I followed much of Joe Calzaghe’s epic career whilst working for BBC Sport, but here’s a report I did before that, for his first world title defence as he returned to Wales with his WBO super-middleweight belt. I was writing for the Cardiff University student newspaper when Calzaghe took on Branko Sobot on 24 January, 1998.
“Newbridge super-middleweight Joe Calzaghe brought big-time boxing to Cardiff as Sky TV and the national press rolled into the Cardiff International Arena for his first WBO world title defence against Branko Sobot.
The night began on a sad note as a tearful Robbie Regan announced his retirement before his adoring fans; he had been due to defend his world title on the same bill against Colombia’s Julio Jorgio (surely a character from the Fast Show!), but was forced to pull out after failing a brain scan.
The disappointment of the fervent Welsh fans was soon forgotten; they went wild as a confident Calzaghe entered the arena. He had been awesome in training, forcing a notoriously durable sparring partner who had helped Nigel Benn to prepare for all his world title fights to quit after just two days. This form was immediately carried into the fight.
Showing no sign of nerves on his first bill-topping show, Calzaghe set to work quickly with lightning combinations finding his opponent’s head and body.
At times he left himself a little open and took some good shots from Sobot, but his chin had been proved in the fight with Eubank and he was never in the slightest trouble.
The Croatian challenger was a tough nut; he had fought in his country’s civil war, had gone on to win the German middleweight title and had never previously been stopped. Calzaghe, though, had promised a third-round stoppage, and he did not disappoint. A peach of a left uppercut caught Sobot cold and sent him to the deck; the punch is known as a bolo, being delivered initially from behind the puncher’s shoulder. The Croat later admitted he never saw it coming. He struggled bravely to his feet, but a merciless assault from the Welshman meant that the referee had no choice but to stop the fight.
Afterwards promoter Frank Warren suggested that Calzaghe is on the verge of becoming one of the biggest draws in world boxing, perhaps even bigger than Naseem Hamed. His speed, power and durability suggest that this may be more than just hype.
Warren hinted that another Cardiff date may be arranged for Calzaghe in early April, possibly with the city’s other world champion Barry Jones as support, before he is taken to America to win over the pay-per-view HBO audience.
Catch him in Cardiff when you can; the show is too good to miss.”
Here’s Calzaghe’s thoughts on the fight (from a 2007 interview on his 10-year anniversary as world champion):
“I remember catching the Croatian with a great uppercut and dropping him in the second before finishing him off in the third.
“It was a routine defence and I fought within myself. It was a great atmosphere because it was my first defence in front of my fans in the CIA.”