Tony Dodson

There aren't many that have seen and done what Tony Dodson has.  He's had the best of times and the worst of times in the boxing ring.  Aged 35 now, he has held the English title at super middleweight back in 2006 by stopping Jamie Hearn in the sixth round.  His next fight was then for the British and Commonwealth titles, taing on a top British prospect.  That man was Carl Froch, one of the finest boxers of his generation not just in Britain but worldwide.  He has had local rivalries, twice fighting fellow scouser Paul Smith for the same British title and coming up short.  He has 40 fights on his CV, taking on some of the best names around his weight class domestically.  And to put it bluntly, he's not done yet.  

"I'm not Bernard Hopkins!" he laughs, referring to the legendary American who is boxing into his 50th year.  "Realistically a lot of fighters can't go on until 40.  I live a clean life, I don't do drugs or drink.  I like a drink when I get the chance but I'm not a proper drinker and I've lived the life because of my boxing.  I still speak correctly and I'm not punchy after 40 fights, I've still got my bearings.  I've never taken a real beateing.  90% of the fights I've lost I was winning!  I'll continue until I can't compete at the level I know my body can get to.  If I go in the gym and start getting beaten off novices I'll pack it in.  I'm not daft.  This is a brutal sport and it's hard work every day regardless of if you're 20 or 35, it's a brutal sport.  If you can't get out of that bed and you can't reach the levels you need to achieve then you shouldn't be doing it.  I know that and my family around me will tell me when it's time to call it a day."

There is no hint though in his voice that he is ready to call it a day.  He hasn't had the most active last few years, entering the ring only three time since 2013.  But as he says, the politics of boxing don't always lend themselves to a fighter like himself.  "Your face doesn't fit if you're not a Matchroom fighter or a Warren fighter, you get no work.  Even though I'm a good fighter and I've been in some memorable fights if you haven't got an unbeaten record or sell thousands of tickets like Rocky Fielding then you're not going to get any work.  It's a business.  I see these young ladson Twitter being friendly with Eddie Hearn or Frank Warren and they're talking like they're mates.  They're not their mates.  It's a business and they're businessmen.  Luke Campbell will find that out now, Tommyy Coyle has found it out.  It's not personal, just business. I've learnt it the hard way, I've been up and down like a yo-yo, I'm experienced enough."

As he puts it himself, Dodson has been looking for an 'Indian summer'.  A new trainer has helped revitalise his passion, a link up with Scottie Hamilton who as Tony puts it 'has committed himself fully to me and I have to him; it has changed my outlook and perspective and helped me massively'.  That Indian summer could be dawning for him now due to a linkup that dates back through the years.  Dodson is part of the support act for the return of David Haye at the O2 on Saturday 16th January, the comeback fight for Britain's former unified cruiserweight champion and last heavyweight champion before Tyson Fury.  So how did the likeable man from Liverpool find himself part of the card for what is a hugely anticipated ring return? 

"Me and David go back to when we were 16 or 17.  We met in the England camp the year after we were meant to fight in the ABA finals.  That year, 1996, I won schoolboys, junior ABA, NABCs and junior Olympic gold medals.  I got to the NABC finals and got drawn against David who had only had 11 fights at that time.  He pulled out, which at the time wasn't a bad call.  But we became friends when we met up after that.  There aren't many lads that I've stayed friends with from the amateurs, David is probably my longest standing friend from the boxing game and we've stayed friends ever since.  When he asked me to go sparring with him I was hoping I would get a call for a big fight.  I was over the moon to get the nod from David."

The undercard for the night consists of Tony plus a handful of fighters from the Goodwin Promotions stable.  It was met by surprise by some fans that Haye had chosen the Leighton Buzzard based promotional group to provide the warm up, but from the stable some of the most exciting prospects have been hand picked.  There are a few that stand out for Dodson that although he isn't overly familiar with at present, he is excited to witness first hand. 

"To be honest all the kids we did the press day with I don't know them that well as they've not been on mainstream TV but their records look fucking good.  In the gym they look the part.  Wadi Camacho looked good in sparring with David and I always look forward to watching Wadi, he's exciting.  He's gung-ho, leaves it all on the line and I like fighters like that.  Kay Prosper, he looks a fucking handful!  I've seen him in the gym and he looks good.  I like his attitude as well.  Having talent is one thing but the attitude is another.  I've seen him shadow boxing in the gym and you can just tell that they've got the swagger, the moves and the confidence to do things right.  He's got that.  He's not textbook, he's a good kid.  Same with Josh Kennedy, I've seen fights of his on YouTube and he looks game as fuck.  That's good, that's what we want on this show, the whole point is we want knockouts." 

For his own fight, Dodson is taking on Richard Horton (9-5-0)  from Harlow in Essex.  "I've seen the kid I'm fighting and he looks handy but he's not in my league and he's gonna get hurt" says a clinical Dodson.  "He's been beaten in a few fights but this is his Christmas and birthday at once, to try and get a name on his record and hopefully he thinks he can get the win.  The one thing he hasn't got in his favour though; to keep me off you, you have to be able to punch and unfortunately he can't.  People ask if I study fighters and I honestly never do.  Any fighter should be experienced enough and knowledgeable enough to adapt to any situation.  If you can't then why are you fighting?  I think I'm good enough to adapt to any situation and make it work.  I'm not a massive puncher, I'll admit to it.  I'm hard but I'm not a massive puncher.  But speed and power, that's what I have.  If you can relax and put it together then you'll get that knockout.  I know for a fact that I'm throwing punches in the gym that can put this lad out but it has to be done properly, not like the old Warrior!  People know I'm game for a fight but I have to do it properly.  I didn't win seven national schoolyboys and a junior Olympic gold medal by being a brawler, I've got to show my skills off."

There is a change to Dodson for this fight.  He is leaving behind the super middleweight division, his home for the majority of his fighting career, and stepping up to light heavyweight.  Although he has fought at the weight class before it seems as though this time he is truly embracing the changes that can be made.  "I'm on the fight weight now and that's a first. I'm never on the weight, it's a relief. One of the hardest parts for me I'm boxing has been making weight. It's always been a struggle. Put things into perspective the first time I was 12 stone I was 15 years old. I've been fighting at that weight since I turned pro and I'm 35 now. It's been a hard struggle and I've basically restricted my body from growing. I've had some fantastic fights at super middle but now it's time to go to light heavy and embrace that extra half a stone and enjoy the training rather than make weight."

So with the ability to accommodate the extra weight does it mean that he can approach the week before fight night in a different way to usual?  "I always try to taper down what I'm doing on the week of the fight but it means I don't have to wear sweat gear on the day of the weigh in and having to do the long horrible runs. I woke up for the first Paul Smith fight at 12 stone 10 and had to lose ten pounds in four hours. My natural weight when I walk around is 12 stone 10. Now I'm dead lucky because I'm sponsored by Unique Juices and Fruits and they pre make my meals for me and everything is collaborated for my size, the carb intake and energy that I need. It's been like a weight lifted off my shoulders, I can't emphasise how good that is having someone do that for you."

This is a fighter who turned professional in 1999.  His career is older than his 13 year old son.  I ask him how much things have changed from a dietary perspective since those formative years in the sport and the answer is astounding.  "It's mad, everyone is shocked when I tell them what I used to have to do. I used to struggle to make weight when I first turned pro that bad that after the weigh in I used to rush to McDonalds to get some shit down my throat and then just vomit it up.  I used to do it because I used to crave it that bad.  That was my routine before I got educated.  It was silly, naive.  But you live and learn, I still had the fights and got the wins."  
One thing that Dodson has going into this fight is the advantage of experience.  This fight takes place at the O2 in London, not the premiere boxing venue in the country and with over 10,000 fans due to attend.  Dodson has fought for British titles, battled at the Echo Arena in Liverpool and waged war with Carl Froch at the Ice Arena in Nottingham.  Huge crowds have seen his talent, some friendly and some hostile.  How much does he think that will play a part come the 16th, both the calibre of fighter that he has been in with and the experience of the big events? 
Josh Kennedy
"It's intimidating for a lot of fighters that go to these for the big shows for the first time.  I've had ten thousand people shouting 'who the fucking hell are you?' in Nottingham arena, it didn't phase me and I won the first two rounds of the Froch fight before I got sunk with the body shot but that's boxing for you.  Honest to God I can take head shots and nine out of ten times I would have laughed off a body shot like that but that one just took the life out of me, it was an unbelievable shot.  What pissed me off even more about it though is that it didn't even look that hard!  But it was bang on the right spot.  Paul Smith in the second fight caught me in the fifth or sixth that was twice as hard and twice as accurate as the Froch one but it wasn't the right spot, it didn't have the same effect as Carl did.  I remember when Paul did it and I thought I had to grind my way through and I did to that point until the referee stopped it too early.  Don't get me wrong, the shot Paul caught me with was a fantastic shot and made my teeth come through my gumshield and split my teeth and it was a good shot.  But I remember falling forward after he hit me with it thinking 'what are you doing in front of me you fat prick?' about the ref!  If I was so badly hurt how could I recall that?!" 

Dodson isn't bitter about the past.  There are things he clearly wished could have turned out differently in fights that perhaps he received the raw end of.  But he is wistful and reflective when he talks about the opportunities that passed him by.  "Boxing is boxing and it happens, who is to say Smith wouldn't have caught me again?  But I would like to have thought at British title level I would have been given the benefit to show I could get back up like I did in the third round and at least try and continue.  He went on and got two world title shots plus the Andrew Ward fight.  Look at Froch, he went on and got the Super Six after our fight.  I've been within a whisker of making it.  A whisker.  So fucking close and yet so far."

With the pain of those near misses behind him I ask Dodson if there is still the determination to haul himself back to British title level and possibly beyond at the age of 35.  Does he still have that same drive as when he first picked up the Lonsdale belt?  "It doesn't even come into it" he says in his matter of fact Liverpool accent.  "I've never lost that hunger, the hunger is still there.  I don't want to live my life thinking what I could or should have been.  I've under achieved for what I should have achieved.  I don't want to go through life thinking 'maybe I could have made that last push'.  I've got no second thoughts about it, in my mind I'm going to do this 110% this year, 2016 will be my year and hopefully with David I will get the opportunities.  I know I've still got what it takes to compete at the highest level.  If I couldn't go in the gym and reach the levels and standards I have in the past, I wouldn't even put a glove on.  This is not a game, it's a serious sport.  I'm ugly enough as it is, I don't need to get any more punches in the head or more cuts!  It's been a long hard career but at the minute I'm living life and it's good.  I remember Johnny Nelson saying he knew it was time to retire when he didn't feel guilty about missing a run and that's a million percent right.  The day you don't feel guilty about missing the gym is the day it's time to stop."

That day has clearly not fallen upon Dodson yet.  He has that steeliness in his voice, the grit of someone who knows that there is more that he can achieve and is willing to put himself through the mill to reach it.  If he comes through on the 16th then, can we expect to see a more active Tony Dodson over the next 12 months?  "Hopefully if I go out and make a statement in this fight, which I think I will, it will open doors for me.  Everyone is always looking for someone to test their up and coming fighter. I don't know what the situation is with Bob Ajisafe and the British title, whether he vacated or is still champion, but that's an avenue I'd like to go down providing it's on the right show and we both got the right money.  It would be a massive achievement for me to be a two time British champion at two weights.  Whether it's Ajisafe or Tom Ford or whoever, it's a prestigious belt that I want to hold again."

The talk of hunger, drive and determination are as applicable to Tony as they are to the man who is headlining on January 16th, David Haye.  He comes back against Australian Mark De Mori (30-1-2), a man who hasn't tasted defeat for 11 years and despite not having faced the most credible opponents, still presents a risk to the British heavyweight who hasn't fought since knocking out Dereck Chisora at Upton Park in July 2012.  Previous returns have been halted against Manuel Charr and famously Tyson Fury, when a cut suffered in sparring and then a shoulder injury prevented him making it to fight night.  Fans have questioned the motives of his return and what Haye has left in the tank, something that Haye himself acknowledges are questions that can only be answered on fight night.  For Dodson though there is little doubt that Haye is not only ready for De Mori but also still a formidable proposition on the world scene.

"I've sparred with some of the best kids in the world.  I've been in the ring with the best fighters in my weight.  I've sparred British heavyweight champions, I've done it all.  I've never felt power and speed like David. The first time I've sparred him was the other week when I went down, it's weird.  We've been friends for so long and never sparred.  I got in and gloved up then told him it's the first time and he looked at me and said 'are you serious?  Shut up!'  We laughed at each other.  But he's lightning, I've never felt speed and power like it.  We'll be having this conversation Sunday morning and you'll say 'Dodsy, you were right'.  He's a unit!  He's a freak.  It's not the power, it's the agility and speed and reflexes.  It's everything.  Last time he boxed he was around 16 stone, he was 16 stone 10 with eleven weeks to go for this fight.  You've seen the pictures of him, he's ripped ot the bone.  There's not an ounce of fat on him.  He's a very smart businessman as well.  He knew what he was going to do and what time to do it.  He is making money from that talents he's got.  He's going to be a world champion and he knows he will, he's picked the right time.  The publicity and recognition will come together and he will get a pat on the back and people will realise he's the real deal.  Forget about the Wladimir fight, he's the real deal."

It is a glowing endorsement from Dodson for long term friend Haye.  Haye himself has shown his reciprocal trust in placing Dodson on such a high profile card as January 16th.  Both have questions to be answered.  Both have said all the right things in the build up.  What counts is what happens in the ring on the night.  For Dodson, he has seen it all before and fought at a higher level than what lays immediately in front of him.  However this gives him the perfect platform to springboard himself back to where he wants to be, at the pinnacle of the British boxing scene and able to secure the big fights that he has already tasted.  Wistful talk of opportunities that have passed may come from Dodson but he knows that there is another chance to make his mark.  If he can go on to become a two weight British champion it would be a huge accomplishment.  His story may not stop there.