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Strictly was tougher than boxing!

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    Posted: 01 May 2011 at 14:54

Strictly was tougher than boxing! Despite losing the reality show Joe Calzaghe claimed his prize as he waltzed off with his partner

By Rebecca Hardy
Last updated at 4:22 AM on 30th April 2011

Joe Calzaghe isn’t in a rush to get married. The former world super middle and light-heavyweight boxing champion tried it once, years ago, and found it wasn’t for him.

For now he says he’s happy dating dancer Kristina Rihanoff, whom he fell for on BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing shortly after retiring from professional boxing two years ago. Who knows what might happen in the future? He doesn’t want to look too far ahead; doesn’t want to panic.

‘Confidence is a big issue I have to sort out,’ he says. ‘It’s been difficult making the transition from boxing. That was literally my life. When it’s gone you do get lost. When I boxed I had complete faith I was going to win. There’s nothing like the euphoria of being a winner. 


Look of love: The former world super middle and light-heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Calzaghe says he¿s happy dating dancer Kristina Rihanoff, whom he fell for on BBC1's Strictly Come Dancing

'People used to say, “Do you fear getting hurt?” But I never feared it. I feared losing. I broke my hand in fights and fought with cracked ribs but kept going. To be world champion you have to go through whatever pain barrier there is. It was looking at a future without boxing that scared me.’ 


Shortly after his retirement, Joe, 39, appeared on Strictly, but was pretty useless: Craig Revel Horwood compared his dancing style to ‘rigor mortis’. He lasted for five weeks. He was, in truth, petrified. ‘I tried so hard to be good at it, but I struggled,’ he says.

‘Come Saturday night I just froze. I’ve never been so nervous in my life. I felt sick with nerves. It was easier to go in the boxing ring than the dance floor and that’s the honest to God truth.

‘I’m still happy I did it because I met Kristina. I fancied her from the start. We began dating about the second or third week of the show, but we’d been dancing together six weeks before that. You’re with each other every day, training five or six hours a day, then I’d take her for something to eat or a coffee. 


Early starter: Joe was given his first pair of gloves by his Sardinian father Enzo at nine as a way of staying 'on the straight and narrow'

'We had a lot in common. She started dancing at a young age and I started boxing at nine. We got on really, really well as friends so it was cool when we just gelled. I really wanted to do well for her. She was so frustrated with me because I was so much better in training.

'Come the live show and she’d say, “Oh Joe, come back to me. What’s wrong?” She could see the nerves kick in. I’d stiffen up and become scared. But that’s what happens when you’re petrified. I was so in control of what I did in my world – the fight. So cool. So calm. Suddenly you’re doing a dancing show and you’re so afraid.

'You have to look at yourself and think, “Why am I like this? Why am I so uptight? It’s just a bit of TV. Look at Ann Widdecombe. She looks ridiculous but she loves it. Go on. Just have fun.” It helped me to realise the boxing was over – that that chapter was closed. I had to learn to let myself go, not be so self-conscious. Expose my true self.’

We meet in his west London flat, where Kristina has spent the night. His 16-year-old son Joseph is staying here too while his youngest son Connor, 13, remains with their mother [Mandy] in south Wales. The two-bedroom flat is chaotic but comfortable, with Joe’s tracksuit drying on a radiator in the bathroom.

He runs three miles a day and is determined to stay fit, partly because ‘I feel horrible if I don’t’, and partly because ‘I’m a bit vain’. He doesn’t box, though. ‘Maybe I’m a bit nervous I might want to come back again,’ he says. 


On Strictly:'I'm still happy I did it because I met Kristina. I fancied her from the start. We began dating about the second or third week of the show'

‘I retired when I was at the top. It was important to me to retire on my own terms, before boxing retired me, which is what happens to so many great fighters like Muhammad Ali. You get hurt. Lose. Then nobody cares what your record is in the past. I don’t want that to happen.’

Instead, Joe is hoping to forge a new career as an actor. He’s been taking acting classes for the past nine months and has an audition in a few days.

Again, he’s absolutely terrified. ‘It’s that thing again, the nerves,’ he says. ‘The director likes me but now I’ve got to see the casting director. I know I can do it, but I need to not feel self-conscious. I have to get over that. Bare my soul. Not have any inhibitions. I’ve got a lot of emotions inside me.’

Indeed, for some of the interview, he struggles to keep them in check. Take, for example, when I ask about the statement he released admitting to cocaine use after he was caught in an undercover investigation by a Sunday tabloid newspaper last year.

‘That was a sting,’ he says. ‘They created a story. We had seven meetings and they kept asking, “Can you get it?” I’d drunk a bit of champagne and was talking rubbish. I said, “Yeah.” It’s something I don’t think I need to talk about because it’s not an issue. I’m not saying I’m an angel. I have a drink. But until Strictly, I was at home with my children four days a week.

‘I’m not one to go clubbing and get wrecked. Even when I’ve been really down and bored and a bit depressed – because you think, “What am I going to do with my life now?” – I had my kids. They mean everything to me. If it wasn’t for them I would’ve gone totally mad and gone down the wrong path, because I’d have had too much time on my hands and probably would chase this adrenaline thing.’


Respect: Joe has nothing but admiration for British troops and is also a huge supporter of Help For Heroes

Joe is actually giving this interview to draw attention to ABF The Soldiers’ Charity. He has nothing but admiration for British troops and is also a huge supporter of Help For Heroes. Those who know Joe, voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2007, speak warmly of his ‘huge heart’ and charitable nature. Beatbullying, the UK’s leading bullying prevention charity, is particularly close to his heart.

‘I didn’t like school from the age of 14 or 15 because I was bullied a lot,’ he says. ‘It was verbal bullying – name-calling. Names that probably now sound stupid but when you’re 13 or 14 you take it to heart. It really affected me in school – made me an introvert. I used to worry about what lessons to go to because of it.

‘Strictly was a form of bullying. It’s part of the pantomime and who better to pick on than a world champion? I kept my composure but to me it was destructive criticism, not constructive. Len Goodman was great. The one guy on that panel who actually knows what he’s talking about is Len because he was a world champion.

‘He was always kind to me. He’s a boxing fan and I think he felt a bit sorry for me. A lot of the people on that show take dancing classes before they go on there. But the other judges were loving it. To me it was, “OK, you try and do boxing for five weeks and let’s see how good you are.” Still, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’

Joe was given his first pair of gloves by his Sardinian father Enzo at nine. Growing up on a council estate near Newbridge, South Wales, boxing was a way of staying ‘on the straight and narrow’ and ‘making money’. He won his first British amateur title at 13.

‘My dad was my trainer and my friend,’ he says. ‘He was very strict and quite controlling as well. He used to train me like a professional from 13. Even when it was raining and cold, he’d say, “Get out for a run.” When you’re a teenager you want to go with friends, go out and party, go with girls, so when you’re not allowed to there’s some resentment.

'We used to fall out but he knew what skill I had and what I could do. I’m happy he encouraged me. My mum [Jackie] is a complete contrast. She’s never watched me fight once. She’d always say, “Come on, Joe. Retire.” She said that from when I was ten to 36. I’d say, “Just one more fight. Just one more remember? fight.”

'It’s a beautiful thing, winning. ‘I’ve fought in big arenas with 50,000 people – the Millennium Stadium, Madison Square Garden. People say, “What’s that like? How do you feel knowing that millions of people around the world are watching you?” But all you see is that ring and the opponent in the opposite corner. When the bell goes you fight. You’re in the moment – concentrated on that moment.’


Joe on girlfriend Kristina Rihanoff: 'We had a lot in common. She started dancing at a young age and I started boxing at nine. We got on really, really well as friends so it was cool when we just gelled'

Joe was 25 and married with two sons when he won his first world championship title. He says, in hindsight, the boys were good for his career.

‘It can be such a lonely sport. You need to be at home training 24/7. You can’t be partying. The kids allowed me to be grounded, but I was probably a pain in the backside a lot as a husband.

‘It’s quite hard being a boxer’s wife. It’s tough, quite turbulent because my emotions were up and down – the emotions of not eating [Joe would often lose two stone in the run-up to a fight to make his super middleweight target of 12 stone], of starving yourself, the pressure of the fight.’

He and Mandy divorced in 2004, shortly after which he met model Jo-Emma Larvin. ‘It’s obviously upsetting when you get divorced. It hurts,’ he says. ‘I jumped into another relationship which suited me at the time. But when I gave up boxing, I thought, “What’s the point to this?” There wasn’t one. When you’ve dedicated yourself to something since you were nine it’s hard. I like to compare it to the forces.

'People in the army come out and don’t know what to do with themselves because they’re used to such a regimented life. It was like that. I decided to retire because I couldn’t lie to myself any more. I’d had enough and started cutting corners. I began to lose the buzz.

I jumped into another relationship which suited me at the time. But when I gave up boxing, I thought, “What’s the point to this?”

‘My kids were also getting on at me, saying, “Dad, please give up.” They came to my last couple of fights and were crying. That was really upsetting. They didn’t want to see their dad hurt. When I boxed Bernard Hopkins in Vegas [in April 2008] I went on the floor in the first round. It was quite traumatic for them to see that. I got back up and won, but still...’

Joe’s final fight was against Roy Jones Jr. in New York’s Madison Square Garden, in September 2008. ‘Connor came into the changing room and was crying his eyes out. He just couldn’t watch. I made my promise before the fight that I wouldn’t box again. I had a heart-to-heart with my dad. I said, “This is my last fight. This is it.” He was happy because he didn’t want to see his son get beaten and/or hurt.’

Joe won the fight and announced his retirement the following February, unbeaten in 46 professional fights. ‘For the first 12 months there was a mixture of emotions. Relief that I’d made the decision – that I was out – but that boredom thing too. Now, of course I miss the buzz, but it’s a distant memory. I’ve accepted it’s gone.

‘Now, every single day, someone mentions Strictly Come Dancing to me. They say, “You were a great fighter, Joe. But what about the dancing?”’ He laughs. We both do.

Joe Calzaghe is supporting ABF The Soldier’s Charity Big Curry campaign, http://bigcurry.org

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1380747/Strictly-tougher-boxing-Despite-losing-reality-Joe-Calzaghe-claimed-prize-waltzed-partner.html#ixzz1L6oBCTut
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