R.I.P. Johnny Caldwell

by Ryan McArthur - July has been a sad month for boxing fans the world over with the tragic passing of Alexis Arguello, Arturo Gatti and Vernon Forrest. Another former world champion laid to rest on the month of july was Belfast man John Caldwell after a long illness. Caldwells passing went unnoticed outside his native Belfast even though he was one of the greatest boxers ever to hail from the emerald isle.

The first step of his fistic journey came at the 1956 Melbourne olympics where at just eighteen years old he took home the bronze medal in the flyweight division. After compiling an extraordinary amateur record of 234-6, Caldwell embarked on what was to become a professional career that lasted over seven years and resulted in British, European, Commonwealth and world honours. The first of these honours came in front of a partisan Belfast crowd where Caldwell K.O.d Frankie Jones in the third round to lift the British flyweight title in 1960..

A year and three defences later, Caldwell beat frenchman Alphonse Halimi by points to become bantamweight champion and the island of Irelands first world champion from Rinty Monaghan in 1948.

After three succesfull defences, the latter a return with Halimi, Caldwell was off to Sao Paulo Brazil to face the legend and all time boxing great Eder Jofre. Jofre won via tenth round T.K.O. after Caldwells manager jumped into the ring to stop the bout. (The fight was refereed by the legendary featherweight Willie Pep) Caldwell later said of Jofre "he was the greatest bantamweight and the hardest hitter for his weight of all time"

The fight Belfast fans will most remember him for was the epic British and Commonwealth title fight against local rival and olympic teammate Freddie Gilroy. Caldwell was stopped on cuts in the ninth round in what was and still is regarded as the greatest fight ever staged in Ireland both north and south of the border.

Another British and Commenwealth bantamweight title came in 1964 with a T.K.O. over George Bowes but was lost again four fights later to Alan Rudkin. Caldwell fought only one more time, a points defeat at the hands of Englands Monty Laud, then retired following the bout.

As with most pugs of the 50s and 60s Caldwell didnt make alot of money from his ring career. After a few odd jobs he returned to his old job as a pipe fitter. His final and hardest battle was still to come when he was diagnosed with throat cancer, the disease that finally killed him on 11th July.

Johnny Caldwell was a true world champion in an era of great world champions, he fought probably the greatest bantamweight of all time and fought in one of the greatest battles in Irish sporting history.

R.I.P. Johnny Caldwell.

Article posted on 01.08.2009

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