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BOXING: CALZAGHE EAGER TO EMULATE HOPKINS.

Byline: Oliver Holt

ON SATURDAY, Howard Eastman will get his big shot at undisputed middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins in Los Angeles. Junior Witter will be on the bill, too.

In June, Ricky Hatton will get the fight he has been craving against Kostya Tszyu. A couple of months ago, Danny Williams fought for the world heavyweight title in Las Vegas. British boxing is in rude health.

But in a gym in a concrete outhouse by the side of a muddy rugby pitch in a beautiful steep-sided Welsh valley, Joe Calzaghe, whose record is better than any of them, pounds the speedball and waits.

Waits for his defining fight. Waits for his Hopkins or his Tszyu. Waits for the opponent that will give him the profile and the respect his 38-0 record deserves.

It was in his grasp last June when he was scheduled to fight Glen Johnson but Calzaghe was forced to pull out through injury at the last minute amid rumours he was in turmoil over his divorce from wife Mandy.

Johnson went on to beat Roy Jones Jnr and Antonio Tarver and establish himself as the world's leading light- heavyweight. Calzaghe, 32, was left to mull what might have been.

He pulled out of another date scheduled for this month, drawing more scepticism from fight fans, but insisting a hand injury needed more time to heal.

There was another setback when burglars broke into the gym and stripped it of all its state-of-the-art equipment.

Then last week, promoter Frank Warren announced the Welshman would make the 16th defence of his WBO super-middleweight title against Brian Magee in Belfast on March 18.

And as Calzaghe toiled by the side of that muddy rugby pitch, watched by trainer and father Enzo, he said he was still hopeful he could emulate Hopkins by gatecrashing boxing's elite in the autumn of his career.

"I need a big name on my CV, I know that," said Calzaghe. "I am looking for a big fight. I am looking for a fight that will give me a bit of fear. But apart from Johnson and Tarver there are no massive names out there. That's the problem.

"There are comparisons between me and Hopkins. He had been champion for a while but he didn't get his big fight against Felix Trinidad until he was 36.

"Then, once he got the Trinidad fight, his career took off. And that is what I am hoping for.

"Frank Warren promised me he could get me a big fight this year and I trust him.

"If Johnson beats Tarver again, I hope he will fight me next. I don't mind going to America to fight him. No titles needed really. Just want to fight him. I want to move up to light-heavy and Johnson is the best at the moment. I would like to fight both him and Tarver, ideally. I want to have three fights this year.

"First will be Magee and then I want to fight again in July and then I want a massive fight in the autumn. Hopefully, that will be against Johnson, a unification fight, or Tarver."

Hopkins, 40, has also been talking grandly about making history by moving up to light-heavyweight after beating Eastman so he may come into Calzaghe's orbit again after a proposed bout fell through several years ago.

"Handspeed is the key to beating Hopkins," Calzaghe said. "I don't see Eastman having the tools to beat him but I know I could."

Calzaghe is adamant that his domestic problems are behind him. "My marriage is history - it has been sorted out now," he said.

"I have read that I have lost the heart for boxing. I like seeing negatives like that because it makes me want to prove myself.

"I am nearly 33 now but I have looked after myself. My body is still fresh. I've not been worn out by a lot of hard fights. I am still hungry and people have still to see the best of me."

CAPTION(S):

HISTORY WAITS: Calzaghe yearns for defining fight; EASTMAN: Title shot against Hopkins
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 15, 2005
Words:683
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