude of being able to adapt to any style or type of fighter either in preparation or mid-fight. Calzaghe exemplified what it means to be a thinking man’s boxer and his ability to adjust may just edge Ward’s ring IQ.
RESUME AND COMPETITION
Both men came into the sport as super middleweights, became the best, beat all the rest, and won a host of world titles. Both boxers moved up to light heavyweight in the twilight of their careers and won yet more championships at this weight and left the sport undefeated. Both fighters fought during a good era for their weight classes and both men’s achievements are worthy of elite status. But what about the competition they faced?
With a record of 46 and 0, Joe Calzaghe managed to win the unified WBA (Super), WBC, IBF, WBO, Ring magazine and lineal super-middleweight titles, and the Ring light-heavyweight title. Calzaghe is the longest-reigning super-middleweight world champion in boxing history, having held the WBO title for over 10 years and protecting the title against 20 boxers before moving up to light-heavyweight. After beating Chris Eubank in 1997 for his first world title belt, Calzaghe’s combined records of his opponents until his retirement 23 fights later owned 649 wins and just 51 losses. During this time, he would defeat nine men who would at one stage, or another become world champions; this included Robin Reid, Richie Woodhall, Charles Brewer, Byron Mitchell, Jeff Lacy, Sakio Bika, Mikkel Kessler, Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr.
As his super-middleweight and light-heavyweight reigns overlapped, he retired with the longest continual time as world champion of any active boxer at the time. Calzaghe was also the first boxer to unify three of the four major world titles (WBA, WBC, and WBO) at super-middleweight. Even though his stint at light heavyweight was short-lived, he managed to squeeze in the sound beating of two pound-for-pound greats in both Roy Jones Jr and Bernard Hopkins. Their achievements would require an entirely separate article to specify but one of the main arguments against Calzaghes rousing victories over these fighters is that they were ‘over the hill’.
On the contrary, Bernard went on to accumulate further ground-breaking career moments. Hopkins defeated Jean Pascal in 2011 for the WBC and lineal light heavyweight titles after his defeat to Calzaghe as well as regaining the Ring title.
This made Hopkins the oldest boxer in history to win a world championship, at the age of 46, breaking George Foreman’s record set in 1994. Hopkins later broke his own record by winning the IBF light heavyweight title from Tavoris Cloud in 2013, and again in 2014 when he won the WBA (Super) title from Beibut Shumenov, at ages 48 and 49, respectively. Jones similarly found success, winning four fringe belts after his loss to Calzaghe whilst beating 14 opponents in 18 bouts, many of whom were 20 years his junior.
Drawbacks? there aren’t many, but to be as close to impartial as I possibly can, we must acknowledge the closest of Calzaghe’s when he defended his title against former fellow Brit Robin Reid in 1999. Reid found a home for his right hand with regularity after the fifth round and many had scoured the mid rounds and later rounds for Reid.
Critically, referee Roy Francis docked the challenger a point for low blows in the eighth round. Reid continued to snap back the head of Calzaghe and rinsed the WBO champion with quick effective work in the final close rounds. Calzaghe won a controversial split decision from the judges who were widely torn on the winner and many fans believe that the ‘Pride of Wales’ should own a record of 45 and 1.
Andre Ward retired as a phenome. It took no time for the International Boxing Hall of Fame to induct Ward this year into its catalogue of legends, with this as his first year of eligibility (five years since his retirement in 2017). As mentioned, Ward achieved the glorious gold medal in the 2004 Olympic games; the first American to win one in eight years prior. After holding the unified WBA (Super), WBC, Ring magazine, and lineal super middleweight titles between 2009 and 2015; and the unified WBA (Undisputed), IBF, WBO, and Ring light-heavyweight titles between 2016 and 2017, he actually achieved more professional titles than Calzaghe.
During his reign as light heavyweight champion, Ward was ranked as the world’s best active boxer, pound for pound, by The Ring magazine and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (TBRB). Ward, like Calzaghe, also left the boxing world with the mystifying and exceedingly desired ‘0’, but what of the quality of the opponents he faced?
Andre rose to worldwide notoriety upon entering the Super Six World Boxing Classic tournament in 2009, where he won the WBA (Super) super-middleweight title from Mikkel Kessler in the opening group stage. After he Beat Kessler to become champion, Ward had a further 11 fights were the combined records of all he faced amounted to 279 wins and only 16 losses including one that he had already inflicted in a previous bout with Kovalev.
In addition to his opponents win/loss ratio, Ward also beat 6 fighters who would at one stage, or another became world champions, including Sakio Bika, Arthur Abraham, Carl Froch, Chad Dawson, and Sergey Kovalev.
So, what can be said about Ward’s legacy? Again, there is little to nitpick over except perhaps the first bout with Sergey Kovalev in 2016.
The American was handed a sizable points victory over the Russian Light heavyweight star when it was clear that the bout was much closer than the scorecards may suggest. Boxing fans across the globe saw this as hometown robbery as Ward was shocked by the vicious and effective jab of Sergey Kovalev who imposed himself early. Most of the middle rounds were competitive and looking back it is a difficult fight to score. Ward emphatically shut this argument down by annihilating Kovalev with a body assault to find the knockout in round 8 of their rematch.
Mikkel Kesler and Sakio Bika are the common opponents of the men in question but these were point shutouts and truly little can be distinguished here. Some argue that the Kessler and Bika that Calzaghe faced were superior to the Kessler and Bika that faced Ward; but both fighters found success during the interim period before facing Ward and both men had significant wins after Ward.
Accolades aside, when directly comparing the two fighters’ resume it seems that Calzaghe had the marginally better competition, and of course, you must consider that the Brit had over twice as many fights as Ward after their first world titles. Calzaghe also faced more fighters who were former, current, or future world champions during this time.
These men are two of the best gladiators we have ever had the honour of witnessing for our viewing pleasure in the ring. The style, the grace and excellence will forever belong in the upper echelons of the sport. This article has displayed some of the stats and figures surrounding the two men, but in reality, the execution of the sport of boxing by both Joe Calzaghe and Andre Ward needs to be seen to be believed.
From Humble backgrounds to lofty pound for pound listings, ‘the son of god’ and ‘the Italian Dragon’ experienced everything in between. Despite their perfect records, the careers of the men in question were filled with adversity. Haunted by painful injuries, personal setbacks and the incessant squawk of the media critic parroting tired old trivial condemnations, neither man ever relinquished at any time inside or outside the ring.
All things considered, this bout would be a real chess match, for want of a better adage. An initial probing of each other’s reactions and defences would provide a tense battle of wits initially.
The middle rounds would see a skirmish of strength on the inside, both fighters engaging in grinding rough-housery. Calzaghe would unleash quick sprints of cuffing flurries, stepping back to let off some jabs, whilst Ward would close in to catch the Welsh man with short accurate counters. The final third of the fight would be a treat, both men landing significant, hard accurate shots. The 12th bell would most likely be heard owing to both mens’ tungsten chins and spartan level stamina, but I feel that it would be Calzaghe who would have his hand raised.
Yes, this is British Boxing Television and yes, I am a Brit, so of course, I am a little biased. But the speed and guile of Calzaghe would be too much to handle for the American early, who was prone to a sluggish start. As Ward seeks to close the distance to win the battle of attrition on the inside, he would find success with his short accurate counters. Noticing the success, Calzaghe would switch up the tempo of the fight to box at distance and win the majority of the next rounds.
Could I be wrong? Absolutely. Was this all a little pointless? Maybe. But it was just one more opportunity to celebrate the careers of arguably two of the best super-middleweights of all time.