CALZAGHE VICTORIOUS AGAIN
By Iain Axon, Las Vegas
Joe Calzaghe marked his American debut with a split decision win over Bernard Hopkins in front of 15,000 screaming Welsh fans in Las Vegas in a display which ushers him closer to the Hall of Fame.
His supporters lifted the roof off the PH Ring as Calzaghe captured the Ring Light-Heavyweight title with a 116-111, 115-112, 113-114 win over Hopkins. But boy was their hero made to fight.
The official attendance was 14,213 - including stars of Hollywood and sport - but it felt like there was a ten times as many people there in a bear-pit of an arena.
Down in the first, Calzaghe had to once again call on his bravery, chin and heart to see off the challenge of the best 43-year-old in boxing.
In fact, Hopkins proved that he is the second-best light-heavyweight in the world, but he couldn't match Calzaghe, who, having mastered the super-middleweight division, repeated the trick at 175 pounds.
Not only was it his first fight at the weight, but he was tackling a legend in America on his debut in the States. It was some achievement, and I had him winning by a single point.
In the end, as expected, Calzaghe's superior work-rate and hand-speed just, and only just, earned him the decision over Hopkins' defensive skill and counter-punching.
But the fight began disastrously for Calzaghe, who walked on to a right hand, which caught him flush, and looked to have damaged his nose.
He went down, and although it appeared a flash knock down because Hopkins stood off Calzaghe, replays confirmed it was a powerful punch.
Calzaghe gradually worked his way back into the fight - although I felt he lost the second round - as Hopkins looked to counterpunch off the back foot, with the challenger taking the centre of the ring. There were frequent mauls and wrestling matches, with neither man gaining an advantage.
Boxing behind his jab - but more than happy to meet Hopkins in the clinches - Calzaghe swept the middle rounds and appeared to be inching ahead.
But Hopkins had a good ninth, and then in the 10th showed all his years of experience by going to the floor when caught with a low blow, rolling around in an Oscar-winning performance.
Referee Joe Cortez - who generally had a good fight - gave Hopkins a few minutes to recover, and Calzaghe prowled the ring, gesturing to the crowd to get behind him.
His concentration broken by the gamesmanship, Calzaghe was immediately caught with a big right hand, and Hopkins had his best round since the first.
But back came Calzaghe in the closing two rounds, determined to go out on his shield. His phenomenal stamina and work-rate saw him home.
Now Calzaghe could end his career against Roy Jones Jnr in Cardiff, a fitting finale for one of the great British fighters.
Jones called out Calzaghe at the post-fight press conference, and a meeting looks on the cards, with Calzaghe indicating he would be happy to oblige the great American.
Having beaten Jeff Lacy and Mikkel Kessler to clean up at super-middleweight, Calzaghe is now number one at 12'7. That's some achievement.
The punch stats showed that Calzaghe threw 707 punches and landed 232, while Hopkins threw 468 and landed with 127. But they only told half the story.
There was hardly a whisker between them in what was a compelling fight. At times it wasn't pretty, but it was always watchable, and the atmosphere at ringside was electric.
Roll on that final appearance.
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