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Boxing: Calzaghe can strike it rich on home soil

Big hitter Joe Calzaghe has a home-spun fortune within his grasp. Glyn Leach reports on the Welshman's first defence of the World Boxing Organisation super middleweight title, which Frank Warren believes will be the beginning of something big.

Promoter Frank Warren predicted a multi-million pound future for Joe Calzaghe, the World Boxing Organisation super middleweight champion, following the Newbridge southpaw's third-round defeat of the Croatian challenger Branco Sobot in Cardiff on Saturday. And, said Warren, Calzaghe can make his fortune without selling his soul to the American fight game.

In December, Warren promoted his first show in the United States: the successful fight-card at New York's self-proclaimed "Mecca of Boxing", Madison Square Garden, that featured the World Boxing Organisation's featherweight champion Naseem Hamed's thriller against Kevin Kelley. Warren has also forged links with the powerful US subscription TV giant, Home Box Office. But the promoter claims that major British talents such as Hamed and Calzaghe need not rely on that all-mighty dollar in order to strike it rich.

"Joe's next defence will probably be in Britain and then we will take him to New York or Atlantic City. Hopefully, for a unification fight," Warren said.

"I'm positive that Joe will be a huge success in the States. He's an exciting fighter and a devastating puncher.

"But America is only the icing on the cake. People seem to believe that myself and my fighters will have no control over our futures, that we will be swallowed up by the Americans and spat out when they have no further use for us. But nothing could be further from the truth. We don't need America in order to be successful: when we negotiate with American organisations, we negotiate from a position of strength."

Warren was speaking after a close-to-capacity crowd at the 5,000-seat Cardiff International Arena had watched the 25-year-old Calzaghe destroy Sobot with an elaborate but brutally effective bolo punch after one minute and 35 seconds of round three.

The rugged-looking challenger, who four years ago was a front-line soldier in the war that engulfed the former Yugoslavia, remarkably made it to his feet in time to beat referee Paul Thomas' count. But the 26-year-old from Zagreb was rescued under-fire moments later.

Calzaghe, a three-time ABA champion unbeaten in eight years, including 24 bouts (22 KOs) since turning professional in October 1993, displayed the kind of punching power that simultaneously collapses opponents in heaps and makes the public sit-up and pay attention. As with his title- winning effort against Chris Eubank three months ago, this latest victory, admittedly against a fringe middleweight contender fighting at 11st 6lb in a 12st division, marked Calzaghe as a British fighter of rare ability and potential.

A father of three who still trains in the same council-owned gym-with- no-ring where he was introduced to the sport as a 10-year-old, and who is still trained by his Sardinian-born father, Enzo, Calzaghe describes himself as: "Like Naseem but without the bullshit."

Warren points out that the WBO champions share more than just a penchant for picking the rounds in which their opponents will fall (Calzaghe had predicted a third-round finish against substitute Sobot, who lost for the second time in 16 fights).

"Naseem was set up for life long before making his American debut at the end of the last year: he was already a massive star in Britain and a pay-per-view attraction to rival any of the big heavyweight names," Warren said.

"Joe Calzaghe can do every bit as well as Naz - if he doesn't, I won't have done my job properly."

If Calzaghe fails, it is unlikely to be through any fault of the promoters. Unifying the four major championships is within the Welshman's capabilities - politically, through Warren's growing influence, and physically, through his own enormous natural talent - while big-money fights against former champions Nigel Benn and Steve Collins, formerly under contract to Warren and currently in retirements that are expected to end before too long, could present themselves before 1998 is over.