Calzaghe and Roy Jones take a bite of the Big Apple — November 2008
NEW York is a city of movement. Of perpetual movement.
Wander Times Square at 4am and the sidewalks are still heaving and bustling.
The people have a sharp wit — even the hobos that clog the sidewalks.
There is no pretence with them. One holds aloft a cardboard sign with an honest plea: ‘I need a beer, man’.
Another knows that life in Gotham can test the stress levels of even the most placid so he offers himself as a solution. “Give off to me — $200.”
It is a town of hard work, too many cars, too many people. Many of the people are anyonmous, like the street cleaners, rickshaw drivers and hot-dog hawkers bent constantly over a red grill.
For all the cracks and practised cynicism, it remains the greatest city in the world and, although there are still reminders of 9/11 everywhere, the
elevation of Barack Obama to the US Presidency has given the Big Apple a healthy glow.
Every second person seems to have an Obama badge or a t-shirt. Even the hobos on the street wear baseball hats with his smiling image.
Hobos with hope. That’s New York — even in the teeth of a recession that is biting hard into the Big Apple.
Tonight, it’s Joe Calzaghe and Roy Jones Jr’s town as they meet in a light-heavweight bout for what could be the fight of the year in Madison Square Garden.
Ticket sales at the Garden have been slow. Maybe that’s down to the credit crunch. Or maybe it’s down to the belief that Jones isn’t what he was.
For a decade or more, most fight fans rated Jones as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
But he is just weeks away from the landmark birthday for any fighter and there have been signs of slippage as he’s closed in on 40.
Not that Jones — who relaxes away from boxing by indulging his passion for cock-fighting — is ready to admit that he isn’t all that.
He cut a relaxed figure as he stretched out in a booth in BB King’s restaurant in Midtown yesterday.
Calzaghe has never been beaten and the Welshman craves the shot at immortality that retiring undefeated would give him.
But Jones watched the wild celebrations in Times Square from his hotel window as Omaba’s ascencion was announced on the big video screens and he has taken fresh heart from America’s new leader.
“What happened on Tuesday night made me feel good to be an American’’ said Jones.
“It’s been 20 years since I represented my country at the Olympics and I poured my heart out in Seoul.
“I’m going to pour it out right again on Saturday night.”
Flick through the sports channels here and in basketball, American football, baseball, ice hockey, athletics…it seems that African-American athletes are queuing up to pay tribute to Obama.
Jones is no different and he reached for the old Jimmy Cannon line about Joe Louis. “He’s a credit to his race. The human race.”
Sport has often been the battleground where African-Americans have gone to break down barriers.
Jack Johnson became the first black heavyweight and had to cope with death threats because of his relationship with a white woman.
Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier in baseball and, in Louis, America had the first black hero who appealed to the white masses.
Muhammad Ali had as big an impact on the 1960s being a revolutionary decade in America as JFK, Martin Luther King, Woodstock and the drug culture.
And when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised two black-gloved fists to the Mexico sky 40 years ago, their gesture was echoed in the Bronx, on Chicago’s South Side, LA’s South Central and in countless nameless suburbs.
Calzaghe had other heroes — many of them Italian-American like the great Rocky Marciano.
And he reveres Marciano for one reason espcially. Rocky retired undefeated.
That goal is what drives the Welshman and, although he has had a hugely impressive career since turning pro in 1993, the fact that he didn’t fight in America until he got a split decision against Bernard Hopkins in Las Vegas last June is an asterisk under his record.
Tonight, Calzaghe fights in Madison Square Garden for the first time and he’s been hearing of the legend of the Garden from his father Enzo since he was barely able to crawl.
“I think something great’s going to happen,’’ said Calzaghe.
“It couldn’t get any bigger for me. This is the icing on the cake.
“I underestimated Hopkins a little bit and I nearly paid for it. For this fight I’ve not cut any corners. I’ve sparred well and, thank God, my hands are holding up well. I’ve been able to punch with power.
“I’ve grown into the weight well. I feel a lot stronger. I’m still fresh. You can see by my face, I’m not bashed up.
“I feel just as good, even better, as two years ago. It’s not a case of fighting till I can’t fight any more. I want to get out at the top. That means so much to me.”
Many expect Calzaghe to hang up his gloves if he wins tonight and he has never forgotten what happened to his friend Gerald McClellan in the 1995 fight with Nigel Benn in London.
Jones has not felt able to visit his long-time friend, who is blind and half-deaf, at his home in Freeport, Illinois. He will do that when he has finished with boxing.
But there is a reason why so few boxers retired undefeated. The fear of losing could well disrupt Calzaghe’s focus and his underwhelming peformances against Hopkins also raises questions.
Jones is far from being the fighter that he was but does he still have the class to pull one out for the ages? As they’ve been saying around here lately, yes, he can.