Calzaghe makes another title defense
Appeal Sports Writer
There was a time when Joe Calzaghe was just another lad from Wales, a left midfielder who entertained the dream of playing football – that would be soccer to American blokes – for a living.
All of that changed when Calzaghe was 13 and won his first British amateur boxing title. Then, when it came time to tell his teachers what he wanted to do with his life, the naysayers began their nattering.
“The teachers would all laugh,” Calzaghe said in a conference call last week. “They’d say, ‘What are you going to do?’ I said, ‘I’m going to be a world champion someday.’ They said, ‘No, you need to get a profession.’ I said. ‘I don’t need one. I’m going to be world champion.'”
And, as Calzaghe put it, that’s the kind of single-minded focus he’s had since a young age.
The teachers have long since eaten crow as the 35-year-old Calzaghe – nicknamed “The Prince of Wales” – has not only become a world champion, but the world champion. Calzaghe, 43-0 with 32 knockouts, has owned his WBO super middlweight belt for more than 10 years and he’ll be defending it for a division record-tying 21st time against Denmark’s Mikkel Kessler, 39-0 (29), the WBC-WBA 168-pound titlist.
Saturday’s bout will be televised by HBO, beginning at 6 p.m., from Millenium Stadium, in Cardiff, Wales. The event is expected set the European indoor attendance record by attracting 63,000 fans.
It’s ironic that when talking about losing that Calzaghe’s desire to win and keep winning is most apparent. He has no problem remembering the name of the first opponent to beat him – a certain Chris Stock, when he was 10.
“Chris Stock’s dad was one of the judges,” said Calzaghe, of Newbridge, Wales, who was 18 when he suffered his last defeat. “My last loss was in 1990 in Prague in the European junior championships. It took me weeks to get over it. The fear of losing drives me on and I’m a proud fighter, a proud man. And just the fear, the fear drives me and motivates me to make sure that I keep winning.”
Calzaghe’s12-week training camp for Kessler is perhaps the greatest indicator of his motivation to stay on and go out on top of his game.
“These are the kinds of fights I want,” said Calzaghe, who is coming off a three-round technical knockout of Peter Manfredo Jr. “This is probably the most difficult opponent for me, but that’s what it’s about. I’m looking for big fights, big performances and to get there I need a fight that I get up for.”
Against the 28-year-old “Viking Warrior,” Calzaghe will be facing an opponent with the most impressive pedigree since he humbled Jeff Lacy over 12 one-sided rounds in 2006.
Kessler, who is listed at 6-foot-1 (an inch-and-a-half taller than Calzaghe), took a convincing 12-round decision over iron-chinned Librado Andrade in March, and owns victories over previous super middleweight champions Markus Beyer (KO 3), Eric Lucas (TKO 10), Anthony Mundine (12-round unanimous decision), Manny Siaca (TKO 8) and Dingaan Thobela.
Nevertheless, southpaw Calzaghe thinks that the orthodox Kessler is a bit one-dimensional.
“Regardless of what Mikkel Kessler brings to the table, I believe I’m going to win,” Calzaghe said. “I’ve seen him fight – he’s very good. He has a European style, he’s an upright fighter with very good power with either hand. What you see on one tape, you see on two tapes. He looks the same.
“He boxes the same way and I believe he’s not adaptable. He’s never faced anybody remotely in the same league as me in regards to my ability and my adaptability. I would say Kessler is a better fighter than Lacy. Lacy is more one-dimensional and predictable.”
It was against Lacy that Calzaghe won critical acclaim, but many of the same people who trumpeted Lacy are now on a different bandwagon, saying the former IBF champ was overrated.
“If you ask me if I have gotten the respect, well, no, I haven’t,” Calzaghe said. “(Before) the Lacy fight it took years of being a champion before people finally sat up and took notice. But finally, after all these years of hard work and plugging away, finally I’m starting to get the exposure and the respect that I think I deserve.”
Calzaghe said he knew he’d finally arrived when fighters like former middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins started calling him out. Then there are the numbers: At 43-0, he has a realistic chance of surpassing Rocky Marciano, who retired with a record of 49-0.
With a win over Kessler, Calzaghe would tie former IBF super middleweight titlist Sven Ottke with 21 consecutive defenses, which would leave him trailing only former strawweight king Ricardo Lopez (23 defenses) and heavyweight Joe Louis, who had 25.
Even though Calzaghe said he thought he could fight until he’s 40, he also indicated he had no designs on topping Louis’ mark.
“I’m still as fast as ever. I’m still feeling in great shape,” Calzaghe said. “I want to be one of the few fighters who retires undefeated and retires on top. After calling out the biggest super middleweight (Kessler), I may call out the biggest light heavyweight and call it a day.
“I’ve always said I’d be a lot better fighter at light heavyweight, but I want to prove it before I get too old. That’s probably the plan. I don’t want to be around for three more years, at two defenses a year, to beat Louis’ 25 defenses.”
Calzaghe said he’d love to make the trip overseas to fight at Madison Square Garden, but in the final analysis, when he can draw more than 60,000 fans in England, it wouldn’t make sense to come to America.
Calzaghe said pundits are making a mistake by holding Kessler in such high regard.
“People are making him out to be the power puncher in this fight,” Calzaghe said. “At the end of the day he couldn’t knock out Mundine, he couldn’t knock out Andrade. He threw everything but the kitchen sink.
“He’s an upright fighter and a straight puncher. He doesn’t like to fight going back. He doesn’t like to fight inside. So there’s something I’d like to do.”
He’d also like to silence critics who question his punching power.
“Look at Lacy’s face after our fight,” Calzaghe said. “He looked like he’d been run over by something. His face was all smashed up. I’ve been called a slapper. And if I can slap that hard, I’m pretty happy with that. I’m going to slap Kessler pretty hard, too.
“And the good thing is, he’s going into this fight thinking I can’t punch. I’m really looking forward to wiping that smile off his face.”
And that’s the kind of single-minded focus that could lead to an exciting contest on Saturday – the kind of fight that could leave Calzaghe’s critics eating as much crow as those teachers that once ridiculed his dream of being a world champion as impractical.