Bombs Away: The Story of Enzo Maccarinelli

Enzo Maccarinelli celebrates his victory over Ovill McKenzie during their fight at Motorpoint Arena on August 17, 2013, in Cardiff, Wales. (Scott Heavey/Getty Images)

“The first pro I ever sparred was Ceri Farrell from Swansea. I was twelve years of age. I spoke to Ceri recently, and someone asked him, ‘Was Enzo always a puncher?’ and he said, ‘I didn’t show it when we sparred, but I struggled. He buzzed me with a right hand.’ A couple of years later, I knocked out a heavyweight in sparring. The power was always there.”

Enzo Maccarinelli’s route into boxing started many years before. “I’ve got a picture in my house, which shows me at Christmas time. I had one of them old spring balls, the ones you’d stand on [and hit the ball]. I was three years of age. I’ve got another picture of me in the gym, hitting a boxing bag at the age of four, but I probably didn’t do it [boxing] properly until I was about eight years of age. I used to go up to the gym [Bonymaen Amateur Boxing Club] with my dad, who owned the gym and had my first fight ever at ten.”

Maccarinelli’s father, Mario, emigrated from Lake Garda, Italy, to Swansea in the 1950s before making Wales his home. As well as being a boxing champion in the Italian army, Mario reportedly knocked out a bully priest at boarding school, at the age of fourteen. “He’d told me, but I never believed him. I went to Italy after my dad’s funeral [2012], and one of my relatives said, ‘Yes. It’s true!’ He also got kicked out of the army for the same thing—because he knocked out the sergeant.”

By the age of ten, Maccarinelli won his first Welsh title. He then went on to claim a further eight titles, albeit not always with the best training camps. “I won all twelve of my senior amateur fights by knockout. I think nine of them were absolutely cold. We used to do five twos [minute rounds] back then, and this one fight, I woke up in the morning after having been out with the boys on the Friday night before until about four in the morning. My dad woke me up and said, ‘You’re fighting tonight.’ I said, ‘I’m not.’ I had a pounding headache because I was pissed out of my head. He said, ‘You are. You’re fighting tonight in north Wales.’

“We traveled all the way to north Wales, and I was absolutely useless. Come the fourth round, and I hit him with a right hand. Remember that scene in Rocky III when Clubber Lang is beating his opponent on the floor until he stays down? I was like that. There was no way I was letting him get up.”

By his late teens, Maccarinelli was a destructive force. He explained the root of his inspiration. “I loved watching Mike Tyson, but my dad also made me look at Julio Cesar Chavez and Marco Antonio Barrera for the body shots. I absolutely loved Barrera with that left hook to the body. It was something special, and I soon learned what a crippling shot it was.”

On October 2, 1999, Maccarinelli made his debut against Paul Bonson, winning a decision. In the next four months, he won his next two fights by knockout, before coming up against Lee Swaby (7-9-1 at the time). “I was the less experienced fighter, but the fact of the matter was, I wasn’t living the life. There’s a picture somewhere of me two nights before the fight, out in town. I shouldn’t have been out, and I think I believed my own hype. I went in there in the first round, punching lumps out of him, then in the second, I ran out of steam, and he stopped me in the third.”

Maccarinelli bounced back with a vengeance, winning his next ten fights, before taking on Bruce Scott on June 28, 2003. It’s worth noting that Scott, a two-time Commonwealth cruiserweight champion, had challenged for the WBC and WBO world titles back-to-back. “Three months before Scott, I fought Valeri Semiskur, and I failed the boxing medical because of my eyesight,” Maccarinelli recalls. “From the start of my boxing career, I literally could not see the guy in front of me properly. That’s how bad my eyes were, but I got away with it for two years.

“A mate of mine used to go into the opticians and memorize the chart for me, then I’d go in, repeated what he’d said, and I’d pass. Then I went in one day, repeated what my mate had told me, and the optician said, ‘That’s wrong.’ I said, ‘No, it’s not. Those are the letters,’ and the optician said, ‘No. Those are numbers.’ He’d changed them and put numbers up! So, three months before the Scott fight, I had laser eye surgery.”

Back to Bruce Scott. “My weight was done well, and I trained hard. I put these Reyes gloves on in the changing room and tapped myself on the chin and thought, ‘Fuck. I can feel a knuckle in these.’ Then someone said, ‘Scott’s got them on as well,’ and I said, ‘Great!’

“First round, he threw a left hook and caught me on the back of the ear, and I went down. I jumped up too quickly, but I saved myself by getting behind the jab and started landing cleanly. I was twenty-two years of age, so it was all learning for me. I was a kid, really, although I already had three children.

“I didn’t go gung ho and systematically broke him down. I remember throwing a one-two in the fourth round and missing the right hand; then he rolled onto the left hook which followed. That was one of the sweetest knockouts.”

Over the next three years, the six-feet-four-inch Maccarinelli won his next nine fights, including a contest against German Marco Heinichen at the Palazzetto Dello Sport in Rome. “I boxed in Italy at the age of fourteen, against two seniors, in Lombardia, which is where my dad was from. So when they offered me the chance to fight in Rome nine years later on the undercard of Johnny Nelson versus Vincenzo Cantatore, of course I said yes.

“The reception was incredible. The Italians are patriotic people, and when I walked into the ring with the Italian flag on my shorts and on my dressing gown, I got a massive cheer.” As for his opponent. “I hit Heinchen with a left hook, which landed on the shoulder, and he went down in the first round. End of fight.”

On July 8, 2006, Maccarinelli took on the former WBC cruiserweight champion Marcelo Fabian Dominguez for the interim WBO cruiserweight title. “About three days before, Enzo Calzaghe, who was now training me, put me through a mad training session, and I literally struggled to walk up the stairs. My legs were in pieces.

“Dominguez was one of the fighters I’d watched clips of, and I’ve never done it again because what I saw of him, frightened me. He was as hard a fighter as I’ve ever seen. A few fights before, he’d fought Nikolay Valuev, who’s over seven feet tall and Dominguez was only five feet nine. He was giving away about eight stone [112 pounds], and he was bringing the fight to Valuev and giving him a hard time [Dominguez lasted the eight-round distance with the ‘Russian Giant’]. He’s a tough, tough man.

“I tried to box him, but he just kept walking through my jab. I hit him with a right hand in the third round, probably the best right have I’ve ever thrown, and he just looked at me and said, ‘Good shot.’ I had to change tactics and exchanged with him. Then, in the ninth round, I threw the double jab, and the right uppercut and I became the first man to knock him out.”

About his trainer, the late Enzo Calzaghe, Maccarinelli was effusive. “Great man, great trainer who was absolutely fucking nuts! If he liked you, he had so much time for you; if he didn’t like you, you’d know about it very quickly.

“People asked how he got the best out of me, and I always say, ‘I don’t know.’ I really don’t. I’ve always been fit, and I remember going up there for the first training session, and after my brother called me and said, ‘How was it?’ I said, ‘Easy.’ I was quite shocked, thinking this is how it would be from here on.

“I went there the next day and, after that session, I was driving home in the car and I had to pull over on the hard shoulder because my arms and my legs weren’t working together. He absolutely ruined me! Enzo had that aura about him that enabled him to get that little bit more out of you when you didn’t think you had it. Also, training with Joe, doing hundreds and thousands of rounds with him brought me up to the next level.”

Three months later, Maccarinelli stopped Mark Hobson in the first round to become the WBO cruiserweight champion. “To be honest, I always classify myself as winning the title the night I beat Dominguez for the Interim title. That was the one for me. I knew Johnny Nelson wouldn’t fight me, not that he was scared of me, but at that stage of his career, he was on the way down, and I was on the up. That fight against Dominguez was the number-one cruiserweight against two, and that’s where the value came from.

“What really made me proud that night, rather than actually winning a world title, was seeing the smile on my dad’s face. All those early morning runs, the hard graft he put me through, to see him happy was worth more than being crowned any world champion.”

On April 7, 2007, Maccarinelli defended the title against bare-knuckle boxing champion Bobby Gunn, stopping him in the opening session. Next up was former WBC cruiserweight champion, Wayne “Big Truck” Braithwaite. “He was as tough as nails. I’d always had this ability in the gym to be able to box and spar with the best of them. I’d never looked out of place. However, on fight night, I wanted to take my opponent’s head off. I wanted to entertain the fans who had come and spent their hard-earned money.

“With Braithwaite, he hit me with a right hand, which landed on my shoulder. I remember thinking, ‘Fucking ’ell!’ That’s something I hadn’t felt before, and that switched me on. That reverted me to how I used to box when I was back in the gym. I still landed the heavy shots, but behind my boxing.” Maccarinelli won a lopsided decision.

After defending his world crown for the fourth time against Mohamed Azzaoui, he was pitted against the WBC and WBA cruiserweight champion David Haye. Both brought high knockout ratios to the fight, and it was aptly called “Bombs Away.” “The build-up for the fight was good. The training went well; I was fit and strong and weighed a solid fourteen stone three [199 pounds].

“The Monday of the week of the fight I got on the train and went up for the press conference, but decided to come back after, as I couldn’t be bothered to stay up there. When I got back I was OK, but in the night the room started spinning. I couldn’t go to sleep. Then I ran to the toilet, and there was sick and shit everywhere. I was like that for about four days. At the weigh-in, I was about thirteen stone, ten [192 pounds]. I wore my tracksuit bottoms, had two phones, my wallet, and two sets of keys in my pockets. It was one the only times I stepped into the ring and knew I wasn’t going to win. It was a surreal experience. People now ask me what the biggest mistake was in my career and I say, ‘I wasn’t selfish enough that night.’ I was thinking about the hundreds of fans who had paid for hotels and tickets, whereas I should have thought about myself.

“I ran to the ring and everyone was wondering why. I was trying to back myself up and mask what was going on. I actually did all right in the first round, but then I sat back in the corner at the end of the second and stood up. I had nothing left. It was a horrible feeling. I look back now and know that I literally put my life at risk.

“Would I have beat him [Haye] if I was 100 percent? I don’t know, because he was that good. However, would I have been in with a better chance? Absolutely.”

After knocking Mathew Ellis out in two rounds nine months later, Maccarinelli suffered consecutive stoppage losses against Ola Afolabi and Denis Lebedev. “For Afolabi, training and preparations weren’t ideal. Joe was involved in a court case with Frank [Warren], and Enzo understandably was spending time with him, so I basically trained myself. I was doing well in the fight, but then I ran into a punch.

“Against Lebedev, I changed trainers and went up with Karl Ince, who’s a brilliant guy, but he was trying to get me to box and get me to think about being more defensive, and that’s just not me. Maybe if I’d have trained with Karl from a different age, things might have been different, but by now I was set in my ways.

“Come fight night for Lebedev, I put my gloves on and usually I start to punch the walls, getting ready to destroy someone, but instead I was laying down stretching. I got in the ring and hit Lebedev with a left hook to the body, and he gulped for air. Normally, the fight was finished at that point because I’d jumped all over my opponent, but instead I took a step back and he came in and he threw a left hook, and I started thinking, ‘Which way do I go?’ I’ve always been automatic, but I’d been training to go against my natural instincts. That and the David Haye fights are the only two I regret.”

Two stoppage wins later, on April 22, 2010, Maccarinelli traveled to Saint Petersburg to fight Alexander Kotlobay for the vacant European title. The Russian was 18-1-1 at the time. “I only got a few weeks’ notice for the fight. I went up to London, sparred with Dereck Chisora, and then went out to Russia.

“I did an interview with some Russian TV channel and they asked how I thought the fight would go, and I said, ‘I’ll knock him out first round.’ They laughed. I got in the ring and Dean Powell said to me, ‘Take your time.’ I said, ‘I’m going to smash him.’ He replied, ‘Do what you want!’” Maccarinelli stopped Kotlobay in the opening round.

Unfortunately, he lost the title five months later against undefeated Alexander Frenkel in seven rounds. “At the time, Frenkel was regarded like a prime Kovalev. Nobody wanted to fight him. I wasn’t going to give up the belt. First round, he came out flying, and I tucked up tight. Systematically, bit by bit, I was breaking him down. I came out for the seventh round, and I sat back in the corner and Karl Ince said, ‘He’s ready to go. Stick that jab in his face, and he’s going to quit.’ I got up, beat him up, threw a stupid right hand, and then he caught me with a left hook, and put me down. How I got up, I don’t know. The ref asked if I could fight, and I said, ‘Yes,’ but I couldn’t even lift my hands up. He caught me and broke my jaw.”

Maccarinelli retired, then returned at light-heavyweight, although he did have a last shot at cruiserweight title honors, taking on Shane McPhilbin for his British strap. “It was a roller-coaster couple of weeks. That fight was about four weeks after my dad passed away and, on the day of the fight, I found out my son had autism. I was fine doing the pad work in the changing room, but when I got into the ring, I looked ringside for my dad and, when I didn’t see him, that was it.

“When McPhilbin put me down in the first round, I took a knee. First time I’d ever done that. I was fine, but I didn’t want to be there. The ref got to the count of seven and I was thinking, ‘I’m going to stay here.’ But I’ve never quit, and that mentality took over. [It’s worth noting the bell was rung forty-seven seconds early for the opening round].

“He put me down in the third, and I came back to the corner and Dean Powell said, ‘Enzo. He’s [Mario] is going fucking nuts up there watching us.’ That kicked me into gear, I knocked him down in the ninth, and I came back and won the fight on points.’

On November 9, 2011, Maccarinelli challenged Ovill McKenzie for his Commonwealth light-heavyweight title. Referee Ian John-Lewis stopped the fight in the second round. “I hurt McKenzie with a body shot in the first. He hurt me with a right hand in the second, and I tucked up, letting him blow out of steam. Next thing Ian John-Lewis stopped the fight. That topped off my year.” Nine months later, Maccarinelli got his revenge and stopped McKenzie in the eleventh round. He was now a two-weight champion.

On April 5, 2014, “Big Mac” traveled to Rostock, Germany, and took on WBA light-heavyweight champion Juergen Braehmer. “The fight before that I fought Courtney Fry and had problems with my eyes going into that fight. I beat Fry and four days later had laser eye surgery. Two weeks later, I was back in the gym training. In my first spar, I had a corneal abrasion. I stopped sparring for about a week, then got caught again, same thing. I had four corneal abrasions in the run-up to the Braehmer fight.

“When I was in the ring with Braehmer, and my eye was swelling up, I just thought it was a corneal abrasion; I didn’t realize I had this grotesque swelling. Gary [Lockett] was now training me and asked, ‘Can you see?’ and I was about to say, ‘No,’ but then I saw one of the boxing commissioners from the corner of my other eye and said, ‘Yeah. I can see no problem at all.’ The doctor took me to the ref and said, ‘Can you see?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ but if he’d have asked me to count how many fingers he was holding up, I wouldn’t have known. I could barely see Braehmer. I’d let him hit me, so I knew where he was.” The fight was stopped in the fifth round.

On December 12, 2015, Maccarinelli returned to Russia, but this time against former legend Roy Jones Jr., at the VTB Arena in Moscow. “After the press conference, at the weigh-in, we shook hands, and he tried to pull me towards him, but I pulled him towards me. I said, ‘It’s an honor and a privilege to fight you tomorrow, but you’ve made a massive mistake. I will knock you out.’

“Jones was still fast and hit very hard, but in that fourth round I knocked him out and, if I’m honest, the way he fell, I thought I’d killed him. I took a knee and said a prayer, and I’m just glad he was OK.”

After a stoppage loss to Dmytro Kucher in his next fight, Maccarinelli hung up the gloves. Maccarinelli expressed his contentment with his seventeen-year career and a final record of 41-8 (33). “I set out to be a world champion, so I couldn’t ask for more. I’ve made a couple of mistakes along the way and am not happy with how the last fight went, but that’s why I’m currently in talks about my fiftieth [contest] and, also, I want to have a cage fight, all before I’m forty years old.”

 

About Paul Zanon 20 Articles
Paul Zanon has written eight books, with almost all of them reaching the number-one bestselling spot in their respective categories on Amazon. He has co-hosted boxing shows on Talk Sport and has been a pundit on London Live Boxnation.  He is a regular contributor to Boxing Monthly and a number of other publications. Paul is member of the British Boxing Writers Club. Paul is the author of the forthcoming book, The Ghost of Johnny Tapia, published by Hamilcar Publications. Connect with Paul on Twitter.