Underappreciated Calzaghe defined himself with win over Jones

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NEW YORK -- If JoeCalzaghe's thorough dismantling of Roy Jones Jr. on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden was indeed the last fight of his unblemished career, the Welshman couldn't have chosen a more appropriate venue.

Should the 36-year-old southpaw opt for retirement after improving to 46-0 with his convincing victory over the eight-time world champion, Calzaghe would become just the second fighter in history to retire undefeated and undrawn after 40 or more bouts. The first, Rocky Marciano, ended his career just eight subway stops uptown from the Garden -- with a ninth-round knockout of Archie Moore at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 21, 1955.

"I'm 36, nearly 37. I'm not going to announce anything right now but I said before this fight possibly would be my last fight." said Calzaghe following Saturday's lopsided unanimous decision. "I need to go away, spend some time with my family and just have a rest."

Like Marciano, Calzaghe is a product and hero of the immigrant working class, an unassuming personality from a hardscrabble background whose spartan approach, monastic training habits and humble demeanor sets him apart from his contemporaries.

To retire without a single loss or draw represents an incredible record in a sport defined by its unpredictability, where anything can happen on any given night in the ring. But as attractive as the prospect of walking away unbeaten may be, it's hard to imagine a fighter capable of such a transcendent performance calling it a career.

Calzaghe was the tougher and busier fighter for most of the night and his decision over the former pound-for-pound king was deserved. He proved his mettle by surviving a surprising first-round knockdown, slumping to the canvas after Jones followed a sharp left jab with a clumsy right forearm.

"My power's in recovery," said Calzaghe of the early setback. "Everybody can go on the floor, but it's how you recover, that's what matters, and I showed again my heart and what a champion is all about -- by coming back and fighting twice as strong."

A prolific puncher famous for his otherworldly work rate, Calzaghe has thrown about 70 punches in a given round over his career -- almost twice the average fighter. It was this oppressive pace that enabled him to recover quickly from the early knockdown. Calzaghe threw nearly a thousand punches on the evening and landed 344 -- the most by a Jones opponent in 31 fights tracked by CompuBox. "I think my work rate is second to none," Calzaghe said. "My angles and my movement, it's difficult for opponents to train for."

During the third round, when it was clear Jones couldn't sustain the frenetic pace he'd established early, Calzaghe started openly toying with his opponent: dropping his hands, leaning his head in, making Jones miss repeatedly and countering with furious combinations of 11, 13 or 15 punches at a time. Jones resorted to sitting back and setting traps for Calzaghe, but the patient Welshman wouldn't bite.

"It's strange. Sometimes I get caught more with my hands up than when my hands are by my side because of the angles and the way I move," Calzaghe noted. "I felt that after a few rounds I could read Roy's combinations with the right hand and the left hook, so I felt that I was one step ahead of knowing what he was going to throw. I could read him after the first few rounds."

By the seventh, Calzaghe was suffocating Jones with his blistering work rate, opening a considerable lead. Jones came out firing in each round but quickly deferred, retreating to the ropes while Calzaghe kept moving forward. His relentless pace neutralized Jones' ability to put together any kind combination that might have turned the fight. At one point, a vicious Calzaghe right hand opened a large cut next to Jones' left eye.

The Welshman kept on mugging and shimmying in between his intricate combos, playing to the crowd and making the 39-year-old Jones appear ancient. Jones has suffered humbling knockout defeats against Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson since 2004, but no opponent had ever outclowned Roy until Saturday night.

By the ninth, Calzaghe had amassed an insurmountable points advantage and no longer risked the assured victory for the aesthetic satisfaction of a knockout. The last several rounds found Jones curled down into a crouch, looking to shoot the right uppercut that might end it. But the home run never came: Calzaghe's style was too quick, too elusive, too relentless.

Critics have denounced Calzaghe as a slapper, but he's always been able to make the style work for him. He's much more cerebral than he's ever gotten credit for. Even Saturday, as Jones wobbled and the knockout seemed tantalizingly close, Calzaghe kept his head.

"If I had to, I probably could have [knocked Jones out], but I was having fun. I was enjoying the fight," Calzaghe said. "The longer the fight went on, the more I felt I was in control. So I didn't feel there was any need to go for the knockout. If the knockout came, fair enough. But he was covering up and wasn't really letting anything go, so I didn't want to make a stupid mistake and get caught."

While Jones' attendants worked furiously on his left eye before the 11th round, Calzaghe paced restlessly in front of his corner waiting for the bell. Near the end of the round, Calzaghe lampooned Jones by imitating his famous "chicken" move, to the delight of the thousands of rowdy British fans who made the trip across the pond.

Depending on whom you ask, Calzaghe is one of history's greatest champions or most artful dodgers.

His legions of supporters point to his spotless record, his 21 straight title defenses and the convincing decision victories over Jeff Lacy, Mikkel Kessler, Bernard Hopkins and, now, Jones. He might not have always had name recognition among stateside fight fans, but his American advocates have always held up Calzaghe as one of our most underappreciated British treasures, alongside soccer, the Kinks and the BBC version of The Office.

But an equally sizable contingent of detractors have accused Calzaghe of avoiding great opponents during his prime while dominating a division of questionable prestige. He's earned a reputation as a light hitter thanks to his unorthodox volume-punching approach, and he's fought just twice outside of the U.K. until this year. In fact, Saturday marked just Calzaghe's second fight in the United States, after outpointing Hopkins in Las Vegas six months ago.

Saturday's fight was a deliberate move to silence the critics.

"I decided at this stage of my career I wanted to show the world I've always been a true champion. It was through no fault of my own I didn't get the big, big fights that I always wanted," Calzaghe said. "After I [defeated Mikkel Kessler], there were only two more things that I wanted to do, and that was come to the States -- because you guys never thought I'd come over -- and beat two legends of the ring: one in Bernard Hopkins and a bigger legend in Roy Jones Jr."

Added Calzaghe: "Everybody seems to have an off night against me, so it's probably for a reason."

Knocking off an aging Jones, who's won titles at every class from middleweight to heavyweight but has struggled since boiling down after his historic 2003 defeat of John Ruiz, might not quiet the doubters permanently. But there's no denying Saturday's outing was a legacy-defining fight for Calzaghe. And, should he retire, a worthy swan song for a surefire Hall of Famer whose legend is predicated on his immaculate record.

"It's a fairy-tale fight," said Calzaghe, "it's a fairy-tale ending."