Calzaghe reaches the peak

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

CARDIFF, Wales – The short-term goal for Joe Calzaghe after successfully meeting the super middleweight's 168-pound weight limit Friday was to raid his refrigerator.

Calzaghe will meet Denmark’s Mikkel Kessler on Saturday at Millennium Stadium here in a super middleweight unification bout of unbeaten champions, the pinnacle of a Hall of Fame career for the native Welshman.

Kessler makes the 168-pound limit comfortably, he said, grinning. But for Calzaghe, melting to 168 pounds is akin to trying to squeeze into a 44 regular suit with a 48 long body.

And so Calzaghe said his first thought after making weight Friday was not strategy but sustenance. He planned to spend much of his afternoon gorging on anything he could find that actually tasted good, he said.

It was not a bad idea, not for a guy whose face looked gaunt and who insisted he was fine despite eating just a couple of spoonfuls of porridge for breakfast on Thursday.

"I'm going to eat and eat and eat," said Calzaghe, 35, boxing's longest reigning champion who has desperately craved the attention that is finally coming his way. "I'm going to eat everything I see, no matter. Chocolates, sweets, cakes, pies, everything."

Win or lose, this will be Calzaghe's last bout in the division he has ruled for more than a decade. He won his championship in 1997 as a 25-year-old, routing the highly regarded Chris Eubank.

More than 10 years later, he still owns the same belt. And though he's been criticized for failing to venture away from home and take on top-quality opponents, he has slowly punched his way to the top of the charts.

At 43-0 with 32 knockouts, he's No. 3 in the Yahoo! Sports rankings of the world's finest boxers.

He's anxious to meet Kessler, a solidly built, power-punching Dane who, at 39-0 with 29 knockouts at 28 years of age, is in the prime of his career.

After years of defending against the likes of Tocker Pudwill, Mger Mkrtchian and Kabary Salem, he's motivated again to face a man considered by many to at least be his equal, if not his superior.

"When you've been champion for 10 years, there's a lot of frustration about (a lack of) career-defining fights and things that never happened," Calzaghe said. "It's hurt in the past when I hear people say I've picked easy opponents. You can't pick who you want to fight all the time. Sometimes, big fights just don't happen."

But as the biggest fight of his life is about to ensue, there are several disturbing signs bubbling beneath the surface.

Calzaghe spoke repeatedly of approaching the end of his career and how he has no plans to fight into his 40s.

"No way I'm going to be getting hammered repeatedly in the head when I'm 44 like Evander Holyfield," Calzaghe said of the four-time ex-heavyweight champion, of whom he says he is "a massive fan."

And he also said he has no interest in extending his streak of successful consecutive title defenses beyond the 21 he'll hit if he gets past Kessler on Saturday.

He plans a move to light heavyweight, where the division's 175-pound limit won't be so daunting and where fights against marquee opponents such as Bernard Hopkins may become possible.

"After this, I've got no use for run-of-the-mill fights," Calzaghe said. "If it's not a major, major event, then I'm not interested. At best, anyway, it's two or three, just a handful, after this."

That kind of talk has to concern anyone in the Calzaghe camp. Boxing history shows that once a fighter begins to speak of retirement in wistful terms, he's better off being retired.

It's difficult to summon the little extra that's necessary in the late rounds of a gut-check fight when you know retirement is looming.

Calzaghe, though, insists he's desperate to put an emphatic stamp on the division, which he knows he can do with an impressive victory over Kessler.

"As an athlete, this is what you want, fighting a guy considered the best at the peak of his career with a lot of people around the world watching," Calzaghe said. "It's what motivates you. I might not be as excited about this fight if I were facing just another opponent. But fighting Kessler, it's got me at the top of my game."

He's been largely unchallenged in a brilliant career in which he hasn't lost since he was an 18-year-old amateur in 1990, literally a half a life ago.

One of the few problems he has had is hands that haven't always been sturdy, causing him frequent pain and more than occasional cancellations.

But no such problems exist today. He balled up his fist and pounded it on the table for emphasis.

Kessler had spoken of his doubts of Calzaghe's punching power, but Calzaghe angrily dismissed the suggestion.

"If he believes I'm just a guy with pitty-pat punches, he's got a surprise coming for him," Calzaghe said. "I've got fast hands, but when my hands are healthy, I punch hard, too, and I'm punching as hard now as I ever have. I have no problems with my hands. I'm going to go out there and show that early."

Kessler's trainer, Richard Olsen, expects Calzaghe to try to prove he has no problems by pressing forward and attacking Kessler.

And that, Olsen said, is exactly the wrong move to make against as accurate and hard a puncher as Kessler.

"Joe's a very brave fighter," Olsen said. "That very trait is what is going to cost him this fight. He's going to come after Mikkel and find out that's not the way to fight this guy. Mikkel can and will hurt him. Joe's bravery is going to put him into a position where he gets himself hurt."

Calzaghe's heard it all before. Nearly 20 months ago, he faced unbeaten Jeff Lacy in another battle of unbeaten super middleweight champions. He wasn't surprised that virtually everyone in the U.S. was predicting that Lacy, who then held the IBF belt, would end his reign, but he was hurt that many in the British media were, as well.

That fueled him and he was dominant, winning every minute of every round in the greatest performance of a brilliant career.

His challenge Saturday is to top that effort against an opponent who is far more well-rounded and experienced than Lacy.

"I'm the kind of guy who's best when you tell me I can't do something," Calzaghe said. "I like to prove I can. I'm happy when I'm the underdog or expected to lose. I can say a lot of good things about Kessler, but at the end of the day, I still expect to beat him."

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