Saturday, November 08, 2008

:boxing: A Night at the Tracks:: Calzaghe vs Jones

Imagine, if you will, a big racetrack, packed to the rafters with eager spectators (and bet placers). Today is the big meet, a highly-anticipated match-up between two dominant thoroughbreds that might be edging for the "stud" life, but still has some left in them. Trotting onto the grass first is the dark chestnut horse--a multiple-time champion across the world with unheard-of speed and considerable power, with a physique that could put all others in the competition to shame. The stallion may not be as solidly built now, but he can still be one to reckon with. To another round cheers from the crowd comes the pearl white horse from overseas who had never encountered a loss, beating a sure-fire upstart and even a famous old veteran on his own turf along the way with a consistently-fast pace that couldn't be matched. Though some of the scribes and critics have debated about the caliber of their competition for the bulk of their racing career, among other matters, no one has objected to the opportunity to watch two fine specimens of the sport duke it out one-on-one on the racetrack in a duel of impressive speed versus impressive speed. Both horses can certainly sense the excitement in the air as they are loaded into the paddocks, with the raucous onlookers chanting and raving for their respective steeds and the impeding battle. The pistol's shot echoes throughout, the gates draw back, and off they go...

The fight between Roy Jones, Jr. and Joe Calzaghe has all of the earmarks of a big thoroughbred race: the raucous crowd, the atmosphere bound to be high in New York City's Madison Square Garden, the hot anticipation, and a showcase set for two very fast stallions--or in this case, pugilists. Jones may not be the physical freak of nature he once was years ago, but he can still move those hands and feet and make use of his natural slickness, and perhaps some of his impressive, though diminished, power. Calzaghe, on the other hand, lacks the smoothness of his opponent and any noteworthy power, but has made very effective use of his unorthodox style and consistent, pressuring, and awe-struck hand speed. It is this last aspect that both fighters possess at a near equal advantage, yet it is also one that may make-or-break the night for either.

Over history, it has been shown that faster-handed fighters tend to have more trouble with those possessing similar attributes or employing like gameplans (e.g. a traditionally slower boxer using their hands more or constantly staying on the move to offset the quicker one). While both can be argued about fighting opponents below their skill or level of ability, Jones is far more experienced than Calzaghe, having fought tougher, more solid competition than he has this decade alone. However, neither man has met some one that could match their respective hand speeds before...well, until Saturday night. Calzaghe is perhaps the quicker of the two in terms of volume punching, but Jones most likely has the edge on precision delivery of combinations. Both can also maneuver around the ring quickly and like to take generalship of a fight. As even they may appear on paper, there is anecdotal evidence that may allow for some kinks to be exploited.

In concurrence with the first point made in the previous paragraph, Jones was shown to be largely unresponsive when being pressured by Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson. Having to rely on his substantial defensive skills and agility, he had to absorb or dodge numerous shots against the ropes and in the corner--unfamiliar areas for someone who fights best away from there and nearer to the center of the ring. He had to also rely on instances when he could get away from the ropes (not often, especially against Johnson) and when openings presented themselves to counterpunching. This situation is prime meat for someone like Calzaghe, whose game thrives on such opportunities (it certainly helped against Jeff Lacy and Bernard Hopkins).

Conversely, his own strengths are also his own weaknesses. As he is a quick volume puncher and has been for years, Calzaghe has not developed a good punching technique that makes proper use of his power distribution. As such, his punches landed more with a paddle or slap than a snappy, impactful hit. As such, he does not tire very much over the course of fight, but nor does he terribly hurt a fighter, either (it can also be said to be a leading reason why he injures his hands so much during combat). Calzaghe's unorthodox style can be a major liability should a master boxer like Jones take advantage of it with his own fast hands. While Calzaghe tries to throw a punch or when he levies out a combo, he often leads himself wide open to sudden counter- and power punches. Unlike most of his other victims, Jones actually has the ability to accomplish this and move away from his advancements. Also, his shady footwork can lead to a number of instances when he is unbalanced, lending itself another opportunity for Jones to score points on a flash knockdown.

I usually like to invoke aspects such as defense and stamina when previewing a boxing match, but I don't believe they will play their usual spotlight roles here. What this fight will come down to (like a horse race, with a lesser emphasis on stamina) is a battle of speed vs speed, and the opporitunties that lay within. If one fighter succumbs to the other's quickness and subsequent style, they will have no real chance of victory and they will most likely be the least active of the two throughout the fight. An even-fought contest with many ebbs-and-flows is still very possible, but there will most likely be the one dominant performer in the ring.

Prediction: Jones, Split Decision (if he has flashbacks of Glen Johnson, Calzaghe, UD). As evenly matched on different fronts they are, I am going to give Jones the benefit of a doubt. His humiliating loss and performance against Johnson, and his poor showings against Tarver to a lesser extent, should help him deal with Calzaghe and his style. Jones also has power and better pin-point accuracy and reaction than him. He should also know what he's going up against and what to expect, and not take him lightly, yet Jones will perhaps need to be more aggressive and counterpunch to get the job done. Calzaghe is quick with his hands, but he hasn't fought someone like Jones before--someone that can actually match his speed and perhaps even surpass it. He'll have to be cautious, borrowing some of the winning elements from Glen Johnson, and also be mindful of leaving himself open too much. There will probably be no knockouts (a stoppage is still possible, or at least two knockdowns, if one of them is unresponsive), though, I think that Jones will be on his game and will be able to cause enough problems for Calzaghe to warrant a split decision in the storied arena.

EDIT [11/08/08]: I had originally thought that the fight, like so many of Calzaghe's, would take place in England and had made note of that in the preview. However, it was actually taking place in NYC (MSG, no less), and I completely forgot that fact. As such, I altered any such mention of it taking place in what I described as the "Welshman's backyard"...


(11.13.08:: Pardon for this coming so late...though everyone by now knows the results...)

Outcome: Calzaghe, UD. I said before that Jones would win the bout if he didn't revert to his performance against Glen Johnson and I gave him "the benefit of a doubt" that it wouldn't be the case last Saturday night. That looked to be so in the first round when he put Calzaghe on the canvas, but afterwards, it appears that the Welshman had his way with Jones big time, peppering him with shot after shot, while showboating and delivering a nasty gash above his left eye along the way. It sounds like Jones was trying to do something, but he ultimately succumbed to Calzaghe's speed. With the win, and purportedly his last fight, it looks like the latter's place in the hall-of-fame may be sealed (though I still beg to differ...), while Jones, with his own spot sealed (with less of an argument, though it is based more on his '90s body of work than his 2000s), may want to look for his own final bout to hang it up on in the near future...

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