HUBBARD’S CUPBOARD – 21.11.15
By Alan Hubbard
At a time when sport is gripped by a siege mentality, bruised, bloodied and sinking fast in a quagmire of drugs, corruption and other assorted scandals it is good that we have at least reached the time of the year when we can deliberate on the deeds of the good rather than the ugly misdeeds of the bad.
SPOTY will be with us again shortly. Yes the BBC’s annual quest to name the sports personality of the year is limbering up nicely. And while it has been something of a fair to middling 2015 in terms of British achievements globally, we can reflect that there is good young talent in the pool – as well as on the gymnastics mat and especially the boxing ring.
But whether any will emerge as a refreshing new persona to hold the trophy on aloft in Belfast on December 20th is open to debate.
More likely it will be the same old, same old. Familiar faces who traditionally dominate the public ballot.
Mo Farah, Lewis Hamilton, Chris Froome, A P McCoy, Wayne Rooney and Jessica Ennis are already established as front runners on the bookies’ list.
All worthy enough with their respective contributions but don’t you yearn to see someone different, an outsider for a change?
Wouldn’t it be wonderfully refreshing if, say world long jump champion Greg Rutherford or Max Whitlock, the first British male to win a world gymnastics title, captured the imagination, as well as sufficient votes to collect the the SPOTY prize? Or Adam Peaty, winner pf three world swimming titles who also broke an individual world record.
And how about the indomitable cycling road race champion Lizzie Armistead?
Then there’s Winter Olympics champion Lizzy Yarnold, who won skeleton world gold to complete a career Grand Slam
Showing my boxing bias I feel there is a case for James DeGale, as the first British Olympic champion to convert his gold medal into a professional world title. But I doubt he’ll even make the short list.
Actually, no boxer has won this award since Joe Calzaghe in 2007, when Ricky Hatton was third in a vintage year for the fight game.
This has been another one, with more Brits holding world titles than at any time in the sport’s history, eight the current count with the possibility of two or three more to follow before the bell tolls for the end of 2015.
I have even heard it said that Liverpool’s doughty Smith brothers should be nominated for team of the year award. Why not? Though of course technically what the fighting foursome have achieved to become history-making British champions is an individual rather than a team effort.
However the thought crosses my mind that should Tyson Fury defeat Wladimir Klitschko to reign as the heavyweight champion of the world later this month surely he would have to be leading contender for the individual crown.
Many will wince at the prospect. My preference would be to see his fellow Traveller Billy Joe Saunders up there in the short list of ten should he beat Ireland’s Andy Lee to claim to WBO middleweight title – and there would be time as the contest in Manchester on December 19th finishes just 24 hours before the voting closes.
It would be good to see fight fans flooding the Beeb with votes for their favourite fighters, whoever he (or she, eg Nicola Adams) might be, just to show the blinkered Corporation bosses how wrong they to have abandoned what once again is one of the most popular and successful sports in the land.
Actually, odd as it may seem with only five SPOTY wins in 61 years, boxing has fared rather well compared to many other sports. It is tied with football in third place, behind only athletics and motor racing, in providing the largest number of winners since the award’s inception in 1954.
It is ahead of such pursuits as swimming, tennis, rugby and cricket.
Henry Cooper won it twice (in 1967 and 1970), Barry McGuigan (1985), Lennox Lewis (1999), and then Calzaghe (2007).
Moreover Frank Bruno was runner-up three times while Billy Walker and John Conteh each earned a second placing.
Interestingly when Calzaghe won eight years ago he was probably the first to do so without regular exposure on the Beeb.
Calzaghe says he has never been tempted to come out of retirement since quitting two years later.
The undefeated former world super-middleweight and light-heavyweight champion says he could not face getting down to his fighting weight.
“Losing the weight and getting punched in the head – nope, don’t fancy it. I’ve done my bit,” the 43-year-old Welshman told BBC Wales this week.
But Calzaghe is keen to become a manager and has applied for a licence.
“Promoting is a no-no – that’s hard work. Training is a full-time job, but I don’t have time to do that full-time.
“But managing is something I’ll be good at. I was self-managed for some of my career as well so I know both sides. That will be perfect for me.”
Calzaghe reigned as a world champion for more than 11 years, and quit the ring with a record of 46 wins from 46 fights, just three short of the record now shared by Rocky Marciano and Manny Pacquiao.
That glittering career is the subject of a new feature-length documentary called “Mr Calzaghe” which goes on general release on Monday.
“It looks at my career, my relationships with my father Enzo and my sons. It was quit emotional for me watching it,” he tells us.
“It crams 25 years into 90 minutes – it’s surreal.”
Calzaghe believes the film shows the importance of his family played in his success and the role “people that support you even when you’re down” had when he was still an active fighter.
That is a role Calzaghe himself wants to fulfil now that his eldest son Joe Jr, 21, has decided to follow to the sons of famous fighting fathers like Chris Eubank, Steve Collins, Frank Bruno and Nigel Benn and take up boxing.
“I never really pushed my boys into boxing but I guess it’s in the blood,” says Calzaghe.
“I don’t mind as long as he takes it seriously and he’s happy.
“I can see he’s got the dedication then I encourage him. Because there’s a lot of pressure on him anyway because of who is father is, so I just say be yourself and just have fun and do your best.”
Calzaghe announced his retirement after comfortably outpointing Hall-of-Fame boxer Roy Jones Jnr in Madison Square Gardens in 2008.
The Welshman says he knew before that fight that he would not step into the ring again.
“Before the Roy Jones fight I knew I was going to retire because I couldn’t train, my hands had gone and the hunger had gone,” he said.
“If you know you’re just fighting for the money and you’re not fighting for the championship you’re going to lose, so I thought ‘it’s time for me to quit.”
He regrets the fact that Jones has continued to fight – and is attempting to fight for a title in Russia against Welshman Enzo Maccarinelli in Russia on December 12th.
“Roy Jones Jr should have retired a while back,” insists Calzaghe.
“He was one of the best fighters pound-for pound but it’s not nice to see fighters still fighting when they shouldn’t be.”
A lesson Calzaghe has obviously taken to heart himself.
No ordinary Joe. But who will be the next to follow him on the SPOTY podium? The obvious guess is Anthony Joshua. But there may well be a British fighter out there who will beat him to the punch.
Tomorrow: Read Alan Hubbard’s Punchlines exclusively at frankwarren.com