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Boxing: Caldwell always left fans wanting more

By Jack Magowan

John Caldwell will be 69 in May. Among strangers, he doesn't say much, and can be as cold and impersonal as a February frost.

But for once, there was a smile on his lips this week.

A television news bulletin had reported he was dead, then confessed they gaffed badly and apologised.

Had John left the planet six years ago, nobody would have been surprised.

Back then, throat cancer seemed to have floored him for a count, and he owed his life to neighbours, he said, after hoodlums petrol-bombed his west Belfast home.

That's all an ugly memory, however, as the door to daughter Patricia's home is always open to him.

She grew up amid the barbed-wire and burned out buses of what some of us called 'the Ho Chi Minh trail', and never saw her famous dad make history as the only boxer ever to win a world title in his first contest as a bantamweight.

That was in the spring of 1961 when a cocky young Caldwell, extravagantly named the "cold-eyed assassin", stepped up a division to beat Alphonse Halimi in a Wembley classic.

A gallant Frenchman had bled copiously from the eighth round, and was on the floor in the 15th, in a fight that left 8,000 fans screaming for more.

And more they got five months later, but in a return match that was as much a damp-squib as the first one had been a thriller, and prompted some ringsiders to question the wisdom of sending Caldwell to Brazil for a showdown with the great Eder Jofre.

Both men were unbeaten as professionals, Jofre after 44 contests and Caldwell 25, and the brilliant Brazilian would also wear the world featherweight crown before retiring 14 years later with a record of only two defeats in nearly 80 fights.

"My purse for the Jofre job was to be a percentage of the gate, plus part of the television fee, an estimated £10,000 in all, but I never saw even half that," scowled Caldwell later.

"My manager was the late Sam Docherty, and he came into my Sao Paulo hotel room on the morning after the fight carrying a shoe-box. In it were bundles of cruziero notes, but I never got to count them.

"I never knew what I was paid for a contest I'd no real hope of winning. Not in front of such a hostile crowd."

Within weeks of losing to Jofre (rtd 10), Caldwell was back in the gym, but his relationship with Docherty seemed to be turning sour.

A Glasgow bookmaker, Sam had the looks and attitude of screen idol James Cagney and was used to getting his own way.

"You'll train in London from now on," he told Caldwell abruptly, but John said 'no'.

He wanted to be at home with his family.

Imagine the Doc's anger when his favourite fighter, restless and rebellious, suddenly walked out of Henry Cooper's Old Kent Road gym in a huff, and flew back to Belfast.

Sam was furious.

For five years, he had never taken a penny of the 25 per cent to which he was entitled as Johnny's manager, but all that would change.

"I'll never speak to him again," scoffed Docherty, and he rarely did.

Not even to tell Caldwell how much he would earn for boxing Freddie Gilroy in a house-packer that still ranks among the greatest in King's Hall history.

And that was 45 years ago!

Gilroy won this nine-round showpiece on a cut-eye stoppage, and it would be another 18 months before Caldwell met, and beat, George Bowes for British and Empire titles vacated by Freddie in retirement.

But they would be his only for a year.

He was still 26 when Alan Rudkin stripped him of both championships, his last fight but one in a pro career of 29 wins, five defeats, and one draw. #

Clearly, Caldwell's fruitless attempt to start a new life in Canada was a bitter blow to the little man.

A plumber by trade, he tried to escape a troubled province by heading for Toronto in 1975, but the move came to nothing.

"For six weeks, I wandered the streets looking for a job," he once told me.

"Then I got the offer of one - clearing up sewage. That was the last straw.

"For the first time in my life I felt unwanted; like a leper in a strange land. I just packed up and flew home."

A rude slap in the face for one of Ireland's all-time great boxers ... a world-beater in the days when good fighters were ten a penny!

DOMINIC Kiernan is in hospital. Wexford's three-times mayor and best known auctioneer was taken ill suddenly after a weekend visit to Belfast.

What a hit with everybody Dominic's ABA newsletter is proving to be.

This month's edition is a gem, highlighting everything of note from the National Senior championships and awards' night, to a centre-spread on golden-girl Katie Taylor. Club news and views welcomed by e-mail to dkiernan@eircom.net

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