Enzo Calzaghe is Britain’s most decorated boxing trainer, leading son Joe to an unbeaten career and winning world titles with two other fighters.
In his autobiography A Fighting Life, out now and written with Argus sports writer Michael Pearlman, he lifts the lid on his amazing journey to becoming one of our sporting greats
Enzo Calzaghe is the genius behind the genius – training his son Joe to world titles at two weights and a 46-fight unbeaten record as a professional.
He is the most successful boxing trainer of modern times – training three different World Champions and winning the BBC Sports Personality Trainer of the Year award.
He never fought in the ring, but he still turned his son Joe into one of the top ten boxers on the planet.
His extraordinary behind-the-scenes story of his flamboyant career and the making of a fight legend is revealed in his new book.
It’s much more than a round-by-round tale of ropes and gloves, and grit and glory.
Here we pick up the story when Enzo finds out via the South Wales Argus that Joe hasn’t been selected for the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
“Joe began training regularly with the Olympic hopefuls at Crystal Palace and would regularly spar with Robin Reid, who he looked to be in direct competition with, and other guys like Richie Woodhall.
“Joe hurt a knuckle against a kid called Andrew Gerrard and I phoned Ray Allen, the chairman of the Welsh ABA, and told him I needed to pull Joe out of an upcoming international with Norway at Newport. Ray loved Joe but seemed utterly determined he boxed. Maybe he knew something I didn’t. He even told me Joe would win with one hand. But I wasn’t having that, I pulled Joe out and little did I know what a big decision that was.
“The Welsh ABA had to nominate the boxers to go to be assessed for the Olympic team and they stated that only one boxer in each category would be put through.
“I remember it as if it was yesterday. It was Monday morning, about 8am, the phone rang and it was John Francis, a sports reporter on the South Wales Argus.
“‘Enzo, I am sorry to bother you,’” he said, “‘but is it true Joe hasn’t been shortlisted for the Olympics?’”
“What! No, it’s not true John. You’ve got totally the wrong end of the stick. Don’t be so f****** stupid,” I told him, and believed it too.
“Joe has just come back from Crystal Palace, there is no problem.”
“But I was worried for sure. Anyone from South Wales could tell you news and gossip round these parts spread like wild fire and I trusted John Francis. If he’d heard that, something was up. There have been a few instances where I’ve heard about a fight or something first through the Argus boxing writer. I called Ray Allen and told him what John had told me and he confirmed it. “‘Joe’s not on the list Enzo, I am sorry. He isn’t going to the Olympics.’”
“I was raging, absolutely apoplectic, I wanted to physically hurt someone. A bunch of stiffs in a pub had sat around and decided to kill Joe’s Olympic dream. That was their attitude and I did all I could to try and change it. It was so short-sighted.”
Joe turned professional after his disappointment and in 1997 beat Chris Eubank to win the WBO super middleweight world title. However, following two poor performances in 1999, Enzo found out via the newspapers he had been “sacked” by his son.
“Imagine finding out you’ve been sacked via the back page of a national newspaper. Now imagine the person who has chosen to sack you from the job you love is your own flesh and blood. Been there, done it, got the T-shirt. It hurts like hell and you feel like s.... Trust me... Joe had disappeared for a couple of weeks’ holiday to enjoy some downtime. I was also enjoying the break from pre-fight tensions until I read the story saying I was sacked.
“I felt embarrassed, humiliated and victimised and I was incredibly angry. My anger was not directed at Frank Warren. As far as I was concerned it had nothing to do with him and everything to do with Joe...
“How could I be sacked? I’d never signed any sort of contract to train Joe... But how f****** dare he let me take the rap for his s*** fights?
“Two days later he sauntered in like nothing had happened and it was then that I gave him some home truths about the whole thing. Father first, trainer second, it always had to be that way.
“First off Joe, first off I need to tell you that I am p***** off that you didn’t talk to me first about wanting to bring someone else in,” I began. “But the problem isn’t me, it isn’t the training and it isn’t about us going stale or me having taken you as far as you can go. The problem is you.” Joe tried to make a point but I didn’t let him get a word in.
“You’ve become lazy Joe, you’ve become sloppy and unprofessional and it makes me embarrassed to hear people talking all this s*** about me when you are the one who is f****** everything up. The spark in you has gone out. You’re training like a champion not a challenger and you’ve lost the fire in your belly, you’re falling flat. I don’t want you training like a champion, Mr Billy Big Potatoes... If you don’t sort it out and stop cutting corners you’ll lose that title and everyone will forget about you, whoever your f****** trainer is!”
Enzo and Joe never did split and continued a glorious career together that culminated in a farewell fight against Roy Jones Jr at Madison Square Garden in New York in autumn 2008.
The fight took place just hours after Barack Obama became the USA’s first African American president and, ever the diplomat, Enzo nearly caused a riot at the final head-to-head press conference.
“The day before the head-to-head press conference Obama officially won the election. Jones was very proud of America after Obama’s historic victory and played into the whole “change,” “yes we can,” slogans in saying he was going to beat Joe. I went into rant mode in front of a room full of Jones’ friends and fans. “Change mate, what change? There ain’t going to be a f****** change,” I told everyone in America.
“Roy is going to fight his heart out, but it won’t be enough to beat Joe. Change? It ain’t going to happen! We didn’t come here to fight to lose. We are going to be at Madison Square Garden with all the Americans pulling for Jones. We picked this place. We picked this place to kick ass!”
“Some people reacted furiously, but I didn’t give a f***. It was pure passion and some people afterwards told me they enjoyed my, shall we say, eccentric performance.”
l A Fighting Life is available from gnbooks.co.uk and all good book shops and was launched at Water-stones in Cardiff yesterday.