GYM MATES: CALZAGHE WAS A GREAT

Welsh boxing legend Joe Calzaghe will enjoy his induction in to the International Boxing Hall of Fame this weekend in upstate New York. To mark the occasion, BoxingWales tracked down some of the men who saw Calzaghe’s rise through the ranks, from the Splott Centre to global domination. In the noughties, Newbridge Boxing Club produced one of the best periods of Welsh and British boxing ever. The gym housed three world champions at one point and at the top stood Joe Calzaghe. Alongside the southpaw were all sorts of characters and at different points, they all played a part in shaping an unforgettable chapter of the history books. Five years after his retirement from a remarkable unbeaten (in 46 fights!) career, Joe Calzaghe’s old gym mates speak of their time with one of the world’s best ever boxers. Former world champion Nathan Cleverly, contender Gary Lockett, ex-Commonwealth champion Bradley Pryce, one time European champion Kerry Hope and Commonwealth Games gold medallist Jamie Arthur all share their thoughts on the man we knew as ‘Super Joe’… BoxJCNCingWales:  What was the first time you saw or met Joe Calzaghe and what first impression did you receive? Nathan Cleverly: “I first met Joe in the old blue shed, the original boxing gym in Newbridge. It was a proper Rocky type of gym, rough and old school. There was an aura about Joe there. As a young 11-year-old, I was slightly taken back by this world champion. I was Joe’s training partner for about ten years after that then. Training alongside Joe and being pushed on by him helped me, I was able to help him on his amazing journey too. We knew Joe was destined for greatness and he did it.” Gary Lockett: “The first time I saw Joe was when he lost to Michael Smyth in the Welsh ABA final. Joe was 17 years of age and I argued with a few people because I didn’t think he lost it. You could see then, he was flash and he had the ‘wow’ factor.” Bradley Pryce: “Me and Gavin (Rees) saw more of Joe than anyone else. From the age of ten, we had 15 or so years training with him and I could tell he was different straight away. I learned a lot from Joe and I was always happy to help him out too. Joe had the gift… watch any of his amateur fights back and you could see it back then. Everyone said, ‘he’s going far, that kid’ and he did.” Kerry Hope: “I first saw Joe years and years ago, I was only an amateur and it was always an experience to watch him, every time. When I actually joined the same gym in 2004, I got the chance to spar and train alongside him every day. I’ll just say Joe is just a freak of nature. Fighters like him only come around every so often. Special.” Jamie Arthur: “The first time I saw Joe was the day of the Byron Mitchell show in Cardiff, it was a great fight and Joe showed what he was all about that night. That was right after I won gold in the Commonwealth Games, I was invited down there by Joe to meet Frank Warren, his promoter at the time. Joe welcomed me and it got me going.” BoxingWales: By getting to see Joe Calzaghe train behind closed doors and away from the cameras, you will know what he was like in training and what he did to achieve his accolades. What was that experience like? Nathan Cleverly: “When myself and Joe used to run, we didn’t mess about, we went for it. Joe was a good runner and I was the only one who could keep up with him… and beat him (laughs)! I used to push him and likewise – when I wasn’t feeling too good, he would be pushing me along. It was very competitive because that was our nature and that’s contributes to the performance levels he produced in the ring.” JCGLGRBPGary Lockett: “I was only in the gym with Joe for a very short time but seeing the things that he did in the gym was unbelievable. The way Joe hit a floor to ceiling ball was mad, the speed and timing was unreal to watch.” Bradley Pryce: “Training with someone like Joe, you could see he was special. As he come up from an amateur, I used to go watch him then and you could see he had the gift. Joe was always going to achieve something with his life, he had everything, you know what I mean? I looked up to him and to be called a friend of Joe Calzaghe was great, he was obviously the best thing to come out of Newbridge and he deserves it all because he’s trained hard all through his career.” Kerry Hope: “Joe could be out of the gym for months, he’d come back to the gym and he could be like he’d never been away. Whoever he fought, Joe always knew a way to beat them. His fitness levels were exceptional and that’s because he worked hard. There’s a lot to look up to Joe for.” Jamie Arthur: “We built up a good friendship in that time and we’d run together, all the way from Cwmbran to Newport. He was a great runner and those runs built up his stamina and fitness. We used to talk, what we were going to do with our careers. It was something that really inspired me.” BoxingWales: At the time, did you know that Joe Calzaghe was a future Hall of Famer and what impact did he have on your own career? Nathan Cleverly: “I was one of the youngest in the gym, he definitely took me under his wing. I was hungry and I think I reminded him of himself. As a youngster, I was quite shy and timid at times but inside the ring I had the cockiness and confidence, Joe recognised that and helped guide me. People from the Valleys can feel insecure but Joe showed us it can be done and people like me have followed it up since. It’s no fluke, it happens with hard work.” Gary Lockett: “I don’t think he had a direct influence on my career but being alongside someone who is going to go on and be a Hall of Famer is something that maybe happens once in your life. So, you don’t think of things like that at the time but obviously, I always thought he was special. I thought Joe would go on to be a world champion, which he did and he went on to reign for more than ten years. Joe is a phenomenon, fighters like him only come around once every thirty years.” wpid-article-1267191094853-087af694000005dc-104508_636x300Bradley Pryce: “I think I always knew he’d go to the Hall of Fame, he did everything you can do as a pro. I had eight years with Frank Warren and that was because I was with the Calzaghe’s. If I wasn’t at that gym, would I have been with Warren? I don’t know but it helped me get the recognition, on tele and it got us opportunities. It opened doors for a lot of Welsh boxers like me.” Kerry Hope: “I’m not one to be overawed by someone’s fame and all of that but I could see he had it, straight away. It was nice to see him go achieve what he has and it’s been great for Welsh boxing. It helped us and we managed to get on Joe’s shows. It gave us publicity, opportunities and the whole gym was great to be a part of. Success breeds success and it was a gym full of champions then.” Jamie Arthur: “To be honest, I always knew Joe was super special. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame because no Welsh fighter has achieved what he has. Joe’s ability in the ring was second to none, the fitness was second to none and so was the dedication.”

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