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I retired undefeated and angered Sylvester Stallone in final fight against legendary Roy Jones Jr

After beating Bernard Hopkins in Las Vegas at light heavyweight in April 2008, the great Joe Calzaghe had achieved everything he had dreamed of as a professional. There remained one last chapter to write in his career, and it involved bowing out on his own terms – undefeated and at the very top.

The previous year Calzaghe had proved himself as the world’s finest super middleweight when he outboxed the previously undefeated Mikkel Kessler – months after celebrating being a world champion for more than 10 years. By then travelling to Vegas to defeat the widely admired Hopkins to win the Ring Magazine title at 175lbs, he proved that he was also capable of winning on the road in the US.

According to boxing stats system Compubox, Calzaghe landed more punches on Hopkins than any of his previous opponents


According to boxing stats system Compubox, Calzaghe landed more punches on Hopkins than any of his previous opponentsCredit: Getty

Aware that he was losing his desire and that both his 45 fights and his late father and trainer Enzo’s intense training regime were catching up with him, the 36-year-old Calzaghe started to plan his way out. His split with Frank Warren, after 12 successful years with the promoter, also left him free to control his next move.

“I am not in negotiations with Kelly Pavlik, despite reports to the contrary,” he said. “My intention is to fight Roy Jones Jnr, a four-weight world champion fighter. That would be a special event for me against a legend of the sport.”

On account of dethroning Jermain Taylor at middleweight and then defending his WBC and WBO titles against Calzaghe’s fellow Welshman Gary Lockett, Kelly Pavlik had come to be seen as Calzaghe’s greatest threat. Pavlik’s desire to fight him, at a time when Calzaghe had become more respected than ever, was perhaps demonstrated by him then agreeing to fight Hopkins – potentially with the intention of winning even more impressively than had Calzaghe, and yet in the month before Calzaghe-Jones Jnr, Hopkins inflicted Pavlik’s first defeat.

Not unlike Calzaghe, Ricky Hatton had spoken of his desire to headline at Madison Square Garden before retiring, and yet while New York’s Paulie Malignaggi represented a suitable opponent against which to do so, the favourable financial picture meant that that same month Hatton-Malignaggi would instead be staged at Vegas’ MGM Grand.

Calzaghe, regardless, wanted to finally fight in New York, and negotiated directly with Jones Jnr to agree a date of November 8.

“To be honest, my hands were gone,” he said in retirement. “I couldn’t spar anymore, I couldn’t really hit that hard – I was a big puncher earlier on in my career, I couldn’t load up with my punches. Lucky for me I evolved – my hands were so fast I could get away with it – but if I loaded up with 10oz gloves then bang. My hands were gone.

“Before [Mikkel] Kessler, I had a MRI scan and the doctor said ‘Listen Joe, you need to really think about quitting soon – it’s going to be that bad you won’t be able to shut your hands’. Not just that, I was cutting corners. After the Kessler fight, I’d achieved everything I wanted to achieve, I unified the [super middleweight] titles as an undefeated fighter, in front of 30,000. I knew before my last fight I was going to retire.”

Such was Calzaghe’s commitment to his plans that he actively treated the occasion as if it was his last. On fight day he made his way to The Garden to be present at the venue that had hosted The Fight of the Century between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier and numerous other greats. He watched the ring getting assembled, and found himself becoming emotional at the realisation he was on the verge of fighting for the last time. It was even perhaps that that contributed to him being knocked down in the opening round.

Knocked down in the opening round, Calzaghe still emerged - hands in tact - with the win in NYC


Knocked down in the opening round, Calzaghe still emerged – hands in tact – with the win in NYCCredit: Getty – Contributor

“I made a habit of that in my last two fights,” he told talkSPORT. “Considering I only got dropped four times in my entire life, from the age of nine. Never in sparring; never as an amateur. I always had a great chin. ‘What happened there?’ But after two rounds I was enjoying myself.”

After surviving the first round, Calzaghe quickly resumed performing at his fluid best – perhaps doing so more than at any other time since his life-changing victory over Jeff Lacy in 2006. Against a declining, 39-year-old fighter who had regardless demonstrated he remained dangerous, Calzaghe dropped his hands, performed the Ali shuffle, and to the mind of Sylvester Stallone, who stood from his ringside seat to berate Calzaghe, showed a once-great champion a lack of respect.

“Even in the fight, it was quite surreal,” he continued. “I remember saying in my head, ‘Just enjoy this – this is the last two rounds of your life’. I knew I was going to retire. This was it – 46 was my number.

“[But] I got dropped. Is that a coincidence, or is my body telling me it’s time to quit? Boxing’s so unforgiving – we’ve seen the greatest of the greats become ill, and your health is your wealth. I was happy; I made that decision, and I stuck to it.”

At the conclusion of another of his finest performances Calzaghe was awarded, by the three ringside judges, three scores of 118-109. Jones Jnr, heavily bleeding from a cut that opened over his left eye in the seventh, demonstrated his heart to survive so one-sided a fight until the final bell.

A month later Carl Froch, fighting for the WBC super middleweight title that became vacant when Calzaghe moved to light heavyweight after winning it from Kessler, first became a world champion when he defeated Jean Pascal.

“I want to unify and if Joe Calzaghe chooses to fight on, here I am,” Froch said post-fight, aware of the value of fighting the Welshman. “I am ready to fight him.”

Calzaghe, however, never fought again, and in 2014 was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.


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