Boxing: Calzaghe aims to have the last word as super-middleweight
Friday 20 February 2004
Joe Calzaghe is in the boxing history books as the longest serving British world champion and after six years as the World Boxing Organisation super-middleweight holder he knows that it is time for a change.
Calzaghe, 31, defends his belt for the 14th time tomorrow night in Cardiff at the Wales National Ice Rink against Armenia's Mger Mkrtchian in what could be his last fight at the weight and the last title fight in his native country for a year.
If Calzaghe can add the Scrabble-friendly Mkrtchian to his long and at times illustrious list of beaten challengers, there are various options available to him that would inevitably require him to walk away from the WBO's 12-stone bauble for his first fight at light-heavyweight.
During the last five years Calzaghe has been a frustrated witness as negotiations for fights have collapsed as all parties gathered closer to the all-important financial stage of the deal. Roy Jones, Sven Ottke and Bernard Hopkins have been close to agreeing terms to meet the Welshman but once the chequebook appeared all three priced themselves out of the market.
However, Calzaghe has still beaten a succession of quality boxers in Chris Eubank, Robin Reid, Omar Sheika, Richie Woodhall, Byron Mitchell and Charles Brewer in fights that have slowly convinced the Welsh public that he is, as Eubank insisted in October 1997, the "real thing".
After tomorrow's fight Calzaghe is expected to announce that he will fight the Jamaican-born Glencoffe Johnson for the International Boxing Federation light-heavyweight title. Johnson is perfect for Calzaghe and that means that his handlers will probably ask for three or four times what the fight is worth and if that happens Calzaghe's ambitions will have struck another brick wall.
First, Calzaghe has to get up for Mkrtchian, who like other less-known challengers, will enter the ring as a massive underdog. But the Moscow-based fighter is younger at 27 and has lost just once in 19 fights. He deserves his chance because he travelled to Miami last year and stopped the previous WBO No 1 contender, Freeman Barr.
During the last few years Calzaghe has sounded like an apologist for his own international shortcomings and the general lack of respect that he has received for his ring achievements. It is possible that had he agreed to take less money for one or two of the fights that collapsed, he would be in a different position today, but boxers never take less money and why should they? Talk of respect and legacy is easy, it is cheap and from this side of the ropes it is safe.
Calzaghe is the richest fighter in Welsh boxing history and in the top 10 British earners and that, as any boxer will tell you, is all that matters.
Mkrtchian will not have enough and Calzaghe will take his total wins to 37 in 37 fights and his pay, since turning professional 10 years ago, to over £5m.
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