Arts & Books

Film review: The boxer who packed a poetic punch

Joe Calzaghe with his father Enzo

The paradox at the core of boxing is that it is a phenomenally brutal business capable of moments of beautiful poetry, and Joe Calzaghe is undoubtedly one of the greatest bards of the ring that Britain has ever produced. He could box on the back foot, fight up close and throw punches with the kind of speed that could ignite fresh air.

The Welshman retired in 2009 with a phenomenal list of achievements to his name. He won all of his 46 professional fights and enjoyed the longest reign as super middleweight world champion in boxing history, managing to unify all the divisional titles in the process.

At the tail-end of his career, Calzaghe also stepped up a weight class to win and defend the world light heavyweight title, beating US legends Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jnr. Last year, he received the ultimate accolade in his chosen sport, being voted into the Boxing Hall of Fame at the first opportunity.

Mr Calzaghe recounts this success story in a straightforward fashion, with archive footage of the fights intercut with interviews with Joe, his dad and trainer Enzo, other family members and a smattering of boxing writers and celebrity fans. Although the documentary doesn’t shy away from tackling a few of the critical questions concerning Calzaghe’s fighting life that some boxing fans have liked to raise over the years (such as the quality of some of his opponents and his failure to fight in America when he was in his prime), it is ultimately a glowing tribute to Newbridge’s most famous son.

Director Vaughan Sivell does his best to make things cinematic with some artful shots of windswept Welsh hills and dimly lit scenes of Joe punching a heavy bag, but it’s hard to avoid the sense that this is a televisual exercise elevated to our cinemas thanks to the name on the marquee. It’s shame that we learn little about Joe as a person during the course of the film, but, thankfully, the other Mr Calzaghe, Enzo, steps into the breach and provides a vital spark. Boxing fans will already be well aware of this eccentric and God-fearing musician-turned-trainer and Sivell sensibly gives him plenty of screen time. With his mangled Italian-Welsh accent, constant swearing and unsentimental approach to taking his son “into war”, Enzo is as ferocious and entertaining as his son was in the ring.

This article first appeared in the Catholic Herald magazine (27/11/15)

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