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23 APRIL 2018

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Calzaghe Wows Em At Hall Of Fame

Calzaghe waves to fans( all pics Mike Greenhill)
Calzaghe waves to fans( all pics Mike Greenhill)

By Jeff Jowett in Canastota: This year’s class of inductees at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota NY was headlined by Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad. And right up there with them was career-undefeated Super Middleweight Champion Joe Calzaghe. Joe and his dad and trainer Enzo were a big hit, participating in an open sparring tutorial and a jam-packed question-and-answer session with fans.


The session began logically with Calzaghe’s initial interest in boxing. “I wanted to play football [soccer]. My hands are a bit quicker than my feet.” His dad bought him a “speedball” for Christmas and soon noted how quick his hands were. “So I took him to the gym [at age 8 or 9, depending on who was speaking] next door to our house and rock-&-rolled. His hands are fast and he enjoyed it.” Added Joe, “It was quite frightening for an 8-year-old to walk into a gym. The smell of the gym I’ll never forget. It was a rundown…what’s the word…shack? A pretty rough old gym…And I lost my first fight…against a guy called Chris Stark. I got robbed. I lost 10 amateur fights and I insist I got robbed in every one of them [chuckling]. I remember crying my eyes out in the ring and my old trainer…a guy called Paul Williams…he had to come and get me out of the ring…The feeling of losing was the worst feeling that I ever, ever had.”


The experience only solidified his resolve and Calzaghe went on to an extensive and successful amateur career. “The last time I lost was in the European junior championships in 1990 in the old Czechoslovakia. I was 17…I was distraught again for losing that fight and I prayed to God, I’m never gonna lose another fight. If I lose another fight, I’m gonna quit boxing…I want to be a champion. And from then on, my dad took over as the main coach…and I won my last 56 amateur fights…I should have went to the Barcelona Olympics. That’s another story I won’t bore you with. But I should have went to the Olympics…for whatever reason, I didn’t go. I wasn’t selected, because of politics.”


The next move, of course, was to turn pro. And Enzo went right along. “A lot of people say your dad can’t train you, you need a professional trainer, you need this, you need that. But if it wasn’t for my father, I never woulda boxed. So I stuck with my dad. What could they say? I think my last hundred fights, amateur and pro combined, undefeated. [Applause.] I want to thank my dad for not teaching me the guitar, because he’s a musician. I wanted him to teach me the guitar…I know the reason he didn’t. Because probably if I’d played music, I wouldn’t have boxed. I think it’s [meaning music] the wrong path to choose.”


His initial eye-catching win was over British veteran titlist Chris Eubank. “All I wanted to do [at that point] was unify the titles. You know, we’ve got four major titles. I wanted to be THE #1 fighter…the best! I finally got the opportunity against Jeff Lacey, and going into that fight, I was the underdog. He came out to the UK. I was 34 years old at the time. Came off a couple of mediocre fights. I broke my hand in one of the fights and I think Gary Shaw thought, ‘Let’s go and kick this guy’s ass. He’s there for the taking.’ It was unbelievable the shape I was in for that fight. I literally fought that fight as if my life depended on that fight. I was willing to leave everything in the ring…I nearly pulled out of the fight, and thanks again to my dad saying, ‘You need to fight this fight, even with one hand.’”


With that big win gaining him worldwide notoriety, Calzaghe went on to continue his campaign for unification, beating Mikkel Kessler and gaining The Ring belt. Damaged and with hands in pain, he felt there were only two things left to attain: “It meant so much to me to come to the States and fight. Every European and British fighter loves to come to America. The dream is always to fight in two places, and that is Las Vegas, which I did against Bernard Hopkins, and…at the Madison Square Garden, where all the greats in history have fought. It was so special to me. I knew that was gonna be my last fight.”


Summing up after attaining these two final goals, Joe observed, “The way I’d been brought up in a little tiny town in South Wales, to the little halls I boxed in, to finish off in the Mecca of boxing, Madison Square Garden, it was a beautiful…way to finish my career. So I thank God for that, thank my dad, thank all the major fans that supported me throughout the years. I’m so glad, so grateful.”


Questioned about one of the few criticisms that are sometimes posed, that he slaps, Joe responded, “Jeff Lacey called me a slapper. But I must’ve slapped pretty hard if you see his face after the fight. [Applause.] It was just as well I did slap him…he didn’t go back out.” A fan asked who were his personal favorites. “My favorites growing up [were] ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard, ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler, obviously Roberto Duran, Tommy Hearns. I was so lucky to watch them fight growing up…Julio Cesar Chavez; I used to love watching Pernell Whitaker.” As to British boxers: “I used to love watching Barry McGuigan.” This created a stir in the audience. Then asked about Welsh fighters, Joe included Tommy Farr and Howard Winstone. “It’s only a small country, Wales,” he explained, “in Great Britain. So I’m so proud to represent Wales on this weekend as well.”


When a fan asked Enzo about HIS favorites, he took the tack of explaining how he tried to meld them into Joe’s style: “Punches in bunches; fast, fast, fast. So who did I take that from? I took the jab from Muhammad Ali, the speed of ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard, and the southpaw was Hagler…I created a monster called Joe Calzaghe.”


About how he was able to do what few others have, beat Bernard Hopkins: “Obviously he’s a great fighter, Hopkins, but he likes to fight at his own pace, and as you know, my speed, my work rate, my stamina, that was my guess. I work every single second of every single round and I felt I just had to pressure him. He likes to fight at his own pace, and is very difficult. He is probably the most awkward fighter I have ever boxed. With my style, I like fighters to come to me, being a southpaw, and I felt after six rounds, he just couldn’t handle the work rate. It was messy. It was very difficult to look good against Hopkins because he’s such a…[looking for word]…such a, what’s the word? He’s so cagey, he’s old school. He’ll tie you up on the inside…I worked him. Just keep throwing punches, keep throwing punches, and keep pressurizing him.”



Calzaghe works out with a fan
Calzaghe works out with a fan
Calzaghe signs autographs
Calzaghe signs autographs

“He was a very difficult fight. Like I said, I deserved the win. I was the one who was forcing the fight, I was the one who was TRYING to fight, especially after six, seven rounds. Look at the guy today, world champion at the age of 49. I had apparently beaten an old man six years ago [meaning that if Hopkins was an old man six years ago, he wouldn’t STILL be a world titlist today]. I’m so proud. It was one of my proudest performances…to get put on the floor in the first round, I went down in the first round, so I was chasing the fight, and to win against such a legend, future Hall of Famer, is a very proud moment for me and goes down in my favorite fights as regards to proudest.” [Ed. note: Hopkins does not agree that he lost.]


As to Calzaghe’s TOUGHEST fight, that was Chris Eubank. “The biggest mistake I made in that fight, I dropped him in the first 15 seconds. I caught him with a left hook and he went flying across the ring. I thought, ‘[expletive] This is gonna be easy. [Laughter from crowd.] So I threw everything, the kitchen sink, at him. Two rounds are gone, three rounds are gone, four rounds are gone and I’m, like, exhausted…and Eubank is still strutting around the ring and I was thinking, ‘I’m in for a hard, hard night.’ He said one thing to me at the press conference [before the fight], because you know I was mouthy back then, saying, ‘I’m gonna knock you out, I’m gonna do this,’ and he looked at me: ‘I’m gonna take you to one place you’ve never, ever been. I’m gonna take you to the trenches.’…But trust me, after 8, 9, 10 rounds, I was so exhausted, but I wanted to win so bad, I just gave every single drop of myself in that fight. So exhausted and finally won the fight, but it was the best experience and education…to do such a hard fight and PROVE that you’re a champion, when your back’s against the wall and you’re exhausted, that you could find a way to win. You FIND a way to come out on top, and against Chris Eubank, I did that.”


As to hard punchers: “He [Eubank] was strong, but a huge puncher? No. I suppose Kessler could hit hard. Byron Mitchell hit me with a right, the first time I ever went down in my LIFE. I came back and stopped him in the same round. I used to dodge or block most of the big punches. You see my face; I never took too many shots, so lucky for me, it wasn’t that bad. I fought some good punchers but I’ve never been knocked out so they couldn’t have hit that hard, you know?” He would return to the Mitchell fight later.

A fan inquired about the difference between American and European fighters, and Calzaghe related the question to his own style. “I think I’m more an American fighter…My style was unique. I could box on the back foot, I could go forward, I could slug, I could move around…I think one of my strengths, I could adapt IN fights, so if one thing’s not going good for me, I’ll go on the back foot or vice versa…I like to think that I’m appreciated, like you see here today [the turnout] with my style. I like to move, I like to crouch, throw loads of punches in bunches, and that’s the way I like to fight and I like to consider myself more of an American-style fighter than a European fighter. Thank you.”


After boxing: “It’s difficult for a sportsman to retire…When you’ve reached the pinnacle of your career, what do you do? You miss the adrenalin, you miss the [regimen] of boxing, getting up in the morning, training; it’s hard. And it’s easy for people to say, just do something else you love. WHAT else? It’s all you’ve ever done, since I was eight years old was be a boxer. So yeah, of course it’s difficult, but you know what? I would never say I was depressed, but I would say you do have boredom. But you have to remember, you know, to retire a champion undefeated, it’s the dream of every fighter and you have to count your blessings for that. I look back at my career, I don’t think I shoulda done this, shoulda done that. It’s just the way it is. I’m very fortunate to have a great family, very fortunate to have two beautiful sons…so that’s the main thing in my life.”


He added a footnote to his youth: “In Wales, we’re not too good at football [soccer], we’re better at rugby. But I wasn’t really into rugby. I was sitting on the bench, freezing cold, not scoring any goals. Then I was going into the boxing gym and knocking people out and I thought, ‘This isn’t bad. I’m actually good at this.’ So that’s how I stuck to boxing.”


A style point was raised about Joe’s risky habit of exchanging after coming off the canvas. Enzo commented, “With Joe, I was 99.9% sure he’ll win. But I always had 1% in my mind that things could go bad. That first time he went down, I was confident. I wasn’t the father that started, ‘Oh!! He’s gone down!!’ [Shifting to a calm delivery] ‘Joe. Get up.’ End of story.” Joe expanded, “I’d never got put on the floor. That Byron Mitchell fight in 2003 was the first time in my entire LIFE that I was on the canvas. And I have to say that it was probably one of my proudest moments, not actually going on the canvas, but the way you get back OFF the canvas, because…you can’t prepare yourself for getting knocked out or getting knocked down or hurt. That just comes from inside. You don’t even know yourself how you’re gonna react and maybe it’s stupid to come in like he just said [referring to getting up and mixing straightaway], you know, try and move around or hold. But my instinct was just to stand toe-to-toe with the guy who just put me on the floor and just try to knock him back out, and that’s what I did. So I’m very proud of that and I always remember…when I got put on the floor and I remember the guy going ‘four, five’ and I, like, looking at the corner…[at this point, Joe made a face imitating his father’s stunned expression and the audience broke up] and he wasn’t saying ‘Put your hands up, man’ [laughter], he was saying ‘Did that really happen? Or did you slip?’ And I’m thinking, ‘Oh [bleep], what am I going to do?’ He [Enzo] was more surprised than anybody…and luckily enough as it happened, I dropped him [Mitchell] and thank God, I managed to win the fight in that round…Powers of recovery…If you get put on the floor four times as a professional, it’s the way you recover. I managed to recover quickly. It was just my instinct to come straight back at the guy…and not to run away or hold.”


On preparation: “Where I used to live in Wales, that’s like a training camp. People used to say to me, ‘Why don’t you go to training camp?’ I used to say, ‘You come and see where I live. That IS a training camp.’ As an amateur, I used to throw thousands of punches. They used to say, ‘Joe, you can’t keep that work rate that [many] more rounds. You can’t be throwing 200 punches a round.’ I did. It’s just one of them things that probably set me aside from every other super middleweight and light heavyweight regarding how much I could throw and keep coming, and keep coming, and keep coming.”


He was asked why he never fought Sven Ottke: “Why do you think [chuckling]? It’s not my answer [meaning Ottke is the reason the fight never happened, not Calzaghe.]…We tried to get that fight made. Obviously he would never leave Germany. He was very lucky to win decisions. I think Glen Johnson was robbed against him. He was getting the decisions so he was just running around the ring getting the decision, and I actually said I would go to Germany because I was convinced I would stop him. He just wouldn’t fight. That was one of the very frustrating things.” Calzaghe then nailed the core problem in boxing. “It doesn’t make sense for the promoter to put two champs [sic] together. There were a lot of fights tried to be made by the managers, but obviously it’s not in the boxer’s hands. Every fighter wants to fight the big fights. But boxing’s a business [sic] and unfortunately it didn’t happen for me until late in my career.”


The crowd then broke up laughing when Joe replied to the question of whether his work rate would have been too much for Froch. “Of course! Not just work rate, but skill, speed and everything else.”


He concluded the session with comments on what the game meant to him. “It teaches discipline, respect…It’s given me a life I could never dream of. I wouldn’t even know what I would be or what would happen with me if it wasn’t for boxing. It’s made me have a beautiful life, seen some of the most amazing places in the world; I’ve had the most amazing feelings, meet the most amazing people in the world. It’s a great sport. It’s one on one. Any human being can appreciate the sport and the art of boxing when you understand what it is [ed. note: unfortunately, that hardly applies to the judges]. It’s hit and not be hit. It’s an art. When you can do that properly, it’s beautiful to watch.”




June 9, 2014

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