Boxing: Calzaghe must be on guard in defence against underdog Bika

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The Independent Online

Joe Calzaghe has been a world champion for more than nine years and tonight he defends both his International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Organisation super-middleweight titles against Sakio Bika at the MEN Arena in Manchester. It will be his 19th defence.

Calzaghe, 34, is fully aware that this is not one of his most dangerous assignments but he has a habit of being in good fights when he should be in easy fights. In theory this, or one involving a similar degree of risk, should have taken place in Cardiff at the Millennium Stadium in August but Calzaghe, for probably the eighth time in his career, had to withdraw with an injury. During his 13-year career the London-born fighter has injured his back, his hands and his elbow so regularly that it is doubtful if he has many more big fights left.

Tonight will be Calzaghe's first contest since the night in March when he beat the American boxing idol Jeff Lacy to add the IBF belt to his haul. On that hot night he was a slight underdog but he won every round and dropped Lacy heavily in the last. Finally, in what was his 41st fight, he established himself as one of British boxing's best.

Bika, 27, has lost just once in 23 mostly obscure encounters and his role in Calzaghe's future will be determined by just how seriously prepared the champion is when he enters the ring.

Calzaghe is aware of the dangers that exist when a champion, especially an established one, underestimates a challenger, especially an underwhelming one. He said: "I'm in the same physical shape as I was for the Lacy fight but I truly don't know about mentally. I had to get my head right for that night or I knew I would lose.'' At no point in Calzaghe's 41 fights has he cut corners in training but any quality fighter will attest to the fact that the mental approach alters for an encounter against someone not considered a genuine threat.

Bika does stand a real chance of catching Calzaghe on a very bad night and he is strong enough and awkward enough to pose the champion a serious threat if things go wrong. However, Calzaghe should be able to pull his boxing together quickly and take control and win what is likely to be a far more entertaining fight than it is entitled to be.

There were signs this week that Calzaghe's anonymous existence during 41 fights and 13 years has finally started to annoy him but he was quick to defend himself against any charges that he is unknown for the wrong reasons. "Maybe I could have marketed myself a bit more, but then I wouldn't have been champion today," he said. "I could have been going to the opening of an envelope and every film premiere but that would have meant missing training and if I had done that I wouldn't be here now.

"It's so easy to lose focus when you're training as hard as I do and I have to remind myself that first and foremost I'm a fighter and not someone desperate for the limelight," he added.

Providing Calzaghe can take care of Bika, who was born in Cameroon but is now based in Australia, and providing he can look good doing it in front of a large audience live on television, then there is every chance that early next year, or certainly by the end of May, he will find himself in a big fight. He is honest enough to admit he needs the big fights to find the motivation but tonight he will need to be clever enough to realise that even easy defences can go wrong.

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