Enzo Calzaghe: Charismatic trainer who guided his son Joe to boxing greatness

He picked up boxing skills as a boy to fend off bullies targeting the Italian-born immigrant for being a foreigner, and went on to train the best

Luke Barr
Tuesday 02 October 2018 14:18
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Joe Calzaghe gets instructions in the corner from his father and trainer Enzo during his light-heavyweight bout with Bernard Hopkins on 19 April 2008 in Las Vegas, Nevada
Joe Calzaghe gets instructions in the corner from his father and trainer Enzo during his light-heavyweight bout with Bernard Hopkins on 19 April 2008 in Las Vegas, Nevada

From a small Sardinian hamlet to the boxing temples of Las Vegas – the life of Enzo Calzaghe, the champion trainer who has died aged 69, was far from ordinary.

He was, first and foremost, the driving force behind his son’s boxing career. He spurred Joe Calzaghe on to become the greatest super-middleweight of a generation and then a light-heavyweight champion further down the line. The Welshman went 46 fights unbeaten as a professional and became a two-weight world champion as a result. He retired in February 2009.

An energetic and charismatic trainer of no prior experience, he helped to propel his shy and naturally gifted son to stardom, forming a unique father-son partnership that left the sporting world in awe. There was no space for sentiment between the two. He bore the responsibility of sending his son into a sporting war on a regular basis. When the critics came calling, Enzo was the motivational and insistent voice in Joe’s ear, thrusting him forward whenever doubts emerged.

He also guided both Enzo Maccarinelli and Gavin Rees to world titles, proving to himself and both everyone else that his ability to train fighters extended way beyond his son.

Father and son attended the launch of the 2015 documentary ‘Mr Calzaghe’

He reached the summit in boxing without ever throwing a professional punch and was the inspiration behind a total of six fighters, who all placed their complete faith in this effervescent and unyielding Italian.

Enzo was born in Bancali, Sassari, on the island of Sardinia in 1949, although his family made the bold move to Bedfordshire when he was just two. As an immigrant, he was often singled out and picked on, and to protect him from school bullies his former policeman father introduced him to boxing. Interestingly, he also shared a playground with Hungarian-born Joe Bugner, who would also enjoy boxing success in the future as a world heavyweight contender. However, for Enzo, a boxing career was just a twinkle. He first had dreams of being a footballer… and then a musician.

The Calzaghes’ stint in England soon ended and Enzo was forced to join his uncle’s band as a bass player in Sardinia. After completing his national service with the Italian Air Force in Milan, Enzo then fled his native Italy in a bid to achieve musical success.

A nomadic existence across Europe then followed, and for a number of years he travelled with his guitar and busked for a living. He soon ended up in Cardiff by chance, and it was here where he met his future wife Jackie in a Wimpy restaurant. They got married just four weeks later. After enjoying spells in both Sardinia and London, the pair finally settled down in the former Welsh pit village of Pentwynmawr with their three children – Joe, Sonia and Melissa.

Under Enzo’s guidance, Joe retired unbeaten after 46 wins and held world titles in two weight classes (Getty)

Much like Enzo himself, Joe’s first taste of boxing came through his father, as he tested his fists by punching palms and pads at the family home. Joe and his two sisters were forced to deal with discriminatory abuse throughout their childhoods; however, it was this bullying that led Enzo and his son to the Newbridge Boxing Club when Joe was just nine. Paul Williams was his first trainer, although Enzo soon took up the reins and an era of amateur dominance followed.

By scrapping his pursuit for musical success, Enzo dedicated his life to his son’s sport and also took over at the Newbridge gym. It was inside this glorified shed where he sharpened his own craft and also the skills of of others, earning his way to the top through graft and initiative.

Despite being a novice in the world of training, the musically gifted Enzo provided the energy needed to breathe life into his son’s career. He demanded combinations of fix, six, and seven punches, and his southpaw fighter was only happy to deliver. He remarkably shaped the career of a champion.

2007 saw Enzo named Coach of the Year at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards, a title he also won from The Ring magazine and the Boxing Writers Association of America that same year. Three years later he was made an MBE for services to boxing. He is survived by his wife, Jackie, his children and three siblings, Sergio, Uccio and Alba.

Enzo and Joe Calzaghe were a pair that fitted each other perfectly, hand in glove – a complete contrast of character playing a key role in their long-term partnership and success. Unorthodox in his style, personality and credentials, Enzo was a celebrated figure within the world of boxing. Since his death, there has been messages of condolences from Tyson Fury, Nathan Cleverly and Tony Bellew to name just a few.

The wholehearted support of his father was never lost on Joe, and he dedicated his International Boxing Hall of Fame induction to Enzo in 2014. After thanking his family, he described his father as his “trainer and best friend”, someone “who’s been with me since day one, kicking me up the arse and pushing me”.

He was the man to nurture this sparkling talent, squeezing every last drop out of his fighter, and also himself. A sweet televised moment between the two then followed, as Joe held his arm around his father, who wept tears of pride and was too choked to speak. As a sporting, family duo, they achieved something truly remarkable.

Enzo Calzaghe, boxing trainer, born 1 January 1949, died 17 September 2018

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