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Johnny Caldwell


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One of the greatest Northern Irish boxers ever, Johnny Caldwell was the first world bantamweight champion from Ulster and one of the few from Great Britain. His career was short, spanning only seven years and marred with injuries, he lost some important fights by cut injuries. Caldwell was a fighter with class and skill but also determination and tenacity. As a flyweight, he had plenty of power, but at bantamweight he was more of a boxer than puncher.


Caldwell was born 7 May 1938 in Belfast. He joined the famous Immaculata boxing club at early age and his talent was discovered by trainer Jack McCusker. He stood 5'4 and had a reach of 64 1/2. By 1956, he held both the junior and senior Irish amateur flyweight titles, when he was chosen to represent Ireland in the Melbourne olympics. He won his first fight there by KO 3 against Yaishwe Best of Burma. After beating Australian Warner Batchelor on points, he eventually got to the semi-final (his first fight was a bye), where he was beaten by Mircea Dobroscu of Romania, thus going home with a flyweight bronze medal. He was welcomed as a hero upon return to his native Cyprus Street. After compiling an amateur record of 234-6, he then moved to Scotland to become a professional. His first fight happened on 5 February 1958 in Kelvin Hall, Glasgow, where he would fight many of his early fights. He dispatched his first opponent by KO 2. In his next fight he won even easier, by a KO 1 against a weak opponent. After winning 14 fights, he went to London to fight the former European champion Young Martin of Spain. He knocked out Martin impressively in the third round. 8 October 1960 he went to his hometown Belfast to fight Frankie Jones for the British flyweight title in Kings Hall. He thrilled everyone when he made short work of Jones and again won by a KO 3. He however didn't defend the title for he moved up to bantamweight division shortly thereafter. He soon got his first world title shot against the world champion Alphonse "Little Terror" Halimi. Halimi was known as a formidable pressure fighter and tough brawler, but Caldwell would prove to be a good match for him. The two squared off on 30 May 1961 in Wembley, London and Caldwell put Halimi down in the 15th and the last round to go on to win by decision. He thus became the first Irishman to win a world title since Rinty Monaghan in 1948. Caldwell said of Halimi "Halimi was a very, very dangerous man and a hard hitter. He was constantly at me and I couldn't take my eyes off him for a split second. The fight was one of the hardest in my career."


He then rematched the French-Algerian Halimi a year later, on 31 October, again on Wembley. This time there were no knockdowns but the result was the same: a points victory for Caldwell. Though Halimi went on to win the European title once more, many think Caldwell ended his prime. But his own kryptonite was waiting. Eder Jofre, the Brazilian great, who is today regarded as perhaps the greatest bantamweight ever, was 41-0-3 when he signed to fight Caldwell for the world title, but this time Caldwell had to go to Jofre's homeland. Being the true champion, Caldwell accepted and the two fought on 18 January 1962 in Sao Paulo. Naturally, despite a brave showing, Caldwell was outdone by Jofre, who put him down once in the fifth round and was comfortably ahead on the scorecards when Caldwell's manager jumped in the ring to stop the fight in the tenth round. It was the first loss for Caldwell after 25 victories and it would be a turning point in his career. He won one fight on points, but in his next fight for the British and Commonwealth title, he lost to Freddie Gilroy on a cut eye stoppage in the ninth round. In the next fight against Michel Atlan, the same thing happened, only in the sixth round. He then rebounded in March 1964 to win the vacant British and Commonwealth titles by stopping George Bowes by TKO 7. He then decisioned the Spanish fringe-contender Rafael Fernandez and drew against Jackie Brown of Edinburgh, before decisioning Orizu Obilaso of Africa in 8 rounds. That would be his final victory. In his next fight he defended the British and Commonwealth titles against future world challenger Alan Rudkin, the Welsh-born and Liverpool-based action fighter. He was stopped by TKO 10 and hence lost his titles. He retired after losing the fight to uknown Monty Laud on points in late 1965, aged 27.


After retiring, he worked as a pipe-fitter in Belfast, a trade he had been trained in before. He died 10 July 2009, after a long battle with cancer, aged 71. He remains one of the greatest and most beloved Northern Irish and Irish boxers in history. His record is 29 (14)-5-1.

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