BRITISH boxing legend Joe Calzaghe is returning to the sport. He is launching a management agency, International Sports Group, in partnership with Darren Barker, a former IBF belt-holder himself.

In recent years Calzaghe has kept himself apart from boxing. Now he felt it was right to re-engage with his sport in this new role. “First and foremost, everybody is buzzing that Joe Calzaghe is back in boxing,” Barker said, “and on the safe side of the ropes.

“I’m honoured to be doing this with Joe and it’s great to see Joe back in boxing and seeing him as enthusiastic and as buzzing as he is.

“It’s the right timing, not only for Joe but for myself. We’re passionate about it. We can’t wait to get going. We can’t wait for this journey to begin.”

“Now is the time,” Calzaghe explained. “It’s all about the right time. Everything comes together at the right time.”

International Sports Group is backed by an investor, David Rothwell. “He’s a billionaire property tycoon out in Australia. Me and Joe, we do have connections outside of boxing when it comes to law and finance etc. We just thought having someone with his knowledge and his mind and power just gives a real kudos,” Barker said. “We can help these fighters because we can utilise his contacts and help them in their lives. So we’ve got this guy on board that’s been very supportive.

“Although we’re strongly committed to boxing right now, we’ll be looking eventually to build this into a sporting management company across the board, hence the name. It’s been really exciting, we’ve been working hard. We’re ready to get going now.”

Joe added, “We want to be the best, we want to give the boxers something that other people can’t give them, which we have. It’s not just our knowledge of boxing, it comes from everything, the business side, the match making, getting sponsorship. Making it as enjoyable as it can be for a boxer coming up. All he needs to do is concentrate on training hard, dedicating himself and winning and we do the rest.”

Calzaghe became one of the most accomplished fighters ever to come out of the UK but his career, especially in its early years, was difficult. He intends to use that experience to benefit the fighters they will manage. “I was naïve, I just wanted to turn pro,” he recalled. “I was young boxer of the year, I was British champion and I had nothing in my bank to pay my mortgage… I basically learned the hard way.

Joe Calzaghe

“I’m thankful for everything I have and everything I achieved but things were tough. There were times that I had to fight with injuries because I had no sponsorship.

“I know what it’s like, the business side of it. Of course, it’s a tough sport, in and out of the ring.”

They want to guide boxers from the start of their career to the top of the game. “Nothing will replicate that feeling of being in the ring and winning but this is as close I think as we can get to it. That’s one of the main driving forces for us with this company,” Darren said. “It’s about nurturing this young talent and helping them fulfil their dreams, whilst they earn as much money as possible.

“Getting them in a position where they’re on their way to fulfilling their dreams. That’s something we can’t wait to do.”

They’ve made their first signing, young Texan Jesus Martinez, “Panterita” or ‘Little Panther’. “They were very eager to turn professional. I wasn’t sure, he’s only 17. When I spoke to him and I said with the record you’ve got, 137 wins, only nine losses, 14 national titles,” Barker explained, “why don’t you try and hold out for the Olympics? He says Mr. Barker, I’ve got no intentions of being an Olympian or an Olympic gold medallist, I just want to be, and he didn’t say a world champion, he said a multi-weight world champion. There was no bulls**t behind his eyes, it was genuine: that’s my goal – if I win one world title that’s not enough for me, I want to win multiple world titles.”

“It feels right,” Darren continued. “It’s not about where they’re from,  it is who they are. Their story has got to fit. It’s got to be the total package.

“We’re not about signing bundles of fighters. It’s about helping fighters that want to be with us and share this journey with us.”

They’ll be looking to make further signings. “[Martinez is] a young kid with the potential to be a great fighter so that’s exciting in itself,” Calzaghe said. “One thing I can do is spot world champions, spot great fighters, as can Darren as well.

“We have the knowledge to steer them the right way and that’s what we’re here to do.

“Our experience is completely different to everything else out there. I think with the build up of trust and our friendship and our knowledge of boxing, I’m looking forward to this next journey.”

Through the organisation they also want to give back and make donations to the British Boxing Board of Control’s charity. “We’ve been there, we’ve done it before. Although this is a business and we really want to make a success of this for everyone involved, we really want to give back,” Darren says. “[We’re] going to give to the British Boxing Board of Control charity. It’s a start. It’s a start of giving back to this great sport. It’s a charity that helps fighters that have fallen on hard times.

“We’ve lived and breathed every second of this. I’m just buzzing. I’m so excited to get going because I know we’re doing good for boxing. We are. It would be good for more former fighters to do what we’re doing because at the end of the day it’s all for the sake of this great sport.”