Boxing: Extraordinary as Joe whips up a two-round storm
Sunday 29 June 2003
Uunlucky for some? Not Joe Calzaghe. In the 13th defence of his World Boxing Organisation super-middleweight title and in his 13th year undefeated as an amateur or pro, the 31-year-old Welshman claimed his most dramatic victory when he became the first man to stop the accomplished American Byron Mitchell last night.
He did so after being knocked down for the first time in his career, an embarrassment which spurred him to drive back Mitchell in a furious hail of punches which forced referee Dave Parris to step in after 2min 36sec of the second round.
The packed Cardiff International Arena throbbed with Celtic passion as Calzaghe turned up the heat. Although he had been floored before, Mitchell, the 29-year-old "Slammer from Alabama'' had never failed to last the distance in 28 fights and Calzaghe's feat would have impressed the TV audience in America.
The Newbridge southpaw claimed it was the greatest of his 36 victories. "Months of frustration came out in there. There was a lot of anger in that ring,'' he said.
This contest, twice postponed, may mark the watershed of Calzaghe's career, for he now has to decide whether to try for a defining fight against the top-notch American Bernard Hopkins or the International Boxing Federation champion Sven Ottke of Germany, who has controversially defeated Mitchell.
Although Calzaghe has been Britain's most consistently successful champion, never have we seen such fire in his fists. From the outset he was determined there would be no pussyfoot punching and Williams, no slouch himself, responded in kind, but seemed dazzled by the Calzaghe combinations.
So pleased was he with his son's first-round performance that dad Enzo kissed Calzaghe as he sat down at the end of it. However, about a minute into the second it seemed as if he had been somewhat hasty, for in the high-speed exchanges Calzaghe was caught by a right, half hook, half uppercut, which spun him to the floor for an eight count.
You could see the hurt - mental rather than physical - in his eyes as he rose, and he immediately tore after Mitchell in a slam-bam attack which first knocked down Mitchell and then drove him across the ring into the ropes. As he staggered against them referee Parris intervened.
Williams did not seem to protest, although he said afterwards: "I don't think it should have been stopped, but I suppose the ref was looking after my best interests. I made a mistake in going in for the kill because I did not think I would get a points decision. Unfortunately I got a bit careless, but there is no doubt Calzaghe has great heart.''
The crowd concurred. They stamped and cheered what was probably their favourite fighting son's most significant success since he won the title from Chris Eubank almost six years ago. He had been out of the ring for over six months and there was a lot of pent-up frustration to be unleashed on Mitchell.
Asked about the knockdown, Calzaghe at first jokingly suggested that he considered it a slip, but then admitted: "It was a shock. It was the first time I have been on the floor in my entire life. But there nearly always comes a time when the champion gets hurt and then you see a champion's heart to come back and win by a knockout.
"You saw a lot of heart tonight. There was no way that guy was going to bet me. They'd have had to take me out on a stretcher. But next time I'll be more composed.''
Who he will face next time is a problematical question. Calzaghe has been one of the most proficient, efficient and unsung of British world champions in a professional career which began after he became a triple ABA champion.
But he has yet to appear in the States, and seems to have run out of opponents in his weight category, although promoter Frank Warren still believes he can entice either Hopkins or Ottke. Calzaghe himself doesn't seem so sure, and certainly believes Ottke will not want to know. "If he didn't want to fight me before then he definitely won't want to fight me now.''
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