Calzaghe is a man of world again

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The Independent Online

As an exercise in image refurbishment, Joe Calzaghe's sixth successful defence of his World Boxing Organisation super-middleweight title was in Premier League class.

As an exercise in image refurbishment, Joe Calzaghe's sixth successful defence of his World Boxing Organisation super-middleweight title was in Premier League class.

The 28-year-old Welshman, whose career had sailed into stormy waters, performed a brilliant rescue operation, stopping challenger Omar Sheika after 2min 8sec of the fifth round at the Conference Centre here last night. While it lasted it was something of a blood-and-thunder classic, which deserved a greater audience than the 1,500 or so who only half-filled the arena. After boxing's recent distasteful episodes it was an example of how two well-matched young men can produce a blend of boxing that is both exciting and of high quality.

In the end Calzaghe, much sharper and definitely more positive than in his recently disappointing outings, had too much armoury for the 22-year-old Sheika, from Paterson, New Jersey, who was thought to be the first Palestinian Arab to challenge for a world title.

When the bout was ended by the Chicago referee Genaro Rodriguez, Sheika's features were stained with the blood of battle leaking from cuts around both eyes. The one over his left was by far the worst, the top of his eyelid almost sliced open. But damage had also been done to his other eye towards the end of the fourth round.

It was announced that the referee had stepped in because of the cuts, but in fact it was confirmed afterwards that he halted it because the brave Sheika was shipping too much punishment. A fearsome flurry had him reeling, and the referee's action, despite Sheika's angry protests, merely curtailed what would have been a more painful conclusion.

Calzaghe had been acclaimed as the sport's next British superstar, but of late he had failed to touch the hem of Lewis or Hamed. Last night he aggressively thrust himself back on to the podium with a display much more reminiscent of his earlier days.

For the first three rounds the points were shared, both men relishing some powerful toe-to-toe exchanges. The 23-year-old Sheika, clean-cut and eager to go forward, was not short of confidence, nor of a decent clout. He clipped Calzaghe with a right to the jaw in the third, but a round later things began to sway the Welshman's way, a right to the head getting Sheika rattled, though not rolled.

Once the eye damage began to worsen in the fifth it was clear that the ending was inevitable, and Calzaghe sank to his knees in celebration at the referee's intervention.

"This was by far my best performance since I took the title from Chris Eubank," he said. "Recently my career has been riddled with injuries and I'd been written off by the press, but I was not lying about those injuries and I was determined to prove everybody wrong. I've just done so by beating one of the best fighters in the world. Sheika came to fight, he was strong, but I took him out."

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