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The pride of a nation

Joe Calzaghe

By Peter Shuttleworth

The disappointment of Joe Calzaghe's retirement is that as soon as he won his toughest fight, the one for universal recognition, he felt the need to call it a day.

But it has never been about money or celebrity for this working-class hero. Unbeaten Calzaghe was only interested in the glory.

Rubbing shoulders with Sylvester Stallone, Whitney Houston, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Simon Cowell when he started making a name in America was not typical of Calzaghe.

Roy Jones Jr feels the full force of Joe Calzaghe
Defeating two American icons, two bonafide legends of the ring in America was the fairytale ending to a phenomenal career.

He would have been happier having a beer with his mates in Newbridge than hanging out with Hollywood A-listers on Vegas' red carpet.

It took him a while, but the most uncelebrity celebrity realised he had to play the showbiz game to turn his dream fights into reality.

Calzaghe's most endearing character trait is his 'Ordinary Joe' demeanour, excuse the pun, a regular guy with traditional values and beliefs that are rare in the modern celebrity-obsessed world of professional sport where money often means more than achievement.

The man critics hail as Britain's greatest fighter held the super-middleweight crown for a record-breaking 10 years and 21 defences and beat two American greats, Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr, in their own backyard.

But the 2007 BBC Sports Personality of the Year never forgot where he came from, mainly because he never left his south Wales valleys home.

And the manner in which the soon-to-be 37-year-old hung up his gloves epitomised his understated opinion of his great self.

He could have earned a fortune selling his retirement story. But instead he called time in a typically under-stated fashion and also made sure his local newspaper, which has followed him since his amateur days, were quickly informed.

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His payment for his weekly column in the South Wales Argus, needless to say, he gives to charity.

Calzaghe could have earned three times the money if he'd been a good a self-publicist as pugilist.

This was a man who turned down becoming an underwear model because he did not want to pose half-naked, despite wearing just as little inside the ropes.

Few great sportsmen like this grace a lifetime and those that witnessed and enjoyed his stunning, stellar career should count themselves as privileged.

Why I'm hanging up the gloves - Calzaghe

Only the legendary Rocky Marciano bowed out at the top with an unblemished record, so Calzaghe, with a glittering 46 unbeaten record, joins an elite group in boxing's hall of fame.

Not even after his spectacular points victory over Chris Eubank to win the vacant WBO crown in 1997, did Calzaghe win over the doubters.

Jeff Lacy, though, was the career-defining bout.

The man hailed as the 'new Mike Tyson' was bookies favourite before their unification showdown and unbeknown to many, southpaw Calzaghe's pre-fight preparations had been hampered by his troublesome left hand - so much so, he considered withdrawing.

No-one would have guessed the secret injury as Calzaghe produced one of the most one-sided boxing contests for generations.

It was a masterclass, a clinic on how to mentally and physically dominate a previously unbeaten champion - and the world suddenly awoke to Wales' best-kept secret.

And his career rundown will stand the test of time.

Jeff Lacy
Jeff Lacy after feeling the full force of 1,006 Joe Calzaghe punches

Demolishing Mikkel Kessler, a man with the tools to become a great, for the undisputed super-middleweight crown in front of his home fans at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium was impressive.

But defeating two bonafide legends of the ring in America was the fairytale ending to a phenomenal career.

Hopkins and Jones Jr ducked Calzaghe when they were in their prime. But remember, that was when Calzaghe was at his best too.

When they could run no longer, Hopkins was humbled in Vegas, and Jones Jr mauled in boxing's most famous venue at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Calzaghe rarely suffered an off day and when he did, he still won - and that's the mark of a true champion.

He retires ahead of the game, with his not just his record but dignity, looks and faculties in tact.

Calzaghe is one in a million and a role model for any wannabe sportsman. One that is only interested in winning, that is.

see also
Calzaghe's 10 career highs
05 Feb 09 |  Boxing
Joe Calzaghe's career in photos
12 Nov 08 |  Boxing
Joe Calzaghe wins Sports Personality
13 Jun 08 |  Frontpage AV
The Calzaghe Record
06 Nov 08 |  Boxing


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