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Old 04-27-2005, 11:32 AM #1
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Default Calzaghe - End of the Road??

Interview with Joe Calzaghe

Donald McRae
Monday April 25, 2005
The Guardian

Joe Calzaghe should be flying. He should be blazing across the sporting skyline with his perfect arc of statistics trailing behind him. In his eighth year as world champion, and unbeaten after 38 fights, Calzaghe will make the 16th successive defence of his WBO super-middleweight title in Germany a week on Saturday. The Welshman is being paid 736,000 to face his mandatory challenger, Mario Veit, a man he knocked out in the first round when they met in 2001.

Calzaghe has not lost a fight for 15 years. His last defeat, as a gifted amateur, happened in 1990 when a trio of East European judges decided that an outclassed Romanian had done enough in remaining on his feet to be gifted the verdict. Calzaghe's sculpted face, meanwhile, remains unblemished and explains why he was recently voted the best-looking man in Wales.

"So Joe," I begin, "why has your career never really taken off?"

Sitting on the blue apron of the ring in his father's Newbridge Boxing Club - with the starkness of an ugly concrete building accentuated by the beauty of the surrounding valleys - Calzaghe shakes his head. The question does not surprise him. "I've asked myself the same thing over and over again. Why am I not a household name in Britain? Why have I not got the recognition I deserve after so long? I think the fact that none of my fights are seen on terrestrial television is significant but, other than that, I don't exactly know. I really don't."

Enzo Calzaghe, Joe's dad and trainer, jabbers darkly of a media conspiracy against the most naturally talented British fighter of his generation. The real reasons are more tangled and have become synonymous with the malaise that marginalises boxing around the world, with the hard-core Hispanic exceptions of countries like Mexico and Puerto Rico. Boxing's raw power has been diminished by corruption and confusion.

As a result Calzaghe's fight record and his long reign - as holder of a lightly regarded belt he won after defeating Chris Eubank in a fierce battle in October 1997 - have been undermined by boxing's sleazy politics and bewildering plethora of titles. It was not always this way.

"When I was 14," Calzaghe recalls, "I told my careers adviser that I was going to be a world champion boxer. Of course she laughed. I wasn't bad academically at school and so she said: 'Seriously, what skills are you going to use to build a career?' I told her I meant it, I replied by saying 'My left hook, my timing, my confidence to succeed in the ring'. Instead of revising I was already fighting for ABA titles. I was heading for the world championship.

"That was my dream. It's just turned out different than I expected. You think that after becoming world champion you're going to be a massive superstar with lots of lucrative bouts against great fighters, but that never materialised for me. Boxing has given me a very good lifestyle and I've beaten five former world champions but none have given me the defining fight I need. I still feel like, at the age of 33, I'm waiting for my big chance."

His disillusionment has intensified. While four out of his last five fights have been cancelled or postponed - against a backdrop of ludicrous machinations, injury and personal trauma - his closest British contemporary has been given the kind of challenge for which Calzaghe himself has yearned so long. Ricky Hatton is preparing for the fight of his life, against the formidable light-welterweight Kostya Tszyu in Manchester on June 4. It's a compelling contest that will give the younger British fighter an opportunity to break into the higher echelons of mainstream sport while testing himself against one of the few masters of modern boxing.

It is still impossible, however, to know how good Calzaghe may, or may not, be in the ring while he trains aimlessly for bouts against journeymen like Veit and Brian Magee, who was meant to be his latest opponent. Frank Warren, Calzaghe's promoter, withdrew him from that contest 36 hours before the bell was due to ring in Belfast last month after the WBO claimed to be unable to sanction it as a title defence without the consent of Peter Kohl, Veit's promoter. It was yet another example of boxing's unending and alienating chaos.

Two further title fights were cancelled last year when Calzaghe pulled out with back and hand injuries. The most damaging occurred in June when he pronounced himself unfit to meet Glen Johnson, the Jamaican who went on to become the world's dominant light- heavyweight, and the Boxer of the Year, by knocking out the great Roy Jones Jr and beating Antonio Tarver.

The fact that Calzaghe called for a postponement so close to the Johnson fight fuelled rumours that he was struggling amid the collapse of his marriage - Calzaghe was arrested at his former home after his wife Mandy called the police in the days following his withdrawal from the Johnson bout.

"I had a really good week then, didn't I?" he smiles thinly. "I topped it off by getting done for speeding a day or two later.

"It was horrible because I was ready for Johnson. My weight was good and I'd trained hard. Then in the last 30 seconds of my final 12 rounds of sparring I suffered a back spasm. The timing was terrible.

"But fate moves in mysterious ways. If I had beaten Johnson he would not have fought Jones or Tarver and people would have said I'd beaten an unknown journeyman rather than someone we now know is a very good fighter. So if I beat him later this year I'll get 10 times the respect."

Despite Johnson's insistence that he now has no interest in the fight, Calzaghe attempts to remain upbeat. "I've got a lot of faith in Frank [Warren]. He got Hatton his fight and he's chasing the same for me. I'd fancy my chances because Johnson's short and a come-forward fighter. I'd pick him off with fast combinations. So, yeah, that's the fight I really want."

Calzaghe laughs bleakly. "That's the irony. My ideal fight for a long time was Roy Jones. Eubank and Steve Collins were chasing Jones before me but they never got that fight so I knew that I may not get it either. But all I had in my head as my target was Roy Jones, and then he got beat by Tarver. I was then chasing Tarver and he got beat by Johnson. Now we're chasing Johnson again so that probably means Tarver will win their rematch and I'll be back to square one."

That dearth of meaningful fights, combined with his domestic turmoil, has led to accusations that Calzaghe has lost his way. He has fought only three times in the past two years and admits that his most recent performance - when he was knocked down before overcoming a limited spoiler called Kabary Salem six months ago - "was my worst in the ring. Mentally, I was all over the place. I've seen the tape and it's embarrassing."

With the bitter legal battle surrounding his divorce set to rumble on there is a danger that Calzaghe could be diverted further.

"It's been incredibly tough and I'm still going through the worst. Unfortunately for me her lawyers have dragged up the Ray Parlour case. According to that [legal precedent] your ex-wife not only gets half your money but half your future earnings as well.

"It just doesn't make sense. If I'm made to pay her 50% of all my future purses then what's the point of boxing? The tax man already takes the other 50%. I think it's disgraceful. She's keeping her 24-hour-a-day toyboy in the house and he's actually given up work. So I'm paying for him too. It's ridiculous."

Calzaghe's young girlfriend accompanies him to the gym in yet another sign of the irreversible breakdown of his marriage. "I've been with Joanna about a year and she's been really great and supportive. But I'm not a steady 50-grand-a-week Premiership footballer like Ray Parlour. I'm a boxer and every fight could be my last. You just have to remember Michael Watson to know what boxing can do to you. So for me to have to hand over 50% of my future earnings makes me wonder if I can carry on. I don't really want to think about if she gets her way."
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