Wales’ Joe Cordina, 31, defends his IBF super featherweight title for the first time against Edward Vazquez on Saturday in Monte Carlo, aware, as he tells Declan Warrington, that he is moving towards territory that could define his career…

BN: How significant is Saturday’s fight with Edward Vazquez?

JC: I’ve got to beat everyone in front of me. For me to secure my family’s future I’ve gotta keep winning regardless, whether there’s a title on the line or no title on the line. Someone tagged me in something before, and it was undefeated champions, and I was lined up with the likes of [Jermall] Charlo; Sunny Edwards; Tyson Fury. There was plenty – they’re just a few to name. For me to be talked of in the same breath as these fighters – some of the great fighters from America; some of the best fighters in the world…

BN: Kevin Mitchell oversaw your preparations while Tony Sims was in the US with Conor Benn…

JC: Kevin’s obviously been a good fighter – he’s a very good friend of mine – in the past, so he knows the game inside and out. He’s been at the top level – I trust Kevin, and what he gives, instruction-wise, I trust. Not every fighter becomes a good trainer and not every good trainer was a good fighter. Tony learned on the job and was around boxing all his life. But he knows the game inside and out, especially from the trainer’s perspective, and his knowledge of the game – he’s a student of the game – he watched boxing near enough every day. He’s always sending me videos. “Watch this one; watch that one”, and he knows the game inside and out. So does Kevin. Kevin was a great fighter, and also a good trainer. He’s got the knowledge of being in the ring and knowing certain things and it’s good to have someone with another perspective – and especially someone with the knowledge that Kevin’s got – alongside Tony.

BN: What fighters is it Tony Sims has asked you to watch?

JC: The main one for us was the likes of [Jorge] Linares – early on in my career. Certain things we’re working on – like combination punches – he’s sending me [Juan Manuel] Marquez, or [Roman Gonzalez] Chocolatito for angles and working inside and combinations. Alexis Arguello – people like that. A lot of the older fighters that could do it all. 

There was a fight he sent me before. Yaqui Lopez versus Matthew Saad Muhammad [in 1980]. Unbelievable fight, and he sent me round nine, and I looked it at and thought, “Fuck, I need to watch the whole fight”, so I went and watched the whole fight. It was an unbelievable fight. He sends me, constantly, little snippets of certain fighters and I take little bits from them. “Watch how he does this.” In his office he’s got videos. His old office in his old gym used to be full of DVDs of fighters. 

BN: How is the right hand you injured against Kenichi Ogawa last June?

JC: No problems. I don’t really think about it. The surgeon, Mike Hayton – he’s one of the best in the world – I trust. He done my first operation on my metacarpals, and my second operation, and the first time he did my first operation I had no problems after that, so there’s no reason for me to worry. He knows what he’s doing.

BN: How conscious are you of the fact that the biggest fights at super featherweight exist in or near the US? 

JC: There’s only one big money fight at my weight, really, and that’s [Mexico’s Emanuel] Navarrete. We tried to make the O’Shaquie [Foster] fight and I was pushing for it, but they was just saying it don’t make sense, money-wise. “The revenue ain’t there – it’s not a big fight for you.” Even though it’s for a title. But, from a business sense, it didn’t. But the big-money fight for me is Navarrete. I’d love to do that in either [Las] Vegas, or in May in Mexico on the undercard of Canelo [Saul Alvarez] or whatever. I’m sure we could work something out.

I’m looking to have this fight [against Valdez], get another fight in the new year, and then move up to lightweight. That’s my plan. I’ve got to keep winning, that’s the main thing. Once I do that I can get a fight with Shakur [Stevenson]. I’m not being disrespectful, I just want to test myself against the best, and in my eyes, and a lot of other people’s eyes, he’s one of the best fighters on the planet, and he’ll go down as an all-time great. 

But I want to test myself, and if you want to be great yourself you have to mix yourself in with these fighters. Joe Calzaghe, for instance – he did the same thing. He went over to America, boxed [Bernard] Hopkins; Roy Jones Jnr. Hopkins, he was active after as a world champion, so we can’t say he was past his prime regardless of how old he was [he was 43 when Calzaghe beat him in Vegas in 2008]. Calzaghe beat a great Hopkins. Calzaghe made himself great by going over to America and that’s what I’m having to do, and mix in with the likes of Shakur Stevenson.

Emanuel Navarrete exchanges punches with Oscar Valdez during their junior-lightweight fight at Desert Diamond Arena on August 12, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona (Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

BN: Shakur Stevenson has been struggling to secure high-profile opponents…

JC: I don’t know how many times I’ve gone into the office [at Matchroom] and said, “I don’t mind [fighting him]”. After he moved up to lightweight he did an interview. Basically he was saying, “I can’t make 130, but I’m sure we [me and Cordina] can do a catchweight of 133”. I’ll go 135 – it doesn’t matter to me. I’ve boxed at 135. It was only because all the big names at lightweight had gone by then, so I went to super feather, where the big fights were. Then they moved up. It added more clout for me as well – I got a title, and now it’s time to cash in.

[Rivals are] scared [of Stevenson]. [Frank Martin is] unbelievable. He was in camp with AJ [Anthony Joshua], and AJ mentioned to Tony that he’s in the gym and he might be coming over [so I hoped to spar him]. It was for [preparing for Shavkatdzhon] Rakhimov. It would have been great fun, and hard sparring at that. It would have been good for him to get over. 

A lot of them are worried. They don’t want to lose their 0s; they don’t want to be embarrassed. But we’re in the fight game. You’ve got to remember, no matter how good you are, there’s always someone out there for you that can beat you. I don’t give a shit who you are. Regardless of Floyd Mayweather’s undefeated record, there was a couple of arguable decisions. He’s the money man in Vegas so there’s no way he was ever losing any fight in Vegas, but he was an unbelievable fighter and will probably go down as the best ever. There’s always someone out there for you, regardless of anything. My father always taught me that. “No matter how big or bad you are, there’s always someone out there for you.” 

I’ve got no worries about losing, because this is boxing. One punch can change everything, and I’m scared of losing – I’m not gonna lie – but I ain’t worried about it. If I lose, I lose. If I lose to the better man, no problem, I’ll take it on the chin. When I beat people they take it on the chin and I’ve got to do the same thing if that ever comes.

BN: It sounds like Joe Calzaghe inspires you…

JC: Yeah, of course. He’s from my neck of the woods. He’s done everything in the sport, and obviously I’d love to emulate what he done. To be a champion for over 10 years – it’s some doing. It’s big shoes to fill, but at the same time I’m just trying to edge closer to everything he’s ever done. He’s the only two-weight champion [from Wales]. I need to get to that. I want to get to that. So that’s my next little box I need to tick.

I speak to him. There’s always love when I see him. I won’t ring him on the phone, because I know he’s a busy man, but at the same time, every time I see him it’s love. He’s always helpful with any advice. My last fight [April’s points victory over Rakhimov], for instance, he done my weigh-in. He was at my fight also; he was at my last two fights, and also I see him quite often if he’s at any events or anything like that. He tries to stay out of the boxing scene, apart from when it’s myself, but yeah, he’s a great guy. He’s got a lot of knowledge in the game. He’s one of the good guys in boxing, so if I ever need any advice I only got to pick up the phone and talk to him.