Joe Calzaghe retained his World Boxing Organisation super-middleweight title for the 13th time in front of 5,000 partisan fans at the Cardiff International Arena on Saturday night in one of the very best fights to ever take place in Britain.
Before the fight against America's Byron Mitchell there was a real and genuine possibility that Calzaghe's unbeaten sequence of 35 fights could come to an end. Mitchell is younger than Calzaghe and had previously held the World Boxing Association super-middleweight title on two occasions. He only lost it in March of this year on a split-decision to Germany's Sven Ottke.
To add to that sense of British foreboding, on Saturday Calzaghe was knocked down for the first time in over 120 amateur and professional fights at the start of round two. At that moment, as he regained his feet but still looked like his head was elsewhere, it did finally look like his reign was over.
However, as referee Dave Parris gave him a mandatory count Calzaghe's senses seemed to clear, his eyes brightened and his legs suddenly looked like they had some life left in them. In that brief five or six second sequence of events the Welshman finally found out what it is like to be a true champion.
As Calzaghe was regaining his bearings Mitchell was in a neutral corner and eager to finish the job that his short right hand had started. Yet it never worked out quite that way and within 20 seconds - and after a quite reckless exchange - he was dumped heavily on the canvas himself by a southpaw left. There was chaos inside the venue, while at ringside everybody was screaming advice.
Mitchell somehow regained his feet but his senses never cleared and when he was sent stumbling back towards his own corner the referee jumped forward and put his bulk between the American's body and Calzaghe's fists. The official time of the stoppage was 2min 36sec of round two.
In the anarchic aftermath the ring looked like it had been invaded by thousands, but in reality it was just the joyous, and somewhat relieved, celebrations of the home fans. These were in direct contrast to the solemn gloom and disbelief of Mitchell's corner. "I've never been hit so often so hard," he said later. "There was nothing that I could do, nothing at all.''
There have been times when Calzaghe has fought with an annoying injury or without motivation, and in several fights he has been extremely boring to watch. However, every so often, especially when a fighter goes for him, he can look sensational. Saturday night's performance was without doubt the finest so far in a career that has promised so much and just might be about to deliver.
The plan now is for his promoter, Frank Warren, to try once again to persuade the world middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins to agree terms for a fight with Calzaghe that could take place at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
In a bizarre way the 31-year-old's brilliant display might well be the catalyst needed to get Hopkins to put his name on a contract. The enigmatic world champion has a terrible ego and now that Calzaghe has looked so good he will want to test himself against him.
Warren will meet with executives from Sky and Showtime, the American cable television company, to discuss the financial details of a potential Hopkins/Calzaghe fight. "I firmly believe it will be the biggest fight to ever take place in Britain and I know Joe will win,'' Warren said.Reuse content