Enzo Calzaghe: Saying goodbye to Welsh boxing’s unlikely hero

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By John Jones

To say that Enzo Calzaghe had an extraordinary career would be somewhat of an understatement.

Born in Sardinia in 1949, before moving to the UK briefly as a young boy, Calzaghe spent a number of years travelling around Europe with a dream of making it big as a musician.

When a musical breakthrough looked increasingly unlikely, fortune saw him end up in Cardiff, where he found work in a local branch of Wimpy, and married one of the waitresses, with whom he later had three children. Hardly a conventional route to sporting glory, but what lay ahead for Calzaghe would change British boxing forever.

Whilst growing up in Newbridge, Enzo became involved in the local gym, and when his son Joe became the target of bullying, he was encouraged to bring him along to try boxing by trainer Paul Williams.

Both men immediately spotted the young boy’s natural boxing ability, and, as his trainers, helped him to hone his skills, with Enzo eventually taking over the gym from the departing Williams when Joe turned eighteen. This move brought with it the creation of a sporting partnership like no other.

Twenty-five years on from his first professional fight, the now retired Calzaghe Jr. stands as one of Britain’s finest ever boxers. Over a fifteen-year career, Joe achieved an undefeated record of 46-0, with 32 of these victories coming by means of a knockout.

He won world championships in two weight divisions, becoming one of the most successful super-middleweight fighters ever, whilst also defeating the legendary Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. as a light-heavyweight.

Joe has always been fully aware, however, that he has not achieved this incredible success through raw talent alone. Both in and out of the ring, his father has continually been in his corner, urging him to never give up, from when he resented training as a young boy, to when he found himself knocked to the canvas for the first time in his career in his 2003 fight against Byron Mitchell.

Whilst Enzo was dwarfed by Joe in terms of physical stature, he more than made up for it with his eccentric personality and often fiery temperament, which, in the long term at least, helped to nurture his son’s discipline as a fighter.

Tactically, Enzo’s relative lack of experience in boxing drew criticism from those more seasoned professionals, with his prioritisation of hard work and holding a positive attitude, over more sophisticated sports science and conditioning approaches, being seen as naïve and damaging to his son’s development. This certainly didn’t seem to be the case when it came to fight night.

What Calzaghe Jr. admittedly lacked in clinical punches, he more than made up for with speed and power – when a punch did land, it dazed his opponents, who often would not recover. Even as this speed began to fade as he entered his thirties, the positivity and belief instilled him from his father’s swollen Sardinian heart saw Joe pick himself up from the canvas in fights that many believed would see the end of his unbeaten record.

Furthermore, if Enzo’s critics needed any further proof of his ability, the trainer not only achieved success with his own son, but also led two other Welshmen, in the shape of Gavin Rees and Enzo Maccarinelli, to world championship glory.

Regardless of his hugely successful career and charismatic personality, what endeared many people to Enzo was his obvious overwhelming pride in and love for his son, and the special relationship between the two.

In a 2014 TV interview, when Joe was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, Enzo got choked up as he reflected on the incredible journey he had been on with his son, as the boxer embraced him in a touching display of affection.

A cliché admittedly, but this journey truly was incredible in every sense, and we, as sport fans, were lucky to have witnessed part of it. A “father, best friend… mentor and hero” to his son, Enzo gave so much to the world of boxing, and he will be sorely missed by all associated.

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