Joe Calzaghe is considered the greatest Welsh fighter ever and on the same level as the legendary champions of the past. After all, Joe’s accomplishments are second to none. He won the WBO super middleweight title on October 11, 1997 and defended it a record 18 times. He also trashed the
over-hyped Jeff Lacy to win the IBF super middleweight crown. Add that he is still undefeated in 41 fights (31 KOs) and you can understand why the fans call him The Pride of Wales and fill a 20,000 seat arena to see him in action. His style is perfect for TV networks which always love punching machines and Joe can hit his opponent from every angle or simply stand in front of him and engage in a wild brawl. This very aggressive attitude called for comparisons with some all-time greats, but there is only one person who inspired Joe’s style: his father.
Enzo Calzaghe was born in Sardinia, an island of incredible beauty where you can find everything at incredible prices. The island, especially its Northern side, is always full of multimillionaires and the locals got used to charging 10 times the normal price for everything. You can be asked 8 Euros ($10) for an espresso, which costs 80 cents worth of Euros in Milan. Not to mention 1,000 Euro ($1250) champagne bottles in night clubs. A few weeks ago, the Government of Sardinia decided to charge up to 15,000 Euros ($18,750) for the yachts that wanted to stop on the island! A characteristic of the people from Sardinia is that when they decide to pursue something, they don’t stop until they get it. They are also famous for being friendly and that’s why the ones who can afford it love to spend the summer on the island. Going back to Enzo Calzaghe, he was always a big boxing fan and pushed his son to put on the gloves at an early age. Let’s get Joe’s story from him.
Enzo, when did Joe start to box?
When he was a little boy. I used to roll the carpet and turn it into a heavy bag. Joe threw many consecutive punches against the carpet and I understood that he was born with a fighting spirit. I brought him to a gym in the neighborhood when he was nine years old. The coach saw him in action and was so impressed that asked me if Joe had previous fighting experience. My answer was: Only in the house, against the carpet. After training seriously, Joe started competing in local tournaments and won them all. The next step was competing in the ABA (Amateur Boxing Association) championships and he kept on winning. Joe became British welterweight, light middleweight and middleweight champion in 1991, 1992 and 1993. The only other boxer who won three consecutive ABA titles before my son was Fred Webster, who won the bantamweight, featherweight and lightweight belts in 1926, 1927 and 1928. Despite Joe’s success in the ring, he still talked about becoming a professional soccer player. When he realized that he would be more successful as a prizefighter, nothing and nobody stopped him. Joe always defeated all his opponents, no matter how hyped they were. From the start, the Welsh press supported him. The British newspapers soon followed. You know what really bothers me? That the Italian newspapers didn’t write anything about Joe’s annihilation of Jeff Lacy. I can’t understand why.
That’s because Italy is the world’s capital of soccer and boxing is considered a minor sport. The newspapers can even keep an interview with a legendary boxer in the archive for months and publish it when there aren’t any soccer events.
Okay, but that wasn’t just a boxing match. It was a fight between two world champions! Besides, Joe is considered an idol by all the Italians who live in Wales. I spent my life between Italy and Great Britain. I was born in 1949 in Sassari and my family moved to England in 1951. When I was 11 years old, we came back to Italy and stayed there many years. I played soccer in the youth team of Torres and served into the Italian Army. Later, I moved to London where my son was born. We finally settled in Newbridge (Wales) where Joe was raised. We still live in Newbridge, a few minutes from each other.
Tell us how Joe trained for his bout against Jeff Lacy.
He trained as usual. I’ll tell you something that nobody knows: Joe hurt his right hand two weeks before the fight. He talked about postponing the match and I thought a lot about it. I said to myself that I had to choose between playing the father or the coach. A father would have told his son to pull out of the fight, not to worsen the injury. A coach would have pushed his boxer to get in the ring, to improve his career. My advice to Joe was: If you quit, the American press will write that you are scared of Jeff Lacy. Even if your hand doesn’t get back at 100% for the day of the fight, you get in the ring and do what you usually do. I know boxing and I know you and I guarantee that this will be the easiest fight of your career! It turned out to be just that. Right after the win, Joe thanked me for having convinced him to fight.
After the Lacy massacre, Joe is in every top-ten.
He should have been in all the top-tens much before! He defended the WBO title 18 times. It’s always the same story: beating a big American star on American television is more useful than winning many consecutive world title fights. By the way, they wrote that Jeff Lacy had the best trainer in the world. Since Joe ridiculed Lacy, I should be the best trainer now.
When you started training Joe, did you have any models in mind?
Yes, I always told Joe that he should have Muhammad Ali’s jab, Ray Leonard’s speed and Marvin Hagler’s left hand. I got to know well one of Ali’s opponents: Joe Bugner. When his family arrived in England, they choose to stay in Bedford where I lived with my parents. Me and Joe went to the same school and became friends. He had dinner in my house countless times. He was a great kid.
What are Joe’s plans for the future?
Signing for a big fight, for the biggest purse available.
It’s always a pleasure to talk with an Italian journalist.
Born in London (England) on February 23, 1972
Hometown: Newbridge (Wales)
Nicknames: Pride of Wales and Italian Dragon
Trainer: Enzo Calzaghe (his father)
Manager: Frank Warren
British welterweight champion in 1991
British light middleweight champion in 1992
British middleweight champion in 1993
Record: 41 wins (31 KOs) in 41 matches
British super middleweight champion in 1995-1996
WBO world super middleweight champion since October 11, 1997
Defeated Chris Eubank on points to claim the vacant crown
Defended the belt 18 times
Voted Young Boxer of the Year in 1995 by the Professional Boxing Association and Boxing Writers’ Club