By John Evans
Promising featherweight James ‘Jazza’ Dickens enters the second year of his professional career with the endorsements of promoter Ricky Hatton ringing in his ears. Hatton recently claimed the unbeaten 20-year-old could be in for a ‘massive year’ and he will be on home turf when he makes his second appearance of 2012 at Liverpool’s Olympia on March 10th.
“I was supposed to fight on the 24th but I wanna be out as soon as possible and this came up instead,” said the 8-0 (2) southpaw when speaking to Boxingscene. “We only found out about it this last week so we still have to find an opponent. I don’t really pay much attention but it’s a good bill. Mike Robinson and John Donnelly is top (of the bill).”
Dickens seems certain to play a major role in Liverpool’s expected boxing boom. He is one of the most highly rated of a promising group of fighters poised to make a big splash on the British scene. Light heavyweight Tony Bellew may currently lead the pack but with Dickens joining the likes of David Price, Joe Selkirk, Rocky Fielding and Paul Butler Liverpool could quickly become Britain’s boxing capital.
He said: “Definitely, you know. There’s always been that fighting mentality around Liverpool and there seems to have been a lot of fighters recently turn pro at the same time in Liverpool. I think it could be. There’s a few in my gym like Ryan Farrag and Kevin Satchell.”
Derry Mathews and the aforementioned Fielding and Farrag are amongst the Liverpool based fighters who have found various levels of success in Prizefighter. As an unbeaten novice, Dickens is exactly the type of fighter who turns up in Matchroom’s popular series. ‘Jazza’ sees the pros and cons of attempting to follow in his fellow Scousers’ footsteps.
“I’ll do whatever my manager Steve Wood and the Hatton’s have planned for me,” said Dickens. “I think it’d be good and suit my style but also I’d rather box as many rounds as I can really. I accept that I’ve gotta work my way up and serve my apprenticeship like everyone else has.”
Dickens may be willing to put in the hard hours in order to become ‘time served’, but the typical learning jobs given to apprentices aren’t always to his liking. Having racked up the necessary – but often frustrating – victories over the journeymen of the division the 2010 A.B.A 54kg champion longs for the chance to apply his skills to more testing assignments.
“Definitely. You can put more out there can’t you?” says Dickens. “Put more on display and try more things out rather than just going forward doing the same things repeatedly. I don’t struggle but I feel like I’m not boxing so good when I’m against someone in front of me who’s not gonna fight back. I’d rather give the fans something to watch and make it easier for them to watch rather than somebody spoiling the fight.”
The one time Dickens has stepped up a level came when he was matched with tough Scot James Ancliff. As a quick form guide, Ancliff had taken the highly rated Joe Murray the full ten rounds just five months earlier. Dickens stopped him in the second.
“Yeah, there’s been a few people that we’ve watched fight on tape – like Ancliff – and we’ve said that they’d suit us down to the ground because they’d come to fight but Ancliff has been the only one really who has come to fight,” his thoughts on the win. “It shows that people who do come to fight will regret it.”
Television chances have so far been scarce for the Liverpudlian and the chances are you may not yet have seen Dickens fight. The ‘Sugar Slugga’ moniker he uses on his facebook page is a fairly accurate description of his style.
“I like to fight but I know I’m a better boxer so I try and stay on my boxing” he said. “In the gym my coaches – Paul and Michael Stevenson – are teaching me new things every day like boxing and inside fighting. They say on the inside to just hit and not be hit. I think I can do most things but I’ll keep learning to try and everything but my style is to be fast. I can counterpunch and stand and fight.”
So far so good, Dickens is a talented up and coming fighter saying all the right things about how his career is progressing. Ordinarily in an interview such as this talk would inevitably turn to targets for the upcoming year and thoughts on potential opponents. Dickens isn’t an ordinary fighter though. Although aware of the challenges he may face in the featherweight division, he isn’t the type to pour over the pages of Boxing News agonising over his rivals success and failures.
“No. I just concentrate on my own game. I just love the sport and love training so I don’t really worry about other fighters,” he revealed. “When I get to fight them, I’ll have a look at them but I don’t really follow it. If anything comes along I’ll take it with both hands because the people who pay good money and travel to see me fight – and most of my fights have been out of the way – well, I owe it to them anyway.”
The differences don’t stop there. Dickens is renowned on the Merseyside fight scene for his total dedication to the sport and rather unorthodox running habits. He laughs when I bring up one particular feat of endurance. “Yeah!” he exclaimed. “The day after my second fight [a first round stoppage of Sali Mustafov] I did the half marathon with a few of the lads because I didn’t get the rounds in.
“I get up at 4am every morning when I’m in camp. For six weeks I won’t eat anything bad or stay up late. I live at a different time to other people! I try to be in solitude. I’ll be on my own, have no distractions and enjoy my own company for the six weeks. I sort of make it hard for myself because I know the second fight will be worth it when I’m in the ring.
“What I do, I’ve got a spare room in my house and it’s just a bed and a wardrobe. I’ll go out of my bedroom with the big telly and big bed and I’ll move into the back room with a little single bed and no luxuries for six weeks. That’s what I do to make it hard for myself.”
I suggest that if he is going to such lengths to prepare for fights at this stage in his career then when he eventually reaches British title level Dickens will be sleeping on a pile of straw on bare cobbles to really add a Dickensian aspect to his training regime.
“Yeah” he laughs. “I can’t wait for that but at this stage I know I’ve gotta keep my head down until I get to that level.”
Although aware of Dickens’ success at amateur level, this writer’s first exposure to him as a professional came at a show at Greenbank Leisure Centre in Liverpool. One undercard fighter after another entered the ring to nondescript hip hop and dance tunes. Dickens’ decision to walk out to the strains of Peter Gabriel’s ‘Solsbury Hill’ certainly grabbed the crowd’s attention. Is the classic anthem here to stay?
“Yeah, that’s a keeper that,” laughed Dickens. “People really love it! I like it. To me it’s sort of like Ricky Hatton’s Blue Moon. For me, I like the originals. I think they’re the best. I’m gonna keep it.”
‘Jazza’ would like to thank Tommy from Avondale Pay Roll Services for his continued support.