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Page last updated at 14:43 GMT, Tuesday, 14 July 2009 15:43 UK

Funeral service for boxing great

The funeral of legendary Belfast boxer John Caldwell who died of cancer at the age of 71 has taken place.

Caldwell, as an 18-year-old, won a bronze medal in the flyweight division at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.

Page last updated at 14:18 GMT, Tuesday, 14 July 2009 15:18 UK

Eastwood lauds boxing great Caldwell

Barney Eastwood says the late John Caldwell was "probably the greatest ever Irish boxer"



Posted: 12 Jul 2009 07:06 PM PDT

Irish Olympians John Caldwell (left) and Freddie Gilroy, New York 1956

Irish boxing is in mourning this weekend with the sad news of the death of  Melbourne Olympian John Caldwell aged 71.
The multi talented Ulsterman, a flyweight of enormous skill and courage, boxed out of the Immaculata club in Belfast and won just about everything that could be won in the game, including an Olympic bronze medal and world titles.
In 1956 he was the youngest member of the Irish boxing team that claimed three bronze and one silver medal at the Melbourne Olympics.
Caldwell knocked out Yai Shew of Burma in the last sixteen in Melbourne and then silenced the home crowd when he beat home favourite Warren Batchelor on points in the quarter finals to guarantee himself at least bronze.
The Belfast ace was installed as hot favourite to go all the way following that win. But unfortunaly it wasn't to be as he was edged out by Romanian Mircea Dobrescu in the semi finals.
As quoted in Barry Flynn's, "Legends of Irish Boxing", Caldwell, then just 18 years old, was very proud to represent his country in Melbourne.
"We were away from home for six weeks and travelled to Melbourne by boat. Everything was fabulous and the opening ceremony in the stadium stood out for me in particular.
"When I recall the feeling I had inside and I just think of standing there on that podium in Melbourne with my medal it makes me so proud."
Fredt Tiedt (silver), Fred Gilroy (bronze), and Anthony Byrne (bronze) also finished in podium positions in the boxing event at the 1956 Olympic Games.
Ronnie Delaney won 1500m gold in Melbourne to cap Ireland's best ever performance at Olympic level.


Ireland at the 1956 Olympic Games


Rk Athlete Gender Age Sport Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 Ronnie Delany Male 21 Athletics 1     1
2 Fred Tiedt Male 21 Boxing   1   1
3 Tony Byrne Male 26 Boxing     1 1
4 Johnny Caldwell Male 18 Boxing     1 1
5 Freddie Gilroy Male 20 Boxing     1 1
6 Eamonn Kinsella Male 24 Athletics        
7 Maeve Kyle Female 28 Athletics        
8 Gerry Martina Male 28 Wrestling        
9 John Payne Male 30 Sailing        
10 Henry Perry Male 21 Boxing        
11 Patrick Sharkey Male   Boxing        
12 Martin Smyth Male   Boxing        





Belfast Telegraph

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.


Boxing mourns loss of Belfast hero Caldwell

By Thomas Hawkins

John Caldwell with Irish amateur team-mate Freddie Gilroy

Fighting Irish: John Caldwell with Irish amateur team-mate Freddie Gilroy. The pair eventually fought each other in a famous all-Belfast bout at the King’s Hall in October 1962. Gilroy won after Caldwell suffered a nasty cut around the eyebrow. Left, John Caldwell a few months back


BELFAST’S former World Bantamweight champion John Caldwell tragically died yesterday following a lengthy illness.
The little man from the lower Falls Road area of west Belfast suffered the final count when losing his six-year battle with a cancer-related problem. He was 71.
The body was ailing but the will to battle on was clearly visible in the eyes of John Caldwell as he chatted at the Royal Victoria Hospital a few months back.
It was obvious that illness was taking a heavy toll on the bouncy little Belfast man, but he wasn’t giving up without a fight.
Fighting was his trade, a trade he excelled at, from a small boy in the back streets of the Lower Falls through to manhood.
The Immaculata gym in west Belfast is famous in boxing circles. John Caldwell helped make it so.
Rising through the amateur ranks, he captured Irish flyweight titles in ’56 and ’57 and was one of Ireland’s brilliant medal-winning team at the Olympic Games in Melbourne in 1956.
British, Empire and World honours were amassed by ‘The Cold-Eyed Killer’ in a 29-1-5 professional career.
This, it must be remembered, was back in the days before alphabet titles, when boxing fans could rhyme off the names of world champions across all weights.
The iconic contests in his paid career include the beating of French-Algerian Alphonse Halimi at Wembley for the EBU-backed World Bantamweight belt in May 1961, and the courageous loss in Sao Paulo to Brazil’s Eder Jofre for the undisputed World title in January 1962.
Arguably the most memorable was his famous all-Belfast thriller with his former Irish amateur team colleague Freddie Gilroy in October 1962, when losing on eyebrow cuts in the ninth round at the King’s Hall, Belfast.
At stake were Ardoyne-born southpaw Gilroy’s British and Commonwealth Bantamweight titles.
The matinee derby match-up remains one of the most talked about contests in Irish professional boxing history.
There was weeks of tingling tension amid the huge hype leading into this ferocious contest between two former members of the Irish international team.
The world-renowned fight venue at Balmoral Showgrounds was packed to the rafters.
Caldwell was generally regarded a peerless flyweight, even though he moved up a division and jumped the queue ahead of Gilroy to plunder global bantamweight honours.
By the time now the world title was no more, but that memory set the scene and a suitable fire was stoked to herald one of the great fights of our time.
Sadly, Caldwell’s cut eye damage resulted in a premature end to the riveting action. Gilroy, ironically, retired after this memorable milestone.
One of the great characters of Irish sport, Caldwell was an amazing natural talent who overwhelmed all flyweight opponents put in front of him after he turned to the paid ranks in February 1958, under Glasgow manager Sammy Docherty.
Opponents found it almost an illusion, like punching at shadows, when trying to tag this craftsman supreme.
An outstanding box-fighter, he could slip punches with nonchalant ease, and then a little shift of the left shoulder would signal a battery of lightening fast jabs and hooks to bombard a bewildered target.
During his illustrious amateur career, when dominating the Ulster and Irish amateur flyweight grade during the mid-1950s, he won a bronze medal from the same division at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.
Class-act Caldwell, a student at Hardinge Street CBS who became a plumber to trade, was then a member of the famous old Immaculata Youth club gym at Devonshire Street on the lower Falls area, where he was coached by ex-Belfast prize-fighter Jack McCusker.
During that period, veteran fight trainer and respected cornerman Vinty McGurk was a key member of the Immaculata programme. McGurk, who will be 89 in August, warmly recalled the special one, a bright-eyed schoolboy, coming into the gym.
McGurk declared: “Right away we knew this kid was extra special. He was one of the greatest Irish fighters of all time. He is a sad loss. John was ill for some time, typically fighting hard to the end. I still remember with great fondness this wonderful talent.
“Everything about the skills of boxing seemed so easy for him. I’ve seen very few better than John Caldwell in displaying the art of boxing.
“I think everybody in Irish boxing at the time felt the heartbreak and disappointment John had to go through when he boxed Eder Jofre in Brazil.
“I also felt he was in a position to win the marvellous fight with Freddie Gilroy, provided he stayed on the outside with his boxing.
I recall John doing well early in the fight. He was boxing really good for a spell, but then tried to mix it too much, fight instead of box the very strong Gilroy.
“Then, as the bout was moving to a very critical stage, John suffered the cut that ended the contest. This was one of the best bouts I’ve ever witnessed.
“It was nail-biting stuff at the King’s Hall.”
From the tiny-tot class, Caldwell displayed instinctive flair, and swept to many Ulster juvenile and Down and Connor underage titles.
Then he doubled up in 1956 with Ulster and Irish junior and senior Flyweight honours, and a following national Flyweight crown in 1957.
Jim McCourt, arguably Ireland’s all-time great amateur boxer, was deeply saddened by the death of his old friend.
Another product of the Immaculata club, southpaw McCourt joined the fight factory off Durham Street shortly after Caldwell.
Gentleman Jim, who also later became a boxing icon, recalls being in awe of this razor-sharp ring master’s ability.
“John Caldwell was already in the Mac gym when I started in boxing. His last night in the Down and Connors, when he beat club colleague Seamus ‘Toby’ Shannon in a final, was my first time to contest the Down and Connors,” said the former Commonwealth Games champion and Olympic bronze medallist.
“John was the best ring technician I ever came across. Even though he was much lighter than me, I was in the ring with him a few times for sparring sessions, and like the old boxing saying, he hit me so many times I thought I was surrounded. John was a marvel.
“He was virtually untouchable during his amateur days”

World, British and Empire bantamweight champion; British flyweight champion.
Born: Belfast on May 7, 1938
Pro title highlights:
Oct 8 1959: Belfast: Frankie Jones (British flyweight title) W KO 3
May 30 1961: London: Alphonse Halimi (vacant world bantamweight title, EBU version) W Pts 15
October 31 1961: London: Alphonse Halimi (World bantamweight title, EBU version) W Pts 15
January 18 1962: Sao Paulo, Brazil: Eder Jofre (undisputed world bantamweight title) L Rtd 10
October 20 1962: Belfast: Freddie Gilroy (British and Empire bantamweight titles) L Rtd 9
March 5 1964: Belfast: George Bowes (vacant British and Empire bantamweight titles) W Rsf 7
March 23 1965: Nottingham: Alan Rudkin (British and Empire bantamweight titles) L Rsf 10

Page last updated at 13:35 GMT, Saturday, 11 July 2009 14:35 UK

Boxing great Caldwell dies at 71

John Caldwell

John Caldwell pictured in Belfast three years ago

Legendary Belfast boxer John Caldwell has died at the age of 71 after a long battle against cancer.

Caldwell, as an 18-year-old, won a bronze medal in the flyweight division at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.

Five years later, he clinched the world bantamweight title after beating Frenchman Aphonse Halimi.

Caldwell lost the title a year later against Eder Jofre in Brazil and then was edged out in an epic bout by another Belfast great Freddie Gilroy.

Despite the two losses, Caldwell regrouped to claim the Commonwealth and British titles in 1964 before retiring from the sport a year later.

Caldwell's victory over Halimi made him the first Irish world champion since Rinty Monaghan's triumph in 1948.

The Belfast man put up a stout defence of his title before losing against Jofre in Sao Paolo and his bout with Gilroy is reckoned to be one of the greatest ever fights staged on Irish soil.

Caldwell had to pull out of the contest in the ninth round because of a cut eye as Gilroy held on to his British and Commonwealth titles.

Many pundits regard Caldwell as one of the most skilful boxers ever to have come out of Ireland, allied to his undoubted courage in the ring.

He was reckoned to have been exceptionally unlucky to lose his Olympic semi-final in 1956 at a Games where three other Irish boxers, including Freddie Gilroy, claimed medals.

Caldwell boxed out of the Immaculata Club in Belfast and his passing will cause immense sadness in the boxing fraternity at home and abroad.

Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 July 2006, 19:38 GMT 20:38 UK
Olympic greats
By John Haughey
BBC Sport

The Olympic boxing medallists met up at Belfast City Hall on Tuesday
Jim McCourt, Freddie Gilroy, Hugh Russell and John Caldwell
Some of Northern Ireland's greatest Olympians were present on Wednesday to welcome the arrival of the London 2012 Roadshow into Belfast.

Alongside the likes of Dame Mary Peters, Thelma Hopkins and many others were boxing greats Freddie Gilroy, John Caldwell, Jim McCourt and Hugh Russell.

It's now 50 years since Belfast boys Freddie and John claimed their bronze medals at the 1956 games in Melbourne.

But the memories of '56 still seemed fresh for Caldwell, who after his amateur career went on to become world professional bantamweight champion five years later.

"We were away for six weeks. We went through America down to San Francisco and then stopped off in Honolulu," said John.

"Maeve Kyle was the mother of the Irish team and I was the baby. I'd just turned 18."

Nowadays, an Olympic medal of any colour would be a cause of celebration in Ireland but for Caldwell, Gilroy and 1964 bronze medallist McCourt, time hasn't eroded the sense of frustration that they didn't earn golds.

"Everybody thinks that you must be so delighted to have won a medal but believe it or not, you're so disappointed that you didn't get a gold," confessed McCourt.

We were disappointed to lose because it was not about getting the hype of winning the medals
Jim McCourt

"If they had counted the points in my semi-final, I would have won it. Three judges made it 59-59 and they had to get their vote. Two judges made it 60-58 to give me the fight so it was a toss of a coin.

"The same thing happened to John in Melbourne. The fellow who won his gold medal, Terry Spinks, John had beaten him in an Ireland versus England match."

Gilroy's chance of progressing to the bantamweight final was ended by a spot of Eastern Bloc co-operation amid the climate of the Cold War.

"I'd knocked out the Russian who was the favourite," recalls Freddie.

"Next I fought an East German and at that particular time there was a new system of judges.

"Two of them went for me and two went to the East German and they brought the referee in and he was a Russian and he gave it to the East German."

But looking back, Gilroy admits a pride at the part he played in a remarkable performance by the small Irish team in '56.

"There was 10 of us that went out of Australia. The Americans had 2,000 competitors. Russia had 2,000.

After coming back from Melbourne I was out the next morning doing road work
Freddie Gilroy

"Percentage wise, we were the most successful country.

"We had three bronzes for boxing and a silver for boxing (Fred Tiedt) and a gold for Ronnie Delaney in athletics."

Freddie may have been an Olympic medallist but he didn't have the luxury of putting his feet up when he arrived back home in Belfast after the games.

"I'd put on a few pounds and my trainer said to me:'What were you doing. Don't you know that you're boxing in a fortnight'.

I said: "What? I'm not boxing."

"But he told me that I'd promised the Ulster Council that I would box one last fight against the British Army in what was an annual match.

"So I was out the next morning doing road work. But I knocked the fellow out."

A hugely successful professional career saw Gilroy become the first Irishman to win a Lonsdale belt outright although, much to the legend's frustration, the belt later disappeared.

I got a bit browned off with promoters telling me what to do

Freddie Gilroy

"The belt is actually worth about £50,000 and it hasn't been seen since about 1985/86.

"I loaned it to someone that I knew but it has disappeared.

"He's now dead. I thought it would have come to light after he died but it didn't."

Gilroy also won the British Empire and European titles but disillusionment with the pro game saw him hang up his gloves at the age of 26.

"I got a bit browned off with promoters telling me what to do and telling me what not to do and not paying me the sort of money that I was entitled to.

"Even promoters nowadays, they don't know how to treat the past champions. They wouldn't even invite you to the shows. It doesn't worry me but there should be more respect for us.

"In other sports they do pay tribute to the old champions but in boxing the attitude seems to be, 'you've been there, you're away and you're forgotten'."



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