Boxing: Why Calzaghe is entitled to mix in higher society
Sunday 22 June 2003
Joe Calzaghe has been a man of letters for five and a half years now. WBO is the appendage which proclaims him as the super-middleweight champion of the World Boxing Organisation, whose title he defends for the 13th time at Cardiff's International Arena on Saturday. But when he climbs into the ring against the useful American Byron Mitchell, there will be a rather more meaningful suffix to his name: MBE.
The Welshman's award was bestowed in the recent Birthday Honours, an accolade not only for his longevity as a champion but an unblemished record both in the ring and out. "An honour for Joe and for boxing," is how his promoter, Frank Warren describes it. Well, the battered old game is certainly in need of a lift, and it seems to have come at the right time for Calzaghe, too. "A timely boost," was how he put it himself last week.
For he admits to feeling dejected of late. This forthcoming fight has been twice postponed. Additionally there has been the frustration at being unable to get to grips with either of the two men he is desperate to meet, the former undisputed middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins and the current World Boxing Association champion, Sven Ottke of Germany.
Neither are inclined to talk unification business, which means that Saturday's bout is a watershed one for Calzaghe. He says it is time he moved onwards, and upwards.
Moving on may mean going to America, though there are few leading US fighters in his division that he hasn't beaten. Moving up seems the more viable option - and that means switching to light-heavyweight or cruiserweight. In other words, doing a Roy Jones and taking on the big guys.
Not that Calzaghe is exactly a middleweight midget. He is a six-footer who piles on the pounds easily and he reckons that mixing it in a higher weight division would increase his punching power.
"Moving up has always been part of my plans because it has been a struggle to make super-middleweight. I've always thought I'd be a better fighter at light-heavyweight because of my hand speed.
"The only thing holding me back is the money [he is currently British boxing's highest earner apart from Lennox Lewis and is believed to be getting the best part of £1m for this defence]. To earn the same sort of money I'd need to get a direct shot at one of the titles." But could he emulate Jones? "Well, maybe if I could put on three stones, win a title and get £10 million for my first defence!"
However, before playing the heavy-waiting game he must dispose of Mitchell, who could be the most difficult of his 34 opponents to date. The two-times former world champion is no punch-bag. He is 29 and has lost only two of 28 bouts, both on points, to Frenchman Bruno Girard in Paris and then dropping his WBA title to Ottke three months ago.
Calzaghe hasn't fought since December when, in his own words, he beat a "tomato can". He has found the inactivity irritating. "With too much time on your hands you have to deal with demons in your mind so I've had to put everything aside and focus on this fight. Two weeks ago I was a bit down, now I'm getting the desire back. I just want to get in the ring and take my frustrations out on Mitchell." And that, for Joe Calzaghe, WBO, MBE, will be OK.
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