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After dethroning Hopkins, the Pride of Wales ready to net big paydays

Joe Calzaghe was sitting with the British press in his 35th floor suite at Planet Hollywood when the conversation was interrupted by a phone call.

"That was the [British] Prime Minister's office," announced Ed Simons, a joint partner in Sports Network, Calzaghe's promoter. "[Gordon Brown] sends his congratulations."

On the morning after winning the world light heavyweight title from Bernard Hopkins in Las Vegas, the decade-long world super middleweight titleholder from Newbridge, Wales, was the toast of Britain.

Too modest to refer to himself as a legend, there were plenty of people willing to laud the Pride of Wales' latest achievement and place his career in historical context.

"He's the best British fighter in my time in boxing," said Warren, sitting on Calzaghe's left. "I said in 1999 that he would be the British boxer of the next millennium and people laughed; around that time, he was struggling to perform against fighters like David Starie and Ricky Thornberry. But Joe has had the last laugh on everybody."

Barry McGuigan, the former world featherweight champion and a respected TV pundit in Britain, maintained that Calzaghe's points victory was another landmark moment for British sport.

"He made a dreadful start [Calzaghe was knocked down just a minute into the bout], but he pulled it around like the champion we always believed he was and he won the fight in style," McGuigan said. "Joe has galvanized his position in the Hall of Fame."

The man himself, whose picture adorned the front and back pages of most of Britain's national newspapers, reveled in his Las Vegas victory, but he was less enthralled about his performance.

His biggest disappointment was the fact that he got dropped in the first round by a Hopkins right hand thrown straight down the pipe. He also felt he boxed at only 75 percent on the night, suggesting that his mind-set had been "too relaxed."

Fighting at 175 pounds for the first time, he did not rehydrate properly, having weighed in at only 173 pounds.

"We're not robots and I felt like I didn't perform on the night," Calzaghe said.

Hopkins' spoiling style was also a factor, for Calzaghe has invariably failed to shine against negative-minded opponents in the past, such as when he fought Sakio Bika in 2006.

While Hopkins' tactics frustrated the Welshman, they also contributed to his demise. Calzaghe drove the fight from the moment he made adjustments in the fourth round, finding a way to avoid Hopkins' right hand and claiming success with his own left.

"In Las Vegas, the judges always reward aggression and, even though I thought my guy won because Calzaghe's aggression was not necessarily effective, this is probably why the split decision went in the other guy's favor," said Freddie Roach, Hopkins' trainer.

But there was another factor, which went to the very essence of Calzaghe. He may not have performed to the best of his abilities but, unquestionably, he demonstrated the strength of his nerve and character.

Fighting for the first time on American soil, with a considerable reputation and an unbeaten record to protect, he had to climb off the canvas in the opening round and was under intense pressure from the get-go.

A weaker-willed man would have wilted and perished, perhaps, but Calzaghe's spirit and self-belief is immense. As Nazim Richardson, Hopkins' assistant trainer, emphasized beforehand and afterward, a fighter who "does so much wrong" in terms of technique "has to have all the intangibles," and Calzaghe does.

Essentially, Hopkins sought to steal the fight. He had a blueprint to beat Calzaghe: nail the southpaw with his right hand and tie him up to prevent the trademark flurries of blows which accounted for wearing down fighters like Mikkel Kessler, Jeff Lacy, Charles Brewer and Chris Eubank.

Hopkins' heavy concentration on the darker side of his art, though, gave Calzaghe the opportunity to win back the initiative and the 36-year-old took the fight almost constantly to the 43-year-old Hopkins.

"He calls himself 'The Executioner,' but the way he fought was a joke," Calzaghe said. "He held on for most of the fight and, if I hadn't tried to make the fight, there would have been no fight. Then he feigned injury in the 10th round and took three or four minutes off. It was as if he had been shot in the [groin]."

The gamesmanship Hopkins demonstrated through much of the fight and the gracelessness which characterized his ramblings afterward were themes which the British media explored further with Calzaghe.

When asked about what he thought of his opponent's inability to even extend his hand in a token gesture, Calzaghe described his antics as those of "a spoiled [brat]." In a cutting reference to Hopkins' prefight insistence that he "would never lose to a white boy," Calzaghe declared that he was struggling to come to terms with getting "his butt kicked by this white guy."

Calzaghe's happy demeanor was in stark contrast. He spoke about meeting Al Pacino on the previous Wednesday night before the premiere of "88 Minutes" -- "You wouldn't see Al Pacino on a Wednesday night in Newbridge, that's for sure," he said -- and revealed his delight about Tom Jones' rendition of the Welsh national anthem and the fact that Hollywood stars like Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger had all turned up at ringside.

Then he looked to the future and speculated that one more fight, probably against Roy Jones, would bring a natural climax to his career.

"I beat Kessler to become undisputed [super middleweight] champion and I've beat Hopkins now, so I feel like I've achieved more in my last two fights than I did over the previous 10 years," he said. "I've done it all in 25 years of boxing; now, I'm going to cash it in."

Brian Doogan covers boxing for The Sunday Times and Ring magazine.