Gym of champions set in unlikely spot

Martin Rogers

ABERCARN, Wales -- Tacked on to a grim industrial estate in Abercarn, in the Welsh valleys, sits a bleak pebbledash shack with a tin roof and a painted sign identifying it as the home of the Newbridge Boxing Club.

It looks like the sort of place that would-be developers would rather pull down and start again rather than renovate.

Except that no one will be touching this place, because this is where Enzo Calzaghe breeds his champions. A place where a small but successful posse of punchers have risen in their profession, pushed into greater levels of pain and effort by the screams and verbal abuse of the man who runs the gym like his own personal fiefdom.

Calzaghe may have had his pride dented by seeing two of the three world champions he started the year with, Gavin Rees and Enzo Maccarinelli, dethroned in the early months of 2008.

But the reigning Yahoo! Sports Trainer of the Year, who never threw a competitive punch in anger yet has molded this small corner of the United Kingdom into a boxing hotbed, is adamant that the disturbing trend will end emphatically on April 19 when his son Joe (44-0, 32 KOs) takes on Bernard Hopkins (48-4-1, 32 KOs) at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas.

Hopkins lit the fuse for the contest in the lead-up to the Floyd Mayweather-Ricky Hatton bout in December by proclaiming he would “never lose to a white boy”. His remarks have not been ignored but did not alter the approach of the Calzaghes, whose methods of preparation revolve around simplicity and sweat in their modest surroundings.

“It is the most perfect gym in the world,” said Enzo Calzaghe. “What more could you want? There are the hills, the fresh air. You don’t need anything else.”

The hills he mentions are undeniably picturesque, but have been the cause of more cuss words than exclamations of awe among the Newbridge boxers, as Calzaghe senior orders series after muscle-scorching series of sprints up to the summits.

Back by the gym itself, everyone from Joe Calzaghe to wide-eyed and ambitious light-heavyweight Harry Miles is regularly made to scale a flight of rugged concrete steps, 50 repetitions at a time.

Inside the gym, there is nothing to reflect the bigger paydays the local fighters, especially Calzaghe junior, have received in recent times.

Ageing and fading event posters and newspaper articles remain pinned to the wall, interspersed with the peeling green paint above a rusty old radiator.

Joe Calzaghe, who is ranked No. 3 in the Y! Sports Top 10, may only have one fight left if he loses to the sixth-ranked Hopkins and a maximum of two (Kelly Pavlik and Clinton Woods) more afterwards if he wins.

But there are no plans to abandon the tried and trusted approach that has allowed him to hold the world super middleweight title for more than 10 years and to win every one of his 44 professional bouts.

“I love it in the gym because you have got your bare essentials,” said the 36-year-old. “There is no superstar status. I train the same way as I always did before I was champion – I train like a challenger.

“There is no silver spoon treatment in this place. Boxing is a hungry sport and you have to stay hungry, having the bare essentials keeps you that way.”

The Calzaghes have spent the final part of training camp in the United States, acclimatizing to the higher temperatures and quickly getting rid of jet lag and time difference concerns.

But when boxing’s longest-serving world champ steps into the ring on Saturday night he will carry with him the spirit of home, and the thousands of hours of muscle memory burned into him at his spartan base.

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