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Boxing: SCARE FOR RUSTY JOE; BOXING THE BIG LATE-NIGHT ACTION Tough for Calzaghe but champ marches on.

Byline: FRANK WIECHULA ringside in Manchester

JOE CALZAGHE survived the sting of the Scorpion to hold on to his world title and brilliant unbeaten record at the MEN Arena last night.

Calzaghe was given the fight of his life and the fright of his life...but is still bang on course for the record he most covets.

The Welshman was taken to hell and back by Cameroonian Sakio Bika, nicknamed The Scorpion, before winning a unanimous points decision.

At times Calzaghe, normally so calculating, lost his discipline entirely as this WBO Super-Middleweight title fight resembled a brawl in a Wild West saloon.

And from the fourth round he had blood pouring from a wound inflicted by Bika's head - a weapon the challenger was discouraged from using when deducted a point.

But Calzaghe showed he has the courage to go with his class to take his number of title defences to 19 - six short of the record held by the legendary Joe Louis.

Calzaghe denied, contrary to all the evidence, that Bika had given him his toughest fight.

"He never really hurt me with his punches and he was a dirty fighter. He kept catching me with his head," he said.

And he added: "I'm disappointed with my performance. I wanted to put on a show tonight but maybe I got my tactics wrong in looking for an early knockout.

"I think my lack of ring sharpness showed tonight."

It was ugly. It was bruising. But it was compelling. Calzaghe knew from early on he was in a fight. And he knewit wasn't going to be pretty.

Incredibly, the bookies had Calzaghe as short as 1-50 - a terrible insult to his opponent.

Bika looked strong. He looked tough. He looked ready to rumble - nothing like the pushover those odds suggested.

The bad blood between the two fighters was evident when the bell ended round two.

Calzaghe caught Bika with a punch slightly after the bell and Bika reacted by throwing two himself.

Calzaghe dodged both.. and showboated around the ring to taunt his opponent.

That angered promoter Frank Warren, who said: "I was disappointed with Joe showboating. He's better than that."

Calzaghe, in front of former world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis - working ringside for American cable TV giant HBO - was determined to put on a show.

But Bika wasn't reading the script. The odds suggested he was a palooka but this guy last night was a player.

Calzaghe, 34, will now be eyeing up a fight with Mikkel Kessler, who last night KO'd WBC title holder Markus Beyer in Copenhagen.

It's doubtful Kessler can give him as stern a test at Bika did last night.

CAPTION(S):

AGGRESSION: Joe Calzaghe evades a Bika barrage' UNBEATEN: Calzaghe
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Oct 15, 2006
Words:455
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