A conversation with Mr Calzaghe

Paul Zanon
14/03/2016 7:40am

Undefeated 2014 Hall of Famer Joe Calzaghe spoke to Boxing Monthly from him home in Wales with an air of calm in his voice and sense of pride of his latest achievement, the screening of his life story - ‘Mr Calzaghe’. Released in November 2015, Calzaghe shared some of the finer moments of the film and gave us a few ‘behind the scene’ anecdotes, to add colour to his nostalgic journey.

“I’d been approached in the past to have a feature film made of my life, but always rejected the idea. However, when Vaughn Sivell approached me with the idea for ‘Mr Calzaghe’, I liked what he had to say and how he wanted to put it together.

“I was really happy with the final result. When you retire and have the opportunity to look back at your career on the big screen, it’s incredible. It’s something that me and my family can look back on in years to come and be very proud of. It (the film) took about two years to make and to have everyone from my kids, my dad and my granddad involved was incredible. My granddad passed away this year, so I dedicated the film in his memory.

“I’d probably say that my dad was the star of the show. He was awesome. However, it’s his fault that the film is rated a 15, as he didn’t stop swearing! Ever since the film has gone on release, I’ve received some lovely messages, many from people who have said they found it quite emotional.” 

If you are in doubt of the popularity of the film, just take a look at the comments on the Mr Calzaghe Twitter address or Calzaghe’s own personal one. Even unspoken footballer Joey Barton took the time to post a couple of tweets to his 3.1 million following, “Watched Mr Calzaghe expecting it to be another poorly shot and boring biopic. How wrong I was. Brilliant film about a brilliant boxer…..very well put together Joe. You and your father came across brilliant. What a story mate. Stuff of legends.”

During the film you will see very recent footage of Calzaghe hitting the bags and jogging the hills of Newbridge. BM took the opportunity to ask, if reliving his boxing journey reignited any part of him to want to get back into the ring. Calzaghe replied, “Not at all. No way! I still workout now and then, and hit the bags, but I’m going to be forty bloody four in March! For those last few fights, my body was in bits. A lot of people didn’t realise just how bad my injuries were. Towards the end, I was hardly sparring at all. To be undefeated and at the top is a minor miracle, especially with the injuries. I’m very proud watching the fights and still get excited. I sometimes stop and think, “Shit – that was me!

“When I retired, it was the right time. I was cutting enough corners as it was towards the end and I didn’t need to fight for money anymore. Of course, more money is always nice, but I was happy with what I had and the risk to fight on was not worth all the money in the world. I’d lost that hunger. I no longer felt that I was fighting like a challenger, which was a mindset I used to go into all my fights. When that started to disappear, I knew it was time to hang up the gloves. I’d lost that edge. I’d made the decision to retire before the Roy Jones Jr fight, which is probably why it was so emotional when I boxed in Madison Square Garden. I probably could have stopped him if I wanted to, but I wanted to enjoy those last few minutes of professional boxing.”

Mr Calzaghe is certainly worth a watch. It features everything from Calzaghe being bullied as a kid, through to reliving his devastating hand speed over his glittering 46-0 career. There’s also a great scene in which his old foe Mikkel Kessler joins him to watch their fight from 2007. Calzaghe expands for BM.

“It was awesome to have had Mikkel included. He firstly kicked my ass at table tennis and then we watched the film afterwards. We sat there, had a couple of Kronenbourgs and were able to have a laugh.

“He was the best fighter I’d fought and to have done so in front of 50,000 people at the Millennium stadium was incredible. He was undefeated at the time, held the WBA and WBC titles and was a very dangerous fighter. He was a massive super-middleweight and gave me a very tough fight.

“After the fight we remained good friends and to have him over for the film was fantastic. I’ve got so much respect for him, not just as a fighter, but as a person.”

It seems that the film naturally picked up from where Calzaghe’s autobiography, ‘No Ordinary Joe,’ finished off in 2007. The book, carefully sculptured with ghostwriter Brian Doogan, finished at 43-0, missing three of Calzaghe’s biggest fights – Mikkel Kessler, then the move up to light-heavyweight in the US against Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. BM asked Calzaghe if the film give him an opportunity to get closure on the boxing life story.

“Looking back, in hindsight, I did the book a bit too soon. At the time, I thought I’d had the biggest fights of my life, was in my mid 30s and maybe thought I wouldn’t be fighting that much longer. Thankfully, the film is able to capture the emotion of the journey of my last three fights, which turned out to be something special. I’d been offered to have another book written, but I think I prefer the film to round off the rest of my career.” 

On the subject of Roy Jones Jr, BM asked for Calzaghe’s views on Roy’s recent boxing action in Russia on 12 December (against friend Enzo Maccarinelli) and how he sees the 2016 pugilistic landscape panning out. 

Calzaghe told BM, “I’m good friends with Enzo and wish him congratulations, but I think Roy Jones Jr needs to retire now. When he fought me he still had a little bit in the tank, but was probably past his best, but now I think it’s time for him to hang up the gloves. It’s sad to see Roy getting knocked out like that. It’s happened to him too often in his last few fights and I think he just needs to hang up the gloves now.”

Moving on to views of fellow Welsh champion Lee Selby, Calzaghe seemed to express a level of empathy for the talented 28-year-old from Barry. “He struggled a little bit in his last fight. It was a big gamble for him to go to the US and the style of his opponent just didn’t make him look good. The important thing is he got the win. I had similar problems at the start of my world title defences and received a lot of criticism, but you’ve got to hang in there. I’m very impressed with his style and think he’s exciting. He’s a good champion and will only get better. He’s in one of the hottest and most exciting divisions and it would be nice to see him get some fights in Wales. The only problem of having fights on home turf is that they can sometimes fall short on the attendance. I struggled on a number of occasions to sell out some of the smaller venues in Wales and it wasn’t until after 10 years of being world champion that I’d generated enough attention for people to start following me.”

“As for his brother Andrew - I haven’t seen him fight much, but he seems to have a similar style to his brother. He’s a big prospect and definitely a future champion.” 

When asked about the current state of the super-middleweight division, he does so with what seems to be a lack of enthusiasm, for a division with four rulers. “James DeGale has the tools to unify the division. I think Bute gave him a harder fight than he expected, but he dug deep and won the fight. It takes balls to fight away from home against a former world champion in his backyard. Fair play to James. 

“I was reporting from ringside when Badou Jack beat Dirrell and despite winning I thought it was a mediocre performance. As far as Arthur Abraham and Fedor Chudinov [since deposed by Felix Sturm] go – very average.”

BM asked Calzaghe’s opinion of how far Gennady Golvkin’s power would travel at 168lbs. “He does have massive punching power, but how he fares at super-middle remains to be seen,” said Calzaghe. “The super-middleweights could do with a bit of excitement. Maybe he can provide it.”

Valid comments from Calzaghe. Just take a look at Arthur Abraham in 2009. He was 30-0 with a fearsome reputation for knocking his opponents out, but when he mixed it up at 168lbs with the best of the best in the Super Six super-middleweight tournament, he was handed his first three defeats. Golovkin seems to be a few levels above Abraham, but only a move up will end that debate.

On to the heavyweight division, BM asked if Tyson Fury has been hard done by the media after his world title victory over Wladimir Klitschko. Calzaghe replied, “I don’t really read many newspapers or follow the media a great deal. All I know is, when you are a champion of the world people start to jump on your arse. Stuff that they wouldn’t necessarily pay attention to when you’re not champion, suddenly becomes of interest to them and words get twisted. I’ve read articles after interviews I did and thought, ‘Hold on – I never said that,’ or the person asking the questions has interpreted what I’ve said in their own way to make papers sell.

“I don’t agree or disagree with what Tyson Fury has said as I genuinely haven’t been keeping up to date with it all, all I can comment on is his performance against Klitschko. I think he did a very good job. He fought a very intelligent fight, frustrated Klitschko and proved a lot of people wrong including myself. In fact – I’m happy he proved me wrong and happy he’s become world champion.”

“I’m not sure what Klitschko could do in the rematch. Maybe try and throw a punch before the 12th round might be good! 

“If Fury meets Deontay Wilder, that could be interesting. Wilder is a big guy, but I’m not sure if he can take a shot. I think Fury can beat him, definitely. Either way – two tall, big fighters with speed and power – it will be an interesting fight.” 

Interested to find out Calzaghe’s views at domestic level, BM asked if Anthony Joshua has the potential to rule the heavyweight roost. Calzaghe replied, “He’s come through his last test well. He got hurt in the second round, but dug deep and manage to find a way to cover up and a way to win the fight. It was the first proper fight he’d been in and still looked good seven rounds in. Because he’s knocked so many people out in the early rounds, everyone’s trying to rush him. He hasn’t been fighting as a pro for that long and is still learning. Let him develop. No rush – Give him another 12 months to get a few more fights under his belt before thinking about world titles.”

BM finished the interview by testing the waters to see if Calzaghe would be interested to fight Carl Froch. “I wouldn’t fight anyone at any weight now! I quit on top, undefeated, with my health and my family around me. I don’t miss losing weight for a fight or getting hit in the face. After 26 years in the ring, I think I’ve paid my penance. I’m happy wearing my slippers now.” 

CALZAGHE ON HIS FIVE GREATEST VICTORIES

No.1 – Mikkel Kessler

“He was undefeated at the time, all the belts were on the line and it was my last fight at super-middleweight. What a way to cap of a decade as a champion, especially in front of 50,000 fans at the Millennium Stadium. He was a very strong guy and deserves all the credit in the world for the part he paid in the performance we put on that night.”

No.2 – Jeff Lacy 

“I was the bookies underdog. About 90% of the press believed I was going to get knocked out. Lacy was being talked about as the super-middleweight Mike Tyson and apparently I was going to get smashed up. The circumstances and pressure surrounding that fight were massive. It turned out to be a turning point of my career. I fought out of my skin that night and delivered 12 near perfect rounds. I was able to show the press exactly what I was capable of.”

No.3 – Bernard Hopkins

“It was a big step up. Going to America, going to Las Vegas and moving up to light-heavyweight against a legend like Hopkins. The hype surrounding the fight was almost as big as the fight, but that’s helped it to sell. It was a hard messy fight and to have beaten someone as awesome as Hopkins was incredible feeling.” 

No.4 – Chris Eubank

“I grew up watching Nigel Benn, Steve Collins, Michael Watson and Chris Eubank. To then be fighting against one of my idols for the world title was unreal. He said he’d take me into the trenches and he did. It was a 12-round war and I had to dig in really deep to win that fight and became world champion. The moment I was announced as world champion will always be a very special memory for me.”

No. 5 – Roy Jones Jr

“My last fight ever at Madison Square Garden against a pound-for-pound legend. Almost says it all! It had always been a dream of mine to fight at the Garden and I cherished every minute of it. I probably could have taken him out earlier, but enjoyed every second right up to the bell at the end of the 12th round, as I knew it was my very last. 46-0.”