When Joe Calzaghe announced his retirement earlier this month, it was assumed by many that the undefeated world champion would never face another fight.
But yesterday, Calzaghe began perhaps his biggest bout to date. And, as in most of his others, the money at stake runs into the millions.
The surroundings were not New York’s Madison Square Gardens, the scene of Calzaghe’s final bout, but the rather more austere settings of the Royal Courts of Justice, in London.
His opponent is Frank Warren, one of British boxing’s most famous faces and Calzaghe’s friend, promoter and manager for the past 14 years.
The pair are locked in a dispute over money owed in the aftermath of an acrimonious fallout. Warren claims Calzaghe owes him a percentage of his winnings from his final fight, against Roy Jones Jr, because by not allowing him to promote the fight, Calzaghe was in breach of a verbal contract which promised Warren he would promote all of Calzaghe’s fights.
In the courtroom, as in the ring, Calzaghe was quick to counter. He has launched a counter-claim that says Warren owes him £2m in unpaid fees from a fight against Bernard Hopkins in April 2008.
Much of yesterday’s courtroom submission centred on a meeting that took place in a London office in January last year. There, Warren claims that a verbal agreement was made that he would promote all of Calzaghe’s future fights.
But, following the Hopkins fight Warren says he became concerned by press reports and rumours that Calzaghe was describing himself as a free agent and claiming he had severed his ties with Warren and was going to promote his fight with Roy Jones Jr alone.
Around that time, in a letter to Warren, Calzaghe denied the pair had made any agreement at the meeting.
Yesterday Ron Thwaites, counsel for Frank Warren, said Calzaghe will claim he ended his relationship with Warren because he felt he was “unfairly exploited”. He added that the boxer, who earned more than £16m in a 43-fight career that spanned 15 years, will claim he was “bullied and pressured into signing agreements … when he was mentally and physically tired as a result of heavy training … and that he signed under duress.”
But Mr Thwaites said his client will prove that is untrue. He added: “What we suggest happened is that instead of doing what he did best in the ring, Mr Calzaghe, rather unwisely, thought that promoting fights was simplicity itself, that there was nothing to it and he could do it without a promoter. That is how he came unstuck.”
The court heard how Calzaghe and Warren had previously enjoyed a good relationship. Details of contracts were read out in which it was revealed Warren had negotiated deals of £800,000, £1m and £1.2m for consecutive fights for the Welsh boxer, plus a £2.5m television deal for two fights. The court was told Warren took the smaller part of an 80/20 percentage split as opposed to the more customary 75/25. And Warren had given Calzaghe a £50,000 “knock-out bonus” that he wasn’t entitled to, as well as a £20,000 watch. Calzaghe’s legal team expressed their fear that, should Calzaghe win the counter-claim, Warren could simply close down his company, Sports Network, meaning Calzaghe will not receive his money since it is in the name of that company that Warren is suing the boxer.
The hearing continues.