Boxing: Calzaghe builds Celtic strikeforce

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The Independent Online

There was a time when the Welsh enjoyed a punch-up as much as they did a sing-song. Now it seems the fight game is back in good voice again down in the valleys.

Last weekend in Manchester a bright young amateur lightweight named Jamie Arthur, from Cwmbran, became the first Welshman since Howard Winstone 44 years ago to strike gold in the Commonwealth Games. On the same night, in Italy, Maesteg's Jason Cook climbed off the floor to knock out the top-rated Sandro Casmonica and win the European lightweight title.

With the formerly London-based British Boxing Board of Control having taken up residence in Cardiff, albeit after a move forced on them by impecunious circumstances following their hefty pay-out to Michael Watson, Welsh fight fans have reason to be joyful.

On Saturday night some 8,000 of them are expected to turn up at an ancient venue where Tom Jones used to bellow "It's Not Unusual". What is unusual is that it is the turn of Joe Calzaghe to serenade them with his fists. He stars in something of a fistic open-air concert in the grounds of Cardiff Castle, which has never before been used for boxing, though it has seen a few deft jabs from jousting knights in its time.

Miguel Jiminez, of Puerto Rico, provides the opposition for what should be a relatively trouble-free 11th defence of Calzaghe's World Boxing Organisation super-middleweight title.

Open air promotions are always a weather risk, so no doubt promoter Frank Warren hopes it will be a night when it rains punches, and not the wet stuff.

Calzaghe sounds about as Welsh as a plateful of gnocchi, as well he might with a Sardinian father, but he is as Celtic as a leek. He boxed for Wales as an amateur, winning three schoolboy and ABA titles, and says he was "immensely proud" when Arthur stood on the Commonwealth podium. He has invited his fellow Cwmbranian to be his ringside guest on Saturday.

Although a popular figure in Wales, Calzaghe has always shunned the brighter lights of London, where he might have made a bigger name for himself. Even as Britain's only undefeated world champion he still prefers to train in Cwmbran, parking his Porsche outsidea ramshackle tin hut once used by miners after a day at the coal face.

"I just wouldn't be comfortable anywhere else," he says. "I've been going there for 20 years and it is just like a second home." At his first home, too, he's just an ordinary Joe, preferring the quiet family life to that of a celebrity.

It is not that he is unambitious, he says, just that he doesn't consider himself a star outside the ring in the mould as Lennox Lewis or Naseem Hamed. "They are showmen and it works for them but I don't seek that type of fame. If I lose tomorrow and come home everything will still be the same. I don't have hangers-on who will drop me once I'm no longer a champion."

It is lucky that Calzaghe is level-headed as he has just suffered a bigger blow outside the ring than he ever has inside it by the refusal of the undisputed world middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins, arguably the the second best fighter in the world behind Roy Jones jnr, to move up a division and meet him.

Last week Hopkins seemed on the brink of an agreement with Warren and his United States television associates, Showtime, but he has since done a U-turn. What could have been one of the hottest fights for some time is now on ice. Showtime offered Hopkins $3m towards a fight with Calzaghe in this country as part of a three-bout deal but the American insists on at least doubling his money.

So, after getting geared up for a showpiece contest with Hopkins, how can Calzaghe motivate himself to face a relative unknown like Jiminez, 32, who has fought only twice in the last 18 months but has never been stopped or knocked down in 22 fights, only one of which he has lost? He shrugs: "I just take one fight at a time. Anyway, I've been in this business long enough to know you should never believe anything until you see the name on the contract. It doesn't upset me. I'm just looking forward to a good fight with Jiminez. I still think there is 20 per cent more of me to be seen yet. I crave to be one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world."

Calzaghe admits he was a little disappointed with his performance in his last home-town contest, against the cute American veteran Charles Brewer, who took him the distance.

The Welshman's punches lacked sharpness. "I was too anxious to knock him out. I made too many mistakes but this time I promise I'll put on a great show.

Calzaghe also promises that this time he will pack a punch. Knowing the Welsh summer, spectators are advised to pack a mac. Let's hope they won't be singing in the rain.