Win over Jones could cement Calzaghe legacy

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

NEW YORK – Even with a few million pounds safely stashed in his bank account and a couple million more on the way this weekend, Joe Calzaghe retains the working-class mindset that keeps snap in his punches and, for at least a few more days, an '0' on his record.

The son of a travelling musician and the grandson of a coal miner, the man considered the finest light-heavyweight on the planet is hewn from humble and hard-grafting stock and his affable personality cannot always disguise the chip on his shoulder.

Calzaghe no longer feels he should have to justify himself with anything other than his fists, which he is preparing to do in his clash with Roy Jones Jr. at Madison Square Garden on HBO Pay Per View Saturday night, in his 46th and possibly final fight.

These are troubled times in the city that never sleeps. These days the Wall Street definition of a "bonus" is to still be employed rather than a six-digit sum thrown around like confetti. Amid such a backdrop, Calzaghe chases destiny, justification and approval.

For the 36-year-old from Wales, the long journey to the pinnacle of his sport, with 45 wins spanning 15 years, started at home.

For many years, perhaps too many, he remained at home. But it ends, most likely, at the home of boxing.

Finally, Calzaghe is getting the sort of recognition among the American boxing fraternity that his fighting skills deserve. He is far from being a mainstream star in U.S. sports and never will be, but at least those of a pugilistic ilk appreciate his worth ¬– with a current ranking of number two on the Yahoo! Sports pound-for-pound poll.

Calzaghe claims he could have gained wider kudos earlier if not for the way his career was handled by Frank Warren, his former promoter. Warren and Calzaghe are now locked in a legal dispute in the British courts over alleged breach of contract. Suffice to say Warren vehemently disputes insinuations he held Calzaghe back.

"I boxed five former world champions and had to wait nearly nine years to get a unification fight," said Calzaghe. "Why did I fight them when they were former champions? It wasn't my choice, but I imagine they were cheaper when they lost their titles."

Yet Calzaghe must take his share of the blame. An unwillingness to travel, prompted in part by a fear of flying, may have stood in the way of some big-money fights and a bigger international profile.

That is why, whether he wins or loses against Jones, Calzaghe's exact position in the chronicles of boxing history will be up for dispute, if indeed this is the end.

If he heads into retirement at 46-0 his spot as a great and a guaranteed Hall of Famer can never be questioned. But will we ever know just how could he was, or could have been?

"Regardless of anyone else, I just don't want to get beat," said Calzaghe. "To stay undefeated is my legacy. I'm one step away. I believe it's in my hands. It's for me to throw away."

In any case, it may not even be the end. Calzaghe loves to talk about his promises to his mother Jackie, who has never watched her son fight and says the day he walks away from the sport will be the happiest of her life.

Yet his contract with Jones includes a rematch clause, likely at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, where he would be assured of a rousing send-off and another big payday.

There are other options, too. Bernard Hopkins, fresh from his clinical demolition of Kelly Pavlik last month, hungrily eyes a showdown with Saturday's winner. A rematch of April's split decision Calzaghe victory would be one of 2009's biggest fights.

Another huge sum of money would be on offer with a domestic blockbuster against undefeated fellow Brit Carl Froch.

Even though financial belt tightening will inevitably restrict this weekend's crowd, major shows such as this are a relatively new phenomenon for Calzaghe.

"A few years ago I was struggling to fill the (2,000-seat) Cardiff Ice Rink, fighting mandatory guys who I couldn't pronounce their name let alone know who they were," said Calzaghe, in a reference to his 2004 victory over unknown Armenian Mger Mkrtchian.

It was only when Calzaghe demolished Jeff Lacy in 2006 that his career really took, and he boosted his status further by defeating highly-rated Mikkel Kessler a year later, before beating Hopkins in Las Vegas in April.

He was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2007 and is seen as working-class royalty in Wales.

In those parts, the assertion that he is a protected European fighter who has not faced the best is resented to the point of aggression.

"I think people respect that I am the same person now as I was at the start of my career," he said. "I live in the same area, I have the same friends, I do the same things. Boxing hasn't changed me in that way."

On fight night, Calzaghe will once more have his wonderfully eccentric father and trainer Enzo in his corner and a small stable of associates who support him to the hilt.

All are aware how much it means to him to defeat an icon, albeit an ageing one, in Jones – the pound-for-pound ruler of the boxing world around the turn of the millennium and a few years beyond.

Calzaghe harbors some slight bitterness and the timing of his career. He beat a declining Chris Eubank but was too late for the tragic Michael Watson, and Nigel Benn and Steve Collins.

Unbeaten but deathly-boring German Sven Ottke wouldn't fight him to unify the super-middleweight belts, leading to years of stagnation.

Yet little is served by embracing regret with a fight impending. This is Calzaghe's time and his special opportunity.

With few exceptions, fighters lose, even the very greatest.

A chance to enter cloistered company is at Calzaghe's fistic mercy, an achievement that would speak for itself.

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