LONDON (Reuters) - The coal mines of South Wales lie dormant these days but the seam of boxing talent in a sleepy valley in the principality is far from exhausted.
The Newbridge Boxing Club near Newport is one of the most productive in the world. Until a few weeks ago it boasted three world champions and the best trainer in the business.
Defeats for cruiserweight Enzo Maccarinelli and light welterweight Gavin Rees last month left undisputed super-middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe as the only one of the trio still wearing a world crown.
His father and coach Enzo Calzaghe took those setbacks on the chin and the gregarious Sardinian native remains the governor of a prolific cottage industry in humble Abercarn.
His 36-year-old son is the jewel among the raw material that is polished by Enzo in the converted rugby clubhouse tucked behind an industrial estate and next to a burger van.
On April 19, Joe takes on American Bernard Hopkins in Las Vegas in a light heavyweight showdown that could put the icing on a stellar career that ranks alongside the greats of the sport.
The 18,000-seater Thomas & Mack Center on the famous neon strip is a long way from the draughty gym where Calzaghe senior works his magic. However, despite the damp, the peeling posters and the broken toilets, Enzo, 59, would not swap his gym for anywhere else.
Reporters and television and radio crews descended on the club last week for Calzaghe junior’s last public workout before he heads off to Nevada.
His skills were mesmerizing but the wise-cracking Enzo stole the limelight. The former band guitarist who busked his way across Europe absorbed a ferocious pummeling in a 20-minute session. Punches thudded into his pads just a whisker away from his nose and, despite having never been a fighter himself, he swayed and weaved like an old pro. He also never shut up.
“One, two, three, four, five, jab Joe, jab,” the father barked, his eyes fixed on the man dishing out the punishment. A buzzer marked the end of the session and a sweat-soaked Enzo wandered off to one of the gym’s dusty back rooms, joking with his audience.
The chemistry between father and son is obvious and pride brims over when Enzo talks about Joe’s remarkable rise from junior champion to a world beater with 21 defenses of his title since beating Chris Eubank in 1997.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years and I‘m addicted to winning,” Enzo, who has been in Joe’s corner since he was 18, told Reuters.
“Last week we lost one but that’s just the way it goes in boxing. But I pride myself on my ability to absorb a loss and back the fighter and make him win again. I love this work.”
He has no doubt that former undisputed middleweight Hopkins is in for a tough night.
“Joe’s got the ability and the class. As long as he performs like he has for the last 22 fights I’ve got no concerns whatsoever,” he said.
“I don’t care whether it’s in Las Vegas, for me it’s just another ring. Hopkins will have never met a southpaw like Joe. The public want somebody to go to America and spank the Yank.”
Enzo’s first passion was football but he has an uncanny knack with fighters and his enthusiasm is infectious.
“I‘m self-taught. I absorbed the styles that I saw and developed them,” said Enzo, who married Welsh wife Jackie in 1971, four weeks after meeting her in Cardiff.
”I had heroes like Ali and Sugar Ray, Hagler. I tried to develop winning styles. Joe has bits of all of them; not a bad package is it?
“When we are in the ring it’s a trainer-boxer relationship but as soon as we are out of the ring, it’s father and son,” he said. “I can’t allow the father to go into the ring, because if that ever happened I would be the first one to quit out of respect for Joe.”
Enzo was voted coach of the year last year when his son won the BBC’s Sports Personality award. After beating Mikkel Kessler in November, Joe described his father as the “best boxing coach in the world.”
Whatever his secret, it works. Another of his stable, Gary Lockett, takes on undefeated world middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik in Atlantic City in June in what will be another chapter in the club’s rich history.
Maccarinelli, who joined the Calzaghe stable 18 months ago, explained what made the gym so special.
”If I‘m honest I would say Enzo Calzaghe,“ he said. ”He gets that extra mile out of you, that extra sprint out of you. There are talented boys here but we all need somebody to look up to.
“He’s only five foot tall and we’re all petrified of him. He’s an amazing character and cares so much about his boxers.”
Should Calzaghe beat Hopkins in April he may decide to call time on his career and may inadvertently re-launch his father’s music career. Enzo and brother Sergio, who works at the gym, have recorded a single “Summer Boy” and plan to release it when Joe hangs up his gloves.
Editing by Clare Fallon