Caldwell a true great of the ring
Saturday, 11 July 2009
Boxing is in mourning after the sad passing of former World champion John Caldwell. He was aged 71.
In today's sporting world the use of 'great' is thrown around like confetti but for those who witnessed Caldwell's ring exploits, whether as an amateur or professional it is so fitting.
The little man from the Falls Road stood tall on the boxing planet. A bronze medal at the 1956 Olympics, British bantamweight and flyweight titles, European, Commonwealth and World bantamweight titles all testify to him being a true legend of the ring. This at a time when title success was only for the very best.
Today there are fighters with British and Commonwealth titles who in Caldwell’s day would not have got even close to such an accolade.
Caldwell fought in an era when the quality was so much greater in depth and yet his class shone through as he proved a level above the majority of British and European fighters, finishing with a career of 29 wins, five defeats and one draw.
Those who knew him better than me always said that he was a much better flyweight than bantam and yet his World title success came at the higher weight.
Of course for all his success, the one fight most will remember was that amazing atmospheric night at the King's Hall when 12,000 packed into the iconic arena to witness his classic, bloody battle with rival Freddie Gilroy. It is said there were even fans sprawled across the old glass roof of the King’s Hall trying to catch a glimpse of one of the biggest showdowns for years. The hyperbole leading up to their clash was incredible and the fight lived up to all expectations, even if the ending was a little cruel on John.
My late colleague Jack Magowan described them doing battle like “two alley cats” as they served up a memorable 1962 duel which ended when Caldwell was stopped on an ugly cut.
Caldwell, a master craftsman, had forsaken his polished, mesmeric skills and allowed ego to take over as he went toe-to-toe with Gilroy and ended up coming off second best.
It is a fight that is still talked about and will never be forgotten by the Irish boxing fraternity.
But Caldwell's career was so much more than just that one pulsating evening as he and Gilroy had sparkled as amateurs, culminating with both winning bronze at the Melbourne Games in’56.
Gilroy recalled: “John and I were great friends. We travelled the world together with the Irish team, going to the likes of Australia and America and of course in the 1956 Olympics we both won bronze medals and at the same event Freddie Tiedt won a silver and Tony Byrne a bronze and the runner Ron Delaney won a gold.
“ We had that great fight in the King's Hall .The interest was amazing but you it was a fight that I never wanted because we were close. He beat a guy who beat me in Alfonso Halimi to win the world title. He was a great boxer.
“I'll miss him. He will go down as one of the greatest Irish fighters of all time.”
Born in Cyprus Street in 1938, Caldwell joined — like so many in the Falls area — the Immaculata club where his skills were honed by the legendary coach Jack McCusker.
It didn't take long for him to make a big impression and after a fine career in the Irish vest he turned professional with Scottish manager Sammy Docherty, kicking off his professional career with a second round stoppage of Billy Downer in 1958.
His first title came the King's Hall two years later when he stopped Frankie Jones in three rounds to claim the British flyweight title.
Caldwell was on course for a shot at the World flyweight crown but when the opportunity arose he jumped at the chance to tackle Alfonso Halimi for the World bantam belt at the Empire Pool, Wembley in 1961. He duly became one of our few genuine world champions with a stylish points victory.
But just three months later and the belt was gone at the blistering fists of one of the all-time great bantams, Brazilian Eder Jofre. Stopped in the tenth he returned to to lose to Gilroy a year later.
Just when it seemed his career was on the slide, Caldwell bounced back with a British and Commonwealth bantamweight title victory over George Bowes at the old ABC Cinema in 1964.
But a year later and his career was over following two straight defeats to Alan Rudkin and Monty Laud. It had been quite a ride.
Recalling his clash with Jofre he said: “Eder Jofre was theb greatest bantamweight and the hardest hitter for his weight of all time. I remember the place was packed to the rafters and there were many thousands locked outside the arena.”
Former World flyweight champion Dave McAuley was quick to pay tribute to “a great man”.
McAuley said: “John Caldwell was an all-time great, without a doubt.
“When he won a world title 50 years ago it was really, really special because they were so hard to come by.
“He was an exciting fighter who could box and had a good punch as well and he was what I would call a true King’s Hall fighter.
“He was a crowd pleaser and was in some super fights. Winning titles at two different weights back then was just amazing. Unlike today it’s a lot easier because there are more weights.
“It’s a sad, sad day for Irish boxing and everyone will miss him very much. He was a guy who a lot of us would be compared to including myself. Everybody knew about his great fight with Freddie Gilroy.”
Following the end of his career, John was regularly seen at amateur and professional shows, battling for some time the cancer which eventually took his life.
He will always be remembered as a true Irish great.
The boxing fraternity's sympathy is with his family.