Joe Calzaghe has a fight on his sometimes fragile hands. His engagement with Denmark's Mikkel Kessler at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium in the early hours of next Sunday – to unify the world super-middleweight championship – is tough enough, but he faces another battle in the coming week.
The 35-year-old Calzaghe pockets a couple of million pounds for his night shift, but it is the 7lb he must lose in as many days to scale under the 12st limit which weighs on his mind. "This could be harder than the fight itself," he admits. "I've been doing it for 13 years so I suppose I should be used to it. But it does not get any easier as you get older. These days I walk around at about 14 stone between fights so I have to starve myself, not eating or drinking what I like. But the leaner I get the meaner I get and the real hunger is in my heart, the desire to win this fight and be recognised as one of the greatest boxers in history."
There is another niggle, too. The Setanta-screened fight starts at about 1.30am for American TV, so Calzaghe has been training at midnight to get his body clock attuned. "It's a bit of a pain. I've had to change my routine completely. It's not ideal, but I did the same when I fought Jeff Lacy, and I destroyed him."
Calzaghe, for 10 years the World Boxing Organisation champion, says that Kessler, a double champion who holds the more widely recognised World Boxing Council and World Boxing Association belts, is a better, slicker fighter than Lacy.
This is certainly no walk in the Arms Park for Calzaghe. Kessler (pictured right) is no Danish patsy. He can hit andhe can hurt, and like Calzaghe his unmarked features are testimony to his defensive skills.
Yet there are only two names of real significance on his record – the Australian Anthony Mundine, outpointed in Sydney,and Germany's Markus Beyer, knocked out in Copenhagen.
One of Britain's biggest fights, before one of the biggest crowds, brings a perfect match-up in styles, stature and pedigree. A southpaw Welsh-Italian who has won all his 43 fights against an orthodox Anglo-Dane (Kessler's mother comes from Salisbury) who has won all 39.
Kessler reckons: "I'll win, because I hit harder and straighter. Joe's a slapper and brawler who wins by ruining other people's styles, but not mine." "Slapper, eh?" counters Calzaghe. "I can't wait to see the shock on his face when I hit it."
Kessler, whose torso bears the tattoo of a Viking Warrior, will be supported among the 40,000-plus Celtic crowd by hordes ofhis fellow countrymen. That prospect brings a quip from the promoter, Frank Warren, laid up at the moment with a bad back. "Years ago the Vikings came over with longboats – let's hope now they'll be going back with long boats." Fellow Cockneys will get the drift. We think Joe Calzaghe MBE will just get the decision, Kessler's belts and a few more letters after his name.