Gabriel Punalef Calfin takes a dive into glory
For Gabriel Punalef Calfin, taking a dive is an intrinsic part of his way of life, a source of income, a job he takes seriously and responsibly and a duty he has promptly and timely performed as often as he has been asked to do so.
In his career as a professional prizefighter, however, Calfin has made a name for himself for exactly the opposite reasons.
On July 11, the 31-year old professional scuba-diving seafood harvester and lightweight contender from Argentina will have a chance to prove that once again as he travels to England to face unbeaten prospect Jack Catterall at the Velodrome in Manchester, in what looms as an exciting, classic crossroads fight between an up-and-coming promising fighter and a battle-hardened veteran determined to make one final push toward the top.
“I got the news about a month and a half ago,” said Calfin in a recent interview. “But we knew it was going to be made eventually and we were training and taking smaller fights here in Argentina. I will take [Catterall] to war from the first to the last round and leave everything up there and pile up points early, which is what you need to do when you go to fight in someone else’s backyard.”
Although both fighters are southpaws, they will be fighting from entirely different stances in their personal careers. Catterall (11-0, 7 knockouts) is a highly regarded prospect who has recently served as one of Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s sparring partners, while Calfin (22-6-3, 8 KOs), had to relocate from the bleak surroundings of his Patagonian town of San Antonio Oeste to the outskirts of Buenos Aires, in search of quality training and sparring opportunities.
Still, Calfin is not impressed by Catterall and believes he has more than a chance to expose his shortcomings.
“I’ve been looking at him and he makes quite a few mistakes. Perhaps he hasn’t faced opponents as tough as me in the past and this gives me more hope to win this fight,” said Calfin. “I will be throwing punches from all angles and he will be backing up and surrendering little by little. After I start landing some punches and being that I believe myself to be more intelligent than him, I know that I will be able to make a difference with my mobility and my abilities. I’ve always complicated my opponents because I am known for cornering them into my own style of fighting. I don’t get entangled in someone else’s style. I let them come into my groove and I manage the timing of the fight from that moment on.”
Finding the timing to take his career to the next level has been a challenge of its own for Calfin, who, as recently as September of last year, was training in a run-down municipal facility in his hometown with no hot water or electricity. That lack of support led him to chain himself to the entrance of the town’s city hall, abandoning his protest only after receiving the promise of a special aid by the major in the form of a check for less than $100 US dollars.
“I was requesting some type of help because the government has all kind of possibilities that I don’t have,” said Calfin, who, aside from training and working on his seasonal fishing business with his father, worked in a fruit processing plant in a city of 30,000 inhabitants. “But that’s politics and I don’t deal with that. I am an athlete and perhaps they confuse things. I am not in politics, so we had a clash with the major and thank God, he’ll be leaving office soon. And that’s why I decided to move to Buenos Aires because there are a lot more possibilities for training and sparring that I didn’t have down there. I can achieve bigger things. As a fighter, I am used to struggling and making it the hard way. I always had the support of my dad; he got me started as a boxer. He was a boxer too and I took over his career.”
Moving from the freezing waters to the relative more benevolent “good air” of the country’s capital of Buenos Aires meant Calfin had to leave behind his job as a scuba-diving seafood harvester in the gelid waters of the Southern Atlantic, a job that makes boxing easy by comparison.
“Getting in the water in winter is very cold and when I come to think about what I want to do with my life, whether get in the cold water in winter or get up early to run and train, I choose to train,” said Calfin, who now bunks with a group of younger fighters in the suburban town of Jose Leon Suarez close to Buenos Aires. “I worked my entire boxing career in that business. It is hard work because being under water is very stressful and very risky and I also worked in a fruit export company so I was tired all the time. Sometimes, I train with the last possible energy in my body but every effort is worth it and I know everything I do will be worth it later down in my career. Today I cannot pass on any chances because of my age. For all this, I decided to come to Buenos Aires to train, to seize the moment in which I am well-ranked and, with my best combination of age and experience, and to try to reach for more.”
Calfin started his career on the wrong foot by going 0-2-1 in his first three outings and was stopped twice (by two young KO artists in Gumersindo Carrasco and Claudio Olmedo) but has gone 13-1 since 2011, with his only loss being a decision and two of his victories coming against young unbeaten contenders on the rise. He recovered from that loss with a demolishing stoppage of highly regarded Juan Lencina and is now coming off a victory against a tough contender in Daniel Lopez, making a name for himself as an upset-minded journeyman who always comes to fight and managing to climb to the second spot in the national rankings at lightweight.
Doing it the hard way added another dimension to his achievements and encouraged him reach even higher in the right conditions.
“Perhaps being from a small province and not having a promoter looking after you and your career forces you to make the most out of every opportunity,” said Calfin. “One has to face the toughest opponents, the ones that are on the way up. And thank God, I was always able to give my best every time they called me and I was always ready and all this made me stronger. And the fact that I was always fighting away from home made me even stronger because I knew that I had to win by any means and leave everything in the ring. That’s what is going to happen to me in England. I know I will be fighting in [Catterall’s] backyard and I will have to leave it all in the ring. But I am used to it and, in this case, it won’t affect me because I have nothing to lose and everything to win and this is what I’ve been doing so far in my career: Ruining young careers and ending unbeaten streaks. That has given me the motivation and the strength to win this fight.”
True to his ancestral native South American origins and carrying on the rebellious tradition of his Mapuche (indigenous peoples of Argentina) forebears, Calfin will enter the ring to the tune of “Amutuy,” a song that celebrates the fighting spirit of his aboriginal ancestors, to psyche himself up in his toughest challenge to date in a tentatively hostile territory.
And even though taking a dive will always be an option to him, it is clear he’d rather leave his scuba-diving days behind, with the colorful sea-themed tattoo that covers his upper left arm as the reminder of the hardships that tempered his soul and his body into the fighter he is today.
“I always go for more and I aspire for more,” said Calfin. “I grew up in a gym and I always thought that boxing is more about fighting for glory than for anything else. I am in it for the glory and I always want to reach the top. As long as I can aspire to that, I will continue fighting to reach the top, which is the goal of every fighter. Fighting for a world title is the dream of every fighter but achieving glory is the ultimate goal.”
Diego Morilla, a bilingual boxing writer since 1995, is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He served as boxing writer for ESPNdeportes.com and ESPN.com, and is now a regular contributor to RingTV.com and HBO.com, as well as the resident boxing writer for XNSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @MorillaBoxing