Beneath the cheeky charm and Colgate smile there is a steely resolve about Joe Cordina which suggests that the Cardiff lightweight will do full justice to what is probably the biggest pure talent to evolve from the Principality since another JC (undefeated from Newbridge). With his pro CV yet to hit double figures, the 27-year-old former European amateur champion and Rio Olympian has already snared Commonwealth and British 135lbs titles plus a world ranking with the IBF. On a rare visit home to the Welsh capital, to model Armani’s EA7 range, Boxing News sat down with the “Welsh Wizard” to discuss what he’s done and where he’s heading.
You were a fighter long before you became a boxer at 16…
[Laughs] True. I was a “chopsy” kid but never a bully, never looked for it. I was one of them if it came to me, I wouldn’t shy away. At a young age, my old man said to me, “Anyone pushes you, comes within a foot, throw the first dig and they won’t come back again.” That was my mentality. Playing rugby, I was always the smallest boy on the pitch and bigger boys viewed me as an easy target. Little did they know it was worst thing they could do. If they walked towards me, I’d let my hands go. I think I was sent off eight times one season. Then my old man would go mad at me…it had gone beyond a joke! The discipline in boxing helped me mellow down. I got all my energy out in the gym.
To what extent did your extended international amateur experiences help accelerate you through your pro apprenticeship?
It was huge. Only at the elite pro level will an opponent, like a Jorge Linares or “Loma”, bring something that you’ve never encountered before.
At top tournaments you might fight five times in one week. You come across every style there is; awkward ones, technicians, punchers, southpaws. And the very best kids are capable of mixing it up mid fight so you have to learn to adapt when you’re in there.
Before my British title win over Andy Townend [rsf 6], Eddie [Hearn] was saying, “This is Joe’s biggest test.” I’m thinking: “You serious?!” Townend may be a step up in the pros but he ain’t gonna bring anything I ain’t seen before. Don’t dampen what I did in the amateurs. Remember, Loma won a world title in his third pro fight.
Listen, in the amateurs you feel the pressure, the nerves – it made me sharper – but so far, as a pro, I swear I haven’t felt nervous. Anyone who’s been in the changing rooms with me in the pros will tell you that. I see others who share my changing room s**tting themselves. But having worked so hard in the gym, I know what I’m capable of, know what’s going to be in front of me, know I’ve had time to prepare for them. I’ve been there 180 odd times previously.
You’re a proud Cardiff lad. What convinced you to uproot and set up base under Tony Sims in Brentwood, Essex?
Without wanting to sound big-headed, not many coaches were going to turn me away cos there’s a lot to work with. Not many have got the feet I’ve got. I earnt it studying Lomachenko in Beijing [2008 Olympics]!
Paul [Walmsley, the GB coach] and me gelled so well in the amateurs. He was in my corner every time I went away. He knew what I was good at; the movement, feet in and out, get my points and get out without getting hit.
Tony knew what I had to work on. He knew I could already do all the back-foot stuff. Other trainers were happy for me to just continue with that whereas I was waiting for them to settle me down, learn to fight inside. To be where I wanted to be, I knew I had to add stuff. If you’re in the comfort zone nothing grows. You have to take yourself beyond that box.
I don’t need people shouting at me. Whenever Tony used to bring Kevin Mitchell, Ricky Burns, Ohara [Davies], Conor Benn up to spar with us in Sheffield, he was so calm. That swung it.
I’ve been around a lot of top-level coaches and Tony’s definitely one of the most knowledgeable; a very wise boxing guy. Not many give him the credit he deserves.
Your fabulous British title win over Barnsley banger Andy Townend was hidden deep into a blockbuster O2 bill fronted by heavyweights Dave Allen and Dereck Chisora, and further overshadowed by Amir Khan’s WBO welter challenge to Terence Crawford in New York later that evening. Does that grate?
Listen, I’m not going to start sulking that it got overshadowed. I’ve won British, Commonwealth and WBA International belts in just nine fights and the Board inspector presenting my Lonsdale Belt told me it was the best British title win he’d ever seen.
I was very satisfied with my performance. Apart from getting caught pulling out three times in the first round, everything we worked on in camp, went off to a tee. Though I’d been out eight months, I’d had a full camp leading up to the original November 10date, then, in the last round of my second to last spar with Reece Bellotti, I damaged ligaments in my right hand, throwing a Golovkin shot!
But it proved a blessing in disguise because I got to work on my jab which I’d been slacking with, pawing. It’s the most important tool. Tony told me I had a decent jab but I didn’t use it.
So we worked on different jabs; a touch, one that fires through, one from low, one downstairs, changing it up. For Townend, I made the jab the best it’s ever been. In future, my left hand is going to be lethal.
Though the WBA mysteriously ditched you from their rankings following that standout win, you’re currently listed 12th with the IBF. What do you still need to add to your game before you contend for world titles?
I don’t want to get ahead of myself but there’s really not a lot I need to add. Every fight, we chip away at perfecting everything. Tony’s very conscious not to overload me with stuff. He gives me certain things to focus on each camp.
My inside fighting is getting a lot better. Apart from elite level, I can hold my own inside with anyone, get on top of most. I’m also working on punch power, holding my feet, shortening shots, turning into left hooks. Even though I’m not a one punch knockout artist, every time I hit you, it’s gonna hurt. It will eventually break you down.
It’s just tweaking certain things. I’m studying the very best constantly, all the subtle stuff. It just needs sharpening.
Fellow Welshmen Lee Selby and Craig Evans are also world rated at 135lbs. Do you see those ‘difficult to make’ matches featuring in your future?
We’re not close but I’m respectful to both when I see them. If you’re a rival in my division, I genuinely wish you well. But I can get wound up really easy. I put this out there. If rivals start ‘larging it’ for the cameras or other people, I’m not about messing around. The first thing they’ll get is a slap. I’m not arguing with you in front of a camera. If you want a chat with me, pull me aside and then we’ll talk.
Look, presently, it’s ‘high risk, low reward’ for all of us. Why would Lee drop down to fight me for a British title? Craig’s already had a lot of hard fights but he’s back in the mix. He wants to be a world champion. They want to be knocking away at world titles themselves rather than bothering with me.
One man I’m sure you’ll not be scrapping with is your housemate and spar hand Ricky Burns (Scotland’s three-weight world champion). What impact has he had on your career?
People who say Ricky doesn’t look the best should get inside a ring with him. I’ve sparred several world champions. There’s not many people have ever made me feel very uncomfortable inside a ring but Ricky’s definitely one of them.
I’ll try to outbox him but he’s no punchbag. He roughs me up, hits me low or round the back of the head. One time I tried doing it back to him but Tony pulled me and warned me to stick to my game plan otherwise he’d stop us sparring each other. I can’t have that happening because I learn so much from Ricky. He’s got this amazing jab that, when I try to slip, it still finds me.
It’s not so much technical stuff. Ricky’s taught me how to tie up, how to get your rests. And his work ethic is like something you’ve never seen, it’s ridiculous. Think how many 12 rounders he’s done. When we’re doing our interval runs, sometimes Ricky will go: ‘Come on, Joe. One more.’ Not once have I declined. Living with him, I know if I’m doing what he’s doing, I’ll get there.
The biggest obstacle to you fast tracking to a world title would appear to be a certain Vasyl Lomachenko who takes on Luke Campbell this weekend.
For a start, it’ll be an honour to share a bill with ‘Loma’. I’ve been a huge fan since the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But you can’t emulate him. He’s one of a kind.
I don’t shy away from anything. I’m in this to win a world title but I’m not delusional. Don’t think you can run before you can walk. I’m only 27, didn’t start till I was 16. Pretty low mileage. No scars on my face. I hear (13-0 New York prospect) Teofimo Lopez ranting that he wants to fight Lomachenko. Madness.
I’ve a long, long way to go before I start mentioning Loma’s name. Equally, I know (current IBF king Richard) Commey is a great fighter. Ricky’s sparred him and says he’s a lot better than people think, very technical. Strong. I’ve no right to be calling any world champions names. I’ve things to do before that.
Listen, you have to take fights at the right time. I know I’m not ready for that yet… but I’m ready for [European champion Francesco] Patera.
You mark time with a maiden defence of your British title against 11-0 compatriot Gavin Gwynne from Treforest on the undercard. Given your ambitions, might you struggle for motivation?
I have to get up for it. If I don’t win, there’s no looking forward to the European or world title fights I crave.
Gavin and me were briefly together at St Jo’s but I only ever remember sparring four rounds with him in 2015 when I was still amateur. I’ve studied his last two fights on Facebook and he’s not really changed. He’s a tall, come forward type which should play into my hands.
Everyone is tough and game early – it only takes one shot with those little gloves on – but he doesn’t have what it takes to beat me.
No doubt Gavin will try to rough me up but if his coach Tony Borg [Gwynne’s coach] thinks I’ll box and run like when I was an amateur at their gym they’re in for the shock of their lives. I spar regularly with Ricky, who’s as rough as they come, knows every trick in the book. He’ll certainly not be bringing anything I’ve not seen before. Similarly, if he tries to box me, he’ll just get out boxed.
I never concern myself with stoppages. I just need to win in style but I’m expecting a bit of a shoot-out. Every camp, I look to build on my performance. I delivered a good display last time in April but will be looking to produce at the next level.
There’s levels of world champion. AJ and, to a lesser degree, Callum Smith are pay-per-view stars. Then you’ve got Kal Yafai, Charlie Edwards, world champions, great fighters who don’t draw a massive crowd.
I want world titles and to earn enough money to secure my family but I definitely aspire to stadium fights, pay-per-view. I’m not bothered by fame, mind. If you win a world title, it’s there. I want to be rich but leave me out the camera.
Above all, Matchroom are a business. Joshua is only going to be around so long. Callum Smith the same. So Eddie [Hearn]’s relying on the likes of Buatsi, Okolie, Josh Kelly, Fowler, me to be his stadium fighters, pay-per-view stars, of the future. I don’t intend disappointing him.