Boxing: Calzaghe keeps title in classic ring battle

Welshman enhances reputation in 12 rounds of fury as Britain's Olympic champion dispatches another nobody
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The Independent Online

It was impossible to hear the bell at the end of most rounds, but when it was over it was clear that something very special had happened and that Joe Calzaghe had finally staked a serious claim on boxing's world stage.

The opening round at the Cardiff International Arena on Saturday night between Calzaghe, in his 10th defence of his World Boxing Organisation super-middleweight title, and Charles Brewer was arguably one of the best ever in a British ring. It was a round that could travel back through boxing's warped time machine and sit comfortably in the memories of the sport's greatest cynics.

When it did finally end and over 5,000 people could sit down to catch their breath, Calzaghe was a wide but exhausted winner and Brewer could barely walk the 50 metres back to the changing-room.

"That was the type of fight that I like to watch, but I would prefer not to have one of my boxers involved in,'' said Frank Warren. And he was not joking. Warren knew that at any second, in any round, Brewer had the potential to land one final punch that would have ruined six years of hard work.

In the days before the fight Brewer had grown increasingly hostile at suggestions that he had merely accepted the fight as one last pay day in what has been a glorious career. In the ring during the minutes that it took Calzaghe to walk from the fireworks of his entrance and through part of the capacity crowd, it was clear that Brewer would not think too much and it was obvious that he would just fight.

Once the seconds, the flag-carriers and the men in suits that accompany boxers to the ring had left for the comfort and safety of their ringside seats, the fantastic opening rounds started and nobody at the venue or watching live on BSkyB will ever forget it.

Throughout the 180 seconds of the first round on Saturday night it is doubtful if a second passed when a punch failed to land. Calzaghe was clearly faster, but there was a careful slickness to Brewer's punches and there was not one single ragged exchange.

Nobody heard the bell and it was a few seconds after it had finished ringing that the brave referee was able to get between the two boxers. When he did, they exchanged glares which suggested, correctly, that this was just the start of a truly great fight. It remained relentless until the final bell.

There were moments when Brewer's education in the filthy gyms of Philadelphia exposed a gap between his schooling and the self-taught abilities of Calzaghe. Brewer always looked neat and composed, but the champion just kept on attacking furiously.

'"Somebody told me that Brewer had no chin and that he would go over if I hit him and I'm looking for that liar now,'' joked Calzaghe at the end. His smile was crooked and painful and his entire face had started to bruise in the hours after his sweet victory.

Brewer is not a man with a history of compliments, but he did acknowledge that Calzaghe hurt him and won cleanly. But even if he had not spoken a word, a quick glance at his swollen face and the way he shuffled from the ring to his changing-room was testament enough to the intensity and ferocity of the fight.

Now Calzaghe and his promoter, Frank Warren, must wait for a few days before analysing the information that they will receive from the American cable television company Showtime, who screened the fight in America. Late on Saturday night, Warren and Showtime's senior vice-president, Jay Larkin, were seen arm in arm and clearly very happy with the fight and the result.

If, as expected, Calzaghe has made a long overdue dent in the viewing rituals of the American boxing public, then there is a very real chance that his next fight will be back in Cardiff and not, as expected, in America. If it had been a bad fight Calzaghe would inevitably have had to pack his bags and fight in America in another attempt to chase fame.

However, the win over Brewer was so spectacular to watch that now Calzaghe can settle back and expect to meet a prominent member of boxing's American high society at a venue in Cardiff late this summer. Warren's preference, and one that Showtime would dearly love, is the current undisputed middleweight champion of the world, Bernard Hopkins. Warren wants to put the fight on in August at the Millennium Stadium for an anticipated audience of 30,000 and Calzaghe is happy at the prospect.

On Saturday, 5,000 fans in Cardiff were privileged to watch a championship fight that could bring the dear, dirty business of boxing into repute. And at a time when farcical pairings are being presented as main events, and the sport's biggest attraction is little more than a freak show between two old men, that is a rare and beautiful thing.