Boxing: Calzaghe savours win laced with a warning

Unbeaten Welshman should heed the shocking decline in Jones and retire, writes James Lawton in New York
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The Independent Online

You could take your choice. Joe Calzaghe had brought to a superb climax his unbeaten career. Or he had raided another set of bones that had become too old, too frail, and, there is no other way of putting this, pitiful.

There was one certainty, though, here in boxing's most hallowed battleground. It was that they had not even begun to stitch back the wounds and the shattered psyche of Roy Jones Jnr when his conqueror, the jiggling, hands-down master of Madison Square Garden, was presented with maybe his last vaguely serious challenge.

As it came in, two words shot into the mind so abruptly they might have been the kind of right-left Calzaghe combination that had just turned Jones into a ghastly, blood-flecked shell of a once extraordinary fighter.

One of the words was "dangerous". The other was "inappropriate". Dangerous because the intervention was from Chad Dawson, someone strong and ambitious in what used to be the prime of a fighter's career at 26 years of age, a decade Joe Calzaghe's junior.

Inappropriate because you had to believe it was not quite what anyone who matters in the shaping of another "last" fight had in mind.

Certainly the moment was jarring for Calzaghe and his warmest admirers. It had the feel of someone leaping up in protest at the reading of the banns of a particularly joyous wedding.

The discordant note came from Dawson who became the world light-heavyweight champion a few weeks ago when he wore down another big-name veteran, Antonio Tarver, in Las Vegas.

Dawson's message was filled with respect, at least on the face of it. But then amid the hearts and the flowers there was also an unsubtle invitation to Calzaghe to prove that his exit from boxing is about more than the plundering of time-expired legends.

The man from Connecticut paid homage to Calzaghe's unblemished record of 46 victories – and the easy brilliance of his recovery here in the small hours of yesterday morning from another shocking first-round knock-down. He did it with such outrageous, mocking confidence it took him to the point where his annihilation of the old sorcerer Jones lacked only a brutal coup de grâce.

But then Dawson made the timeless offer of all hungry young gunfighters yearning for the great, transfiguring notch of their careers. He said he would fight Calzaghe anywhere – even in his backyard stronghold of a sold-out Millennium Stadium.

Calzaghe, who had already announced he would spend several weeks considering if the destruction of Jones was indeed his final statement in the ring, was plainly irritated by the speed of this new call to arms.

"Let me chill out for a little while," he told Dawson's messenger. "I owe that to myself after working so hard and beating a man like Roy Jones. Give me some time to make important decisions."

Such a request was of course entirely reasonable. A fighter of Calzaghe's reputation and record gets to choose his opponents and how much more comfortable it is when a marque name like Roy Jones proves that indeed he has one foot already in the boxing graveyard. Long before the final bell his entire competitive body and soul had also been assigned to that bleak place.

Before the fight Jones, in his prime a devastating destroyer of such formidable men as Bernard Hopkins and James Toney, had spoken disparagingly of the "pitty-pat" punches of Calzaghe but amid the wreckage of what was left of his reputation he admitted, "Those pitty-pats hurt."

So too, surely, did the contempt Calzaghe displayed once he realised that the residue of Jones' menace was almost entirely spent in the left hook and uppercut-cum-forearm smash that put him down in the first round. It was, he admitted, a more serious blow to his confidence than the short right delivered, with the same result, by the 43-year-old Hopkins in Las Vegas earlier this year.

Calzaghe said: "Yes, I was hurt. He caught me with a good shot. But that's what being a champion is all about – when you have been put down on the floor you come back stronger I didn't see the punch coming. It's the fourth time I've been down and come back to win. It's an honour getting into the ring with Roy Jones. He's a wicked fighter and caused me a lot of trouble."

A wicked fighter of the past, no doubt, but here Jones was utterly unable to deal with the force of a fighter who made the mere three-year difference in their ages look like an unbridgeable chasm. Some habits die hard in the ring and the most notable of these is the ability to throw a punch. Unfortunately for Jones the force of memory required to produce half a dozen of them brought exhaustion. When Calzaghe opened up a gash over his left eye with two piercing left hands in the seventh round, Jones realised his situation was hopeless. Occasionally he landed a punch, one of his better ones coming in the ninth round, but it was gesture-fighting so forlorn it brought back a memory of Muhammad Ali, a few months short of his 39th birthday, subsiding beneath the power of his former sparring partner Larry Holmes.

Holmes was said to have wept at the task facing him before, mercifully, Ali's corner threw in the towel. Joe Calzaghe didn't weep for Roy Jones through the last four rounds, each of which could have brought a similar intervention from the Floridian's corner or the Canadian referee on medical advice. He danced and shuffled comically, a little excessively at times for some tastes, but there was a degree of mercy here, too, because long before the end Jones was powerless to resist the flurries of Calzaghe. It meant that in the absence of a quick kill there was the pitter-patter of a victory formally confirmed by the 118-109 scorecards of all three judges.

So will it stand as Calzaghe's point of exit from a career that will always be seen as an enigma, a glorious one at times, filled with talent and a wonderfully aggressive instinct, but also showing a record of largely flimsy challenge? It was impossible to make any assessment based on the reactions of the fighter and his father and trainer, Enzo.

Calzaghe Sr railed at the suggestion that his son's retirement might be something other than a matter of personal fancy but a dawning necessity. The point was that in his first two fights on what most boxing judges have always considered the serious side of the Atlantic, and against opponents of a combined age of 82, he has suffered first round knock-downs. "I'm not saying what I want Joe to do now," Enzo said. "That doesn't matter. It is solely about him. He has to think about his future and decide what he thinks is best for him while enjoying a well-earned rest. He has earned that right."

Calzaghe echoed the father. He dismissed one suggestion of a return with Hopkins with derision. What would that serve? Far better, he thought in his new role as a promoter, for Hopkins to fight the man who was sitting in the audience and whom he rated as his best opponent, Mikkel Kessler. Meanwhile, Joe Calzaghe could take the rest he deserved while reaching a final decision.

Perhaps in a way, though, it had been made for him. He had beaten the disposal legends, Hopkins and somebody who used to be Roy Jones Jnr, and so what, really, was left? In the wee small hours of a triumphant morning there was only a newly crowned champion who was maybe young enough and strong enough, to gun him down.

Does Joe Calzaghe really want to engage in such a battle? He doesn't need the money. He doesn't need the prestige. As one American fight man said: "Maybe Joe will wake up one morning soon and realise there is nothing out there for him any more. He can say he beat Hopkins and Roy Jones Jnr in Las Vegas and the Garden, and they're not bad names to have on your belt."

Maybe 36 is the age when a fighter should collect up all of his glory and say that his business is done. Seeing the fate of the empty man he had just toyed with might, for Joe Calzaghe, indeed be reason enough.

Undefeated fighters The rocky road to boxing immortality

*Rocky Marciano (right) 1947-1955 (US). Heavyweight. Fights 49, won 49. Fights won by KO 43.

*László Papp 1957-1964 (Hungary). Middleweight and light middleweight. Fights 27, won 25. 15 wins by KO, 2 draws.

*Ricardo Lopez 1985-2001 (Mexico). Minimumweight and flyweight. Fights 52, won 51, 1 draw.

*Terry Marsh 1981-1987 (UK). Light-welterweight. Fights 27, won 26. 10 fights won by KO. 1 draw

*Floyd Mayweather Jnr (right) 1996-2007 (US). Welterweight. Fights 39. won 39. 25 fights won by KO

nJoe Calzaghe 1993- ?(UK). Super Middleweight and Light Heavyweight. Fights 46, won 46. 32 wins by KO

Time to hang up the gloves?

"His mum is begging him to retire and he has nothing more to achieve. Whatever he wants to do, I'll back him. If he doesn't want to box, he gets my blessing because there's no more to achieve." - Enzo Calzaghe

"Joe has beaten everyone there is to beat and has nothing else to prove so I think he should retire." - Lennox Lewis

"I think he will fight on. He may say that he's not – before the fight he was saying it was his last, now he's saying he's not sure. Joe has got nothing else to prove. He is without doubt the greatest super-middleweight of all time, and to me he is the best British fighter certainly since the Second World War. His record speaks for itself.

They say fighters are the last people who know when it's time to quit. I don't believe that, but I think they're the last people to admit it. I think everybody around him including his family would like him to retire." - Frank Warren

"Very rarely do you get a guy with his kind of record retire on top form. Lennox Lewis showed you can walk away from the game and stay away from it. Roy Jones should have retired after he beat John Ruiz but he tainted his legacy by carrying on.

I would definitely advise Calzaghe to get out on a high. But it depends on how much money he's got. If he's got enough to live his kind of lifestyle he will retire. If not he'll fight on for the money." - David Haye