Calzaghe's combos baffle ex-'Contender' star Manfredo

Updated: April 10, 2007, 1:29 PM ET
Associated Press

CARDIFF, Wales -- Joe Calzaghe stopped Peter Manfredo in the third round Saturday to retain his WBO super middleweight title and improve to 43-0.

It was Calzaghe's 20th successful defense since he won the title from Chris Eubank in 1997, equaling Bernard Hopkins and Larry Holmes and moving within five of Joe Louis' record.

Manfredo, runner-up in the first season of "The Contender" reality television show, fell to 26-4. Calzaghe dominated with superior hand speed and punching power in front of 35,000 at the Millennium Stadium.

Manfredo was backed onto the ropes early in the third round and referee Terry O'Connor stopped the bout after 30 seconds.

"For my 20th defense, to be fighting in my stadium in front of such a tremendous crowd -- it's amazing after years and years of hard work," Calzaghe said. "This is where I've always wanted to be and finally, at nearly 35, I still feel great and sharp and I'm finally reaping the rewards. It was a great night."

Manfredo evaded the 34-year-old Welshman's punches in an uneventful first round, but Calzaghe increased his tempo in the second, dropping his hands to entice a wary Manfredo. He connected before covering up to defend against the American's response.

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After getting Manfredo on the ropes in the third, Calzaghe threw a flurry of combinations.

Manfredo initially beckoned Calzaghe to continue, and the Welshman launched a sustained assault to the American's head and body to finish the fight early.

Manfredo was furious that O'Connor hadn't warned him that he was about to stop the fight.

"I'm a fighter, I'm a gladiator. I want to get killed to get out of that ring," he said. "He had no right to stop the fight, I wasn't hurt. I'm still in shock, I can't believe he stopped it that quick.

"I'm still in shock. He could have said to throw some punches or I'm going to stop it, or given me a warning."

Calzaghe used the bout, broadcast to the United States on HBO, to increase his profile in America.

He has identified Hopkins, Winky Wright and Jermain Taylor as future opponents. Pressure also will grow to fight WBA and WBC champion Mikkel Kessler in a unification bout -- especially after beating Manfredo.

But Calzaghe's promoter, Frank Warren, said post-fight that Kessler's team had said the Dane wouldn't be ready to fight in July and would want equal billing on any future bout.

Warren said that instead he would be offering $3 million on Monday for Calzaghe to fight Taylor, the super champion at middleweight, while Taylor also remains an option.

On the undercard, Amir Khan (12-0) stopped Steffy Bull in the third round in a lightweight non-title bout, and Enzo Maccarinelli retained his WBO cruiserweight title by stopping Bobby Gunn in the first round.

Khan was relentless as he handled the outclassed Bull, landing punches to the head and body.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press