Dad's lads and mummy's boys do not always make for the happiest ofsporting relationships, but there is no doubt that the filial teaming of Joe Calzaghe and his father Enzo is a knockout. The Sardinian-born Enzo, who has never had a fight in his life outside the school playground, will be in his son's corner in every sense when Joe makes a record-equalling 21st defence of his world super-middleweight title against the similarly unbeaten Dane Mikkel Kessler next weekend.
Enzo has been Joe's trainer and mentor throughout a 43-fight professional career which began on the undercard of the Lennox Lewis-Frank Bruno fight 14 years ago this month, the past 10 as a world champion. But it is not just Joe he has nurtured to greatness. Two other Welsh fighters have recently become world champions under the tutelage of this peppery littleman who fills the village gym they call "the Kronk of the valleys", after one of America's most prolific fistic emporiums, with Mediterranean passion.
To reach it you go through trees and down wooden steps that lead from a burger van to a disused rugby clubhouse on the edge of a South Wales industrial estate in Abercarn, not far from Calzaghe's home village of Newbridge. It is cold, dark and dingy, and purposely so. No Jacuzzis or state-of-the-art steam rooms in this scruffy stone hut with a corru-gated roof under which is scrawled "Newbridge Boxing Club". Enzo and Joe bought it and the surrounding land five years ago. It sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb on the edge of a rugby pitch by the foot of the sort of poetic green valley beloved of Dylan Thomas. "Welcome to 'Sound of Music' country," says Enzo as he trots up in his tracksuit to unlock the doors, revealing a full-sized ring and a wall-length banner which heralds: "Joe Calzaghe: A Decade of Dominance".
It is here Enzo trains not only Joe but his two other world champions, the 6ft 4in cruiser- weight Enzo Maccarinelli and Gavin Rees, the newly mintedWBA light-welterweight champ, who is only 5ft 3in. He also has Bradley Pryce, the Commonwealth light-middle-weight champion, and Gary Lockett, who has a 29-1 record and is the No 1-ranked challenger for a meaningful middleweight title. It is surely the most productive stable in the land.
Enzo's forte has been to take raw talent and mould it into world-beating potential. Aformer footballer, waiter and cook, in his youth he was a pop group guitarist, backing Edwin Starr and Bucks Fizz. As a songwriter he collaborated with Paul Young. His own group, the Foreign Legion, included his two brothers. For five years they gigged around Europe before he met his Welsh wife of 38 years, Jacqueline, in Cardiff.
"I've shown you don't need a flat nose and cauliflower ears to teach this game," he tells us. "Although I never boxed myself, it was in my blood as my dad was a boxer. I suppose I really learned about fighting at school in Bedfordshire. I was always getting picked on because I was the 'Eyetie' so I had to defend myself. But I've never had a fight in the ring although I've sparred in the gym with every guy I've trained. But I'm 57 now and I stopped sparring three years ago."
Enzo took over as Joe's trainerafter he lost an amateur fight in the European junior champion-ship semi-finals at 17 – and Joe has not been beaten since. "It was a gift that I never boxed," Enzo said. "That way I had no bad habits. I had to come to my training methods fresh. I studiedthree boxers' styles: [Marvin] Hagler for his southpaw stance – like Joe's – [Sugar Ray] Leonard for his speed and [Muhammad] Ali for his jab.
"Some people seemed to think I was just Joe's bag carrier. They only started to give me respect after he had beaten [Jeff] Lacy, whose own trainer admitted we outthought them as well as out-fought them. Before that the press did nothing but slag me off, but I never let it upset me. It was water off a duck's ass. Even now no one asks me to be a TV pundit, but I don't give a monkey's. My joy has been helping Joe show the world that he's numero uno."
Joe calls him "a world champion on the pads" and recalls how he wanted to pull out of the career-defining Lacy fight last year with a damaged wrist but Enzo "went ballistic".
"He called me 'a fucking chicken' and said I could beat the crap out of him with one hand. As it turned out, the injury healed and Lacy was demoralised from the first bell. Dad was proved right." Says Enzo: "Joe and I love each other but he gets no special treatment. I have to be cold-hearted. If anything I'm probably a bit harder on him than the others. This is no ego trip. I'm not Mr Big of the boxing world. I know in my own heart I am good at what I am doing, and the proof is in Joe's record and the fact that we now have two other world champions in this gym."
Some think Kessler, himself a double world champion, could be Calzaghe's nemesis. Not Enzo. "I've told Joe he's not that special,despite his record. Joe has fought 21 world-class men, some better, some worse than Kessler, and they've all had problems trying to find the system to beat him. I think Kessler is a good fighter technique-wise but he's no monster. A strong jab, straight shots and it works for him, but if Joe comes in with a clear mind and is himself, I can see him stopping Kessler. I'll just tell Joe, be yourself, do your own thing and he won't live with you."
Joe grins: "When I win, Dad always gives me a big sloppy kiss on the lips. He's the first guy in the ring and tries to lift me on his shoulders. That makes me more nervous than fighting, in case he drops me. But I couldn't have done it without him and I'm glad he's now getting the acknowledgement he deserves."
Enzo says he spent five years as a troubadour trying to make a hit, but it is the past 14 years he has spent schooling his son to his own greatest hits that has finally made the back-up man a star in his own right.
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