GIVE Joe Calzaghe credit for confidence. Undefeated in 44 fights (32 KO's) and with a 10-year reign as super middleweight champion, the Pride of Wales (as the 36-year-old resident of Newbridge is known) could have chosen a less problematic opponent for his U.S. debut—for instance, his bout with Peter Manfredo Jr., the woefully overmatched runner-up from The Contender whom Calzaghe stopped in three rounds a year ago in Cardiff, could have been held here. But Calzaghe, the son of a rock 'n' roll guitarist, has more than a bit of showman in him, and he chose to move up one weight class and make his Las Vegas bow last Saturday night against light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins (48--4, 32), whose experience, toughness, defensive mastery and just plain cussedness make him, even at age 43, a handful.
Though Calzaghe entered the ring at the Thomas & Mack Center as the favorite, most boxing observers agreed that the matchup would show whether he was the real thing or, like former welterweight champ Ricky Hatton, who was flattened by Floyd Mayweather Jr. in Vegas in December, just another overhyped Brit. The answer appears to be the former. After an often inelegant but never dull 12 rounds, Calzaghe came away with a close majority win, another title and a new level of visibility. He had to weather a flash knockdown in the first round and never hurt Hopkins, but with his fast hands and furious work rate (he landed 232 punches to Hopkins's 127), Calzaghe did enough to win. He is the first southpaw to beat Hopkins in 12 tries. "I knew this wouldn't look pretty ... but I won the fight," said Calzaghe, who termed the bout the toughest of his career. "The world title in a second division and a win in America is just icing on the cake."
Presumably Calzaghe, who earned $3 million for the Hopkins bout, will enjoy a bigger payday against his next opponent. Prospects include 39-year-old former light heavyweight champ Roy Jones Jr. and current middleweight king Kelly Pavlik. For now, though, Calzaghe heads home, having truly done his country proud.
The Pop Culture Grid
April 27, 2008
|How do sports stars fit in?||If Oprah called, I'd give ...||Number of text messages you sent today||First car you ever owned||I think I am allergic to ...||________ should stay away from the Botox.|
|TONY KANAAN IRL Driver||A signed helmet||40||A 1982 Volkswagon Golf GTI||Fake people||Priscilla Presley|
|IME UDOKA Spurs F||Her a date||Between 50 and 100||2005 Yukon Denali||Body odor||Joan Rivers (left)|
|BILL HALL Brewers 3B||A scholarship||About 20||1998 Toyota 4Runner||Sliders in the dirt||Lil' Kim|
|MAURICE EVANS Magic G||Whatever she asked for||20||1970s Chevy Chevette||Spinach||Barry Bonds (right)|
66 Runs surrendered by Kawamoto technical high school of Japan in the first 1 1/3 innings of a game against Shunshukan; at that point Kawamoto forfeited and Shunshukan was credited with a 9--0 win.
80,149 Fans at Nebraska's spring football game last Saturday, the first for new coach Bo Pelini.
17 Pitches in Cardinals rightfielder Rick Ankiel's first at bat against the Brewers' Carlos Villanueva on April 16; Ankiel walked.
2 Number of women who have won races in the 34-year history of the Champ Car Atlantic series: Katherine Legge (three in 2005) and Simona De Silvestro, in Long Beach on Sunday—hours after Danica Patrick had won the IndyCar race in Japan.
9 Three-pointers made by the Magic in the first quarter of a 114--100 win over the Raptors, tying the NBA playoff record for one period, set by the Celtics in 2002.
6--3 The Detroit Tigers' record in night games this season.
1--10 The Tigers' record in day games.
5 Consecutive seasons in which the defending Stanley Cup champs have failed to make the second round of the playoffs, after Anaheim lost its first-round series to Dallas on Sunday.