Joe Calzaghe was always like the magician who made his beautiful blonde assistant suddenly disappear from behind the closed curtain. You knew it was a trick, but you just couldn’t figure out how he did it.

That was Calzaghe. He kept winning, but you couldn’t figure out how the hoax worked.

Then you learned it wasn’t a trick. The magician really did make his beautiful assistant disappear.

Puff.

Surprise.

Calzaghe can really fight.

The slam against the long-time super-middleweight champ was that he never fought anyone who had two fists and a legitimate chin. As a champ, he never made a road trip, never had to pack his toothbrush, pay for room service or spend the night before a big fight in a strange hotel.

Homer? That just about summed up his career. He was a pretender to a throne he had no business sitting in. And he’d been taking up valuable title space for almost nine years.

Of course, that was before Jeff Lacy caught a plane to England earlier this year, expecting to win the WBO title and expose the Calzaghe scam.

Instead, Calzaghe (41-0, 31 KOs) set the record straight, busting up both Lacy and his big plans.

Now Calzaghe will be back in the ring for the first time since his dismantling of Lacy last March when he defends his IBF and WBO titles against Sakio “The Scorpion” Bika (20-1-2, 13 KOs) on Oct. 14 at the MEN Arena in Manchester, England, in a fight broadcast Saturday night on HBO Boxing After Dark.

On a recent conference call promoting the fight, Calzaghe, 34, cautiously looked past Bika and said the one fighter he’d like to face before he retires is Bernard Hopkins.

It was a logical choice, considering that Hopkins defended his middleweight title 20 times and Calzaghe will be making his 19th title defense against Bika.

“It would be fantastic if Hopkins would come back and fight,” Calzaghe said. “That would be worth half a dozen defenses in itself.

“It’s all about the opponents you fight, and the fight with Hopkins will be my dream at this stage in my career. He‘s a fantastic fighter and he did a great job in defeating Tarver. But I don’t think he wants to fight.”

Against Bika, Calzaghe said he’s expecting a strong fighter who comes forward and likes to throw big punches.

“But that’s good for me,” Calzaghe said. “I perform better (against that type of style). I always fight better against authentic fighters, and I don‘t think he‘s going to stand back. He’s going to come to fight.”

While Bika is the main focus for Calzaghe right now, Lacy’s name kept popping up. It had to.

It was the biggest win in Calzaghe’s long career, and he‘ll always be remembered as the guy who stunned America by easily handling the best we had to offer in the super-middleweight division.

So it was almost with an apology that Calzaghe was asked if he thought the fight with Lacy was going to be tougher than it was.

“Of course I thought it was going to be tougher,” Calzaghe said. “I prepared for the hardest fight of my life. There was so much riding on that fight because I would be judged on that one performance on my reign as champion. So I knew what was on the line and I was braying like an animal for eight weeks.

“I was prepared to go to war. And that was [Lacy’s] big mistake. He wasn’t prepared to go to war.”

Unfortunately, Lacy thought he was just going to England.