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18 FEBRUARY 2018


Calzaghe Ready To Retire Hopkins

By Michael Norby: “Be like a duck,” British actor Michael Caine once advised. “Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.”
It seems that super middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe lives by this motto. He’s a phenomenal fighter known for his work ethic in camp, his superb conditioning and his whirlwind punch output which has proved the beating of all forty three of his opponent’s over a fifteen year career as a professional fighter.

Yet for an athlete who plies his trade in such a brutal sport, and only weeks away from the biggest fight of his career, Calzaghe speaks about the job at hand and his accomplished opponent in an understated fashion that masks the grueling nature of the preparation, sacrifice and danger that he faces.
The Welsh southpaw moves north of comfortable on April 19th when he takes on Ring Magazine 175lb kingpin Bernard Hopkins at The Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas - a fight he calmly reckons will “not even be close.”
Speaking to reporters via telephone from his camp in Wales, Calzaghe 44-0 (32KO) talked coolly but with an underlying conviction about his impending battle against the 43-year-old Hopkins 48-4-1 (32KO).
“I’m a winner,” he says matter-of-factly when quizzed on the outcome. “I’m a champion and I’ve been undefeated for 18 years. I’m not the guy who is 43-years-old and has lost four fights. I’d have beaten [Hopkins] ten years ago and I’ll beat him now. Joe Calzaghe is better than Bernard Hopkins full stop.”
Ok, so forecasts are made by fighters all the time. A majority of those predictions are concocted of loosely worded verbal tripe that few people heed anyway. Listening to Calzaghe speak this Tuesday afternoon, however, was a little different. The Newbridge fighter speaks eloquently - employing charm and light humor to answer the plethora of questions in an incredibly relaxed manner.
Beneath the quips and the jokes about Hopkins’ unfortunate journey down the ugly tree and the warm fuzzies about having his dad Enzo as his trainer all this time, Calzaghe gets serious when predicting that his opponent will be severely dealt with when they square up in a little over a fortnight’s time.
“With this extra weight, I’m punching a lot harder in the gym,” he professes about his move up in weight. “I do want to go in there and use my speed but I’ll also slow down some punches and get power behind them because I just don’t want to win this fight – I want to knock him out.”
Calzaghe has changed nothing in his preparations for his light heavyweight debut. The extra weight means less poundage to shave off and, for a man who has struggled to make the 168lb weight limit for the last number of years this, he says, will create a fresher, more powerful version of himself that he can’t wait to unleash in America.
“I’ve not changed anything,” said Calzaghe. “The only difference is that I’ll not have to starve myself to make 12st (168lbs) which has always been difficult for me. As far as I’m concerned I’ll be better at the new weight. I’ll add some punching power and the speed will be the same – that’s a natural thing.”
So what is his main challenge? Is there anything that he’s worried about when facing Hopkins? After all, the American is a proven southpaw slayer who had a comfortable night’s work against Antonio Tarver, before out-pointing Winky Wright in his two most recent outings. Those were excellent victories for Hopkins that brought his record against southpaws to an impressive 11-0 with eight knockouts. That, however, is a statistic that Calzaghe brushes aside.
“I’m not Winky Wright,” he said bluntly. “He’s a blown up light middleweight who went into his shell [against Hopkins] and I’m not Antonio Tarver either. I don’t care if he knocked all of his southpaw opponent’s out in the first round because things are going to be totally different when he steps in the ring with me.
He added, “He can’t outbox me and he can’t outfight me. If he is defensive like Winky Wright I’ll out-box him and if he comes and fights then he’ll get beat on the inside. I’m so relaxed about this fight I can’t tell you how confident I am.”

It sounds, almost, like Calzaghe is taking the light heavyweight champion lightly. A foolish mindset if true, but he dismisses this out of hand.

“I’m training to fight the best that Bernard Hopkins can be,” he says whilst pointing out the limitations that nature will have on the aging champion. “A normal 43-year-old cannot fight for three minutes per round – he’s only human. He’s not going to have the same stamina as me but he makes up for it in smarts. He’s sly in the way he fights so that’ll be tough and he moves very well and throws the right shots at the right time

“It’s a challenge to go to America and win,” he added. “I’m going outside of my comfort zone and Hopkins is a Golden Boy [Promotions] fighter so, not only do I have to win, I have to go and dominate. That’s a difficult thing to do against someone like Hopkins – he can still consider himself a very good fighter.”

Historically, the journey across the Atlantic has been a mixed bag of success and heartbreak for British fighters and their traveling supporters. With Ricky Hatton on the rebound from his crushing loss at the hands of Floyd Mayweather last December in Las Vegas, Calzaghe is certain that he will give his band of fanatical followers something to cheer about this time in the Nevada desert.

“I’ve been boxing for 26 years and it takes a lot for me to get excited these days,” insists Calzaghe. “Mikkel Kessler got me excited as did Jeff Lacy but there is nothing at super middleweight at the moment interests me. I’m going over there to win in Hopkins’ backyard. At his location, his weight - I’ll be there and that’s a sign of a true champion.”

Just like in the Hatton vs Mayweather fight, referee Joe Cortez will play an important role in the outcome and dynamic of this contest. Ironically, after enduring the wrath of Ricky’s fans after his performance that December evening, Cortez’ strict umpiring style figures to favor the British boxer on April 19th as he attempts to negotiate his way through Hopkins ‘anything goes’ tactics.

“I’ve fought some dirty fighters in my time,” Calzaghe declares. “This isn’t a mixed martial arts or wrestling match so all I want is a fair referee who’ll take notice when [Hopkins] throws his head in behind punches. I can’t worry about that, though, I just need to worry about what I have to do and go into the ring with the right mindset.”

So instead of a chorus of boo’s and whistles, Cortez might find himself back in the good books with the tidal wave of Brits that will hit the strip for the contest.

“It’s amazing,” Calzaghe said with delight. “They’re the best supporters in the world and I’m very lucky to be British. I can’t explain it but it’s an advantage. When you’re away you need to feel like you’re at home and what better than to have British fans in the numbers? Money can’t buy that.”

He added, “Everyone I speak to seems to be going to Las Vegas. There are people coming to the fight that don’t even come to see me box in Cardiff. Any excuse for a piss-up and to get away from the missus so there are loads of people coming out.”

So, as Hopkins continues his verbal assault on Calzaghe in the run-up to the fight, the 36-year-old Brit will continue to focus on the job at hand. He’ll allow the Philadelphia legend to keep talking, and keep making incendiary and sometimes racially charged comments. Calzaghe knows that fights aren’t won at a podium, with a suit on and speaking into a microphone.

At or around 11pm on Saturday, April 19th, there will be no podium, the microphones will be gone and the gloves will be laced up. This is when Calzaghe feels at home.

“He brings nothing inside or outside the ring that I haven’t seen before,” he says. “He can keep barking because come fight night, I’m going to be the bad guy. I promise you that.”

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