Welshman Joe Cordina seeks lightweight title against Kenichi Ogawa despite surgery setback

Joe Cordina takes on Kenichi Ogawa in the world junior lightweight title fight on Saturday on home turf in Cardiff, Wales. Huw Fairclough/Getty Images

Joe Cordina challenges Kenichi Ogawa for a world junior lightweight title Saturday, but it was not so long ago he feared injury had wrecked his boxing dream.

Cordina (14-0, 8 KOs), 30, takes on Ogawa for the Japanese boxer's IBF title in front of his home city fans at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff, Wales, after quickly regaining momentum with three wins last year.

The Welshman's career had stalled due to a right-hand injury that left him concerned about the future and out of action for 15 months.

"I did the injury in sparring in 2018, but I fought on with it because I was just into [minor] title fights and I wanted to carry on fighting, I didn't think about how serious my injury actually was," Cordina told ESPN.

"I went to see a specialist and he didn't really give me any clarification on what the injury was and after a short rest carried on.

"I got three more fights in [in 2019] with the injury and got through each one with a cortisone injection. When the pandemic came around, I had the hand operated on in Manchester by a surgeon called Mike Hayton. I had over a year off but it allowed me to get it healed so when I came back I was no longer holding back on my shots.

"I did the metatarsal bone of my index and middle finger, and they had to take bone from my hip to put into my right hand. The wound on my hip then got infected and I spent ten days on the sofa unable to move after it.

"It was always in the back of my mind after the operation that I'm never going to get a world title shot now. I could come back after 15 months and not be the same fighter. But I trusted the specialist and I believe in God that he had a plan for me.

"I've had three fights since the operation and I've worked hard to get here. I train in Essex which means living away from my missus and three kids, missing birthdays and a lot of important things. I've sacrificed a lot for my dream to become a world champion."

Ogawa (26-1-1, 18 KOs), 34, from Tokyo, will make a second defence of the IBF junior lightweight title after winning a unanimous decision over Azinga Fuzile in New York six months ago.

Ogawa is more experienced, but Cordina believes this is the right time for him to be challenging for a world title.

"He's a solid fighter and a good world champion, he's experienced but a lot of his early fights were in Japan and on a technical level he's not on the same level as me," Cordina said.

"It's only in the last few years when he was fighting in the U.S. that he has been challenged. He had the win against Tevin Farmer but it was ruled a no contest because he tested for a banned substance [in 2017].

"Ogawa will probably be favourite and I don't mind that because he's more experienced than me. But I will be doing everything I can to walk out that ring with the IBF belt. This is the right time for me and if it's not, then it will probably never come."

If Cordina is successful in his first world title attempt, he does not want to be known as 'the next Joe C'.

Joe Calzaghe reigned for ten years as world super-middleweight champion, making a record 21 world title defences and beating the likes of Mikkel Kessler and Jeff Lacy before moving on to outpoint Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. at light-heavyweight.

But the 2016 Olympian is not listening to the theories he will be the next Calzaghe, or the first boxer from the Welsh capital city of Cardiff to hold a world title for 22 years since Barry Jones lost the WBO world junior lightweight title to Acelino Freitas in 2000.

"I don't see it that way," Cordina said. "I don't care how many Welsh world champions there were and that I could be the next -- I just wanted to do it for myself, my family and secure my family's future. When I first started boxing my goal was to get to the Olympics; I did that, now it's to become a world champion and I want to achieve that.

"You are always going to be compared to Joe as a Welsh boxer trying to win a world title because Joe was the best to ever come out of Wales, arguably. He did what he did for a long time and for me to be even compared to him is a great thing, but I'm not Joe Calzaghe and Joe Calzaghe is not me.

"Everyone is different. I'm here to prove that I should be mentioned in the same bracket as Joe, but I've not even won a world title yet."