Enzo Calzaghe: Boxing loses giant in champion trainer

Enzo and Joe
Enzo Calzaghe started in boxing as an assistant trainer to Paul Williams, before inheriting the Newbridge Boxing Club from his predecessor

I've lived my dreams and I wouldn't change it for the world. It's been a beautiful ride. Enzo Calzaghe.

These are the final words of Enzo Calzaghe's autobiography, A Fighting Life, where he attempted to chronicle his journey from Sardinia to south Wales, from drifter to father and from bus conductor to one of the world's most famous trainers.

His is no ordinary story and his personality was so infectious and his mind so busy that it could be a challenge to try and focus him to remember some of the little details of his life and certainly the chronology of certain events.

That was never truer than the period of time when Enzo set off from Italy as a rebellious young man after completing his compulsory national service. With his friend Constanzo by his side and his sights set on conquering Europe and returning as a big musical success, off he set with his guitar on his back and as he always described "a pocket full of dreams".

Some of his recollections were short. Brussels - "nice people, amazing chips" - and Amsterdam: "When we eventually arrived, it was a match made in heaven."

Enzo arrived in the UK at Whitstable as a stowaway on a boat from Rotterdam that was transporting tomatoes. He reached Cardiff by chance and by the time he met his future wife Jackie - a love that would endure for approaching 50 years - he was sleeping in a phone box and stealing food out of rubbish bins.

Indeed, Enzo's love for Jackie and then his children, Joe, Melissa and Sonia, eclipsed even his passion for music, something ingrained in him ever since his uncle Vincenzo forced him to perform in a family band as a teenager in his native Sardinia.

These experiences, a nomadic existence and his passion for music, absolutely and fundamentally influenced him as a professional boxing trainer, a career that came entirely naturally to Enzo, if also completely by chance.

Had a nine-year-old Joe Calzaghe not been bullied at school, the chances are Enzo and Joe would never have ended up at Newbridge Boxing Club and would never have become one of sport's most successful father-and-son partnerships.

Enzo had given up the band he shared with brothers Uccio and Sergio in pursuit of a settled family existence in the south Wales village of Pentwynmawr, but his love for music never left him and shaped his training to a great extent.

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Archive: Enzo Calzaghe wins 2007 coach of the year

To Enzo, music was boxing, boxing was music, a series of jabs was like a burst on a guitar, a flurry of punches in bunches a chorus. Enzo didn't have a great enough command of the English language to always find the right words, but with boxing he created his own language.

Types of punches were not called jabs or hooks, they were As or Bs, musical notes. When Enzo's sharp instructions in the corner altered the course of Joe's pulsating contest with Mikkel Kessler, it was by reminding him to use the "three Bs" an instruction emphatically taken on board.

Every one of Enzo's boxers had the distinct style he taught out of a tiny gym in Newbridge. Gavin Rees, Bradley Pryce, Tony Doherty, Kerry Hope, Nathan Cleverly - all boxers taught by Calzaghe since the amateur ranks and all fighters whose style was unmistakably Enzo. Punches in bunches, a relentless work-rate, fast and slick combinations, never a backward step taken.

Similarly, Enzo's passion for people, his love and genuine curiosity about others, his desire to entertain and be a showman, it radiated throughout his fighters' careers at every public event.

This was a man who worked in a myriad of professions, who at various times in his life was a butcher, a waiter, a bus conductor, a factory worker, a musician, who travelled and loved meeting new faces, hearing new stories and telling his own.

As a boxing trainer, Enzo tended to loom large over every public event, open workouts, the press days in the gym, with his ginormous personality and whirring brain moving at 100mph, but still not quick enough to always keep up with his mouth.

Some of his exchanges were legendary, like the time he dressed down American boxing icon Bernard Hopkins and silenced one of boxing's greatest ever talkers, or the time he sharply rebuked Mike Tyson for not being enthusiastic enough about posing for a picture.

He often did that to distract or entertain his fighters, to protect them, something he did with the utmost pride and professionalism. Enzo played at life, but he knew you don't play at boxing and his fighters were always incredibly well conditioned and prepared - he would not have let them fight otherwise.

Enzo and Catherine Zeta Jones
A host of Hollywood stars were in attendance for Joe Calzaghe's fight with Bernard Hopkins in Las Vegas, including Catherine Zeta Jones

As happy talking to the waifs and strays who would walk past his Newbridge gym as he was rubbing shoulders with the likes of Sylvester Stallone and Catherine Zeta Jones in Las Vegas, Enzo was always delighted to take centre stage.

He's remembered fondly by journalists because he was always accessible and always keen to talk, even if at times the topics were baffling. He pitched TV ideas often, like a mad Italian Alan Partridge, even though he was often talking to reporters on local newspapers, not television executives.

It didn't matter a jot to Enzo if you were unlikely to help him make a reality show about a boot camp for obese people in Sardinia, nor a Christmas single to knock "that X Factor rubbish" off the Christmas number one spot, he was just happy to share his ideas.

It was a fitting end to Enzo's career as a trainer that Joe's achievements finally led to Enzo being recognised in his own right, with a string of awards, a bridge named in his honour and an MBE.

However, his pride at Joe's achievements, especially when he was inducted into boxing's Hall of Fame, topped the lot for Enzo, who could never contain his pride and love for his son.

The pair of them fitted like hand and glove for Joe's whole career and there is absolutely no way the 'Pride of Wales' could have reached 46-0 without the massive influence of his father, trainer and best friend.

That was never better illustrated than when Enzo convinced Joe to fight Jeff Lacy, telling him it was a contest he could win with a severely injured wrist. At the time, no person on the planet would have believed it, but Enzo did and his influence inspired his son to new heights.

He was diminutive in stature, but the Calzaghe family, Wales and the sport of boxing have lost an absolute giant of a man in Pietro Vincenzo Calzaghe.