Pulling No Punches by Michael Katz | Location, location, location.
In this weekend’s major confrontation, undefeated real supermiddleweight champion Joe Calzaghe travels for the first time to fight in the United States when he challenges the real light-heavyweight champion in Las Vegas.
Much has been made of the fact that the Welshman will not have the homecourt advantage, the way he did in his two most serious fights, against fellow unbeaten 168-pound titleholders Jeff Lacy and Mikkel Kessler. He’s 44-0, but has fought outside the United Kingdom only twice, once in Germany, once in Denmark.
But does that give Hopkins, a major underdog considering his Hall of Fame credentials, any kind of edge? Maybe not in Vegas, where he twice dropped decisions to Jermain Taylor in middleweight title bouts many of us ringsiders never saw him lose.
And while he was toying with Oscar de la Hoya a few years back, before putting him out with a body shot, one Nevada judge actually had the Golden Boy – and future Hopkins business partner – ahead on his scorecard.
Plus, before his third meeting with Robert Allen, on a card designed to set up the showdown with de la Hoya, Hopkins threatened to go home unless Nevada removed Joe Cortez as the referee. Hopkins was afraid that his desecration of the Puerto Rican flag as part of his buildup for a meeting with Felix Trinidad Jr. would offend Cortez.
Hopkins was talked out of his strike and, with Cortez actually deducting a point from Allen for low blows, handily won the decision. Afterwards, Hopkins said it was a pleasure fighting with such a capable referee and he wouldn’t mind doing it again.
Well, guess what? Cortez has been appointed referee for this HBO telecast. I bring this all up because the fact that the fight, for the title Hopkins won two years ago from Antonio Tarver (then recognized as the real 175-pound champion) is being held at neutral PH Ring at Planet Hollywood on the Las Vegas Strip.
Still, I advise: Location, location, location.
This entails betting, and since I can not guarantee a winner of this meeting between two veteran boxers that figures to go the 12-round distance, I am talking about where to bet.
If the preference is Hopkins, you might also want to take in Westminster Abbey, the Tower Big Ben and the rosy red cheeks of the little children. In England, Hopkins is a +220 bargain, which makes him very likeable. On these shores, he is only +190.
Location, location, location.
Over there, Calzaghe is a well-known and admired practitioner of the Sweet Science, a left-handed compliment to British boxing that some say is the best of post-World War II. He is quick-handed, throws lovely combinations from creative angles, and sets a merry pace.
But he is not worth the -300 being offered with fish and chips overseas. I’m not sure I’d bet him at -240 over here. Yes, he figures to win. Hopkins, at 43 and never very busy, figures to be outworked by the younger Pride of Wales. But Calzaghe, at 36, is no spring chicken himself.
Hopkins, who added the great conditioner Mackie Shilstone (previous winners include Michael Spinks and Ozzie Smith) seems to be reborn.
Calzaghe, who won his first 168-pound title by beating Chris Eubank in 1997, has for long been the bigger man. However, since Shilstone’s remodeling, Hopkins has looked like a well-sculpted light-heavyweight. He might indeed be the bigger man here.
And, Calzaghe’s southpaw stance should not be much of a problem. Since ending his brief retirement, Hopkins has been fighting annually against left-handers. Two years ago, he beat Tarver from pillar to post to win the light-heavy title. Last year, against one of the best southpaws of recent vintage in Winky Wright, he came on strong in the latter half of the fight to outpoint him.
Calzaghe’s speed and work rate make him a legitimate favorite. He has shown such skill to be worthy of high listing in any pound-for-pound rating. Calzaghe is intelligent enough not to fall for Hopkins’s usual rants that upset opponents, like the horrific boast that "no white boy can beat me."
Calzaghe is a pro’s pro with physical advantages here, but no one gets rich betting against Hopkins. He is a master at figuring out his opponent and setting up moats and parapets to blunt his attacks. He promises to make Calzaghe look like "an ordinary Joe" and I would not advise betting against him.
Even after he’s been dead for a few years.
And the location, up or down, won’t matter.