By Terence Dooley
When Tony Dodson was stopped in three rounds by Commonwealth light-heavyweight titlist Ovill McKenzie in February 2012, many ringside observers sagely nodded their heads and said: “That’s the end of ‘The Warrior’, then”. Not this writer, though; probably because I was sat next to Tony Bellew, the former British Super middleweight champion’s friend and a fellow Liverpudlian, not to mention a passionate 6’ 2½’’ professional fighter who probably wouldn’t have taken too kindly to the idea that his friend’s career was over. Bellew was hurt by the result, but he reflected for a moment and said: “He’ll be back.”
Roll on a year and a few months and Dodson, 29-7-1 (14), is indeed back, he meets Paul Smith for the vacant British Super middleweight title at the Bolton Arena on June 29. The two Liverpudlians first fought in March 2010. Smith prevailed after a bruising battle in which he picked up two bad cuts to his left eye. Smith’s injuries were inspected by the ringside doctor as early as round four, but he gritted his teeth and won by scores of 117-112, 116-111 and 115-112, from Victor Loughlin, Howard Foster and Marcus McDonnell respectively, with Dodson suffering a point deduction in round 10 for holding.
This time, though, Dodson believes that the outcome will be much different. However, the usually garrulous former British champion was tight-lipped when asked about how training was going ahead of yet another make-or-break fight in a storied career.
“I’ve done it easier than ever just by living the life,” he said when speaking to BoxingScene. “A lot of credit has to go to John Rice, my trainer, for his discipline. There’s only one man on this planet that I’m scared off, and that’s him. I won’t go into specifics on record, just tell people the usual stuff — it’s going well, fantastic camp and all that.”
However, further attempts to get the inside track on his training camp were rebuffed. “You’re not getting anything from me, sorry!” he laughed. “Whatever will be will be. I know you’re trying to get something out of me, but we’ll just see on the night.”
Another difference this time around is that the build-up has been characterised by mutual respect. Last time out, the two fighters tore into each other in the weeks leading up to the bout. There’s no bad blood these days, just the knowledge that the winner could have nowhere left to go.
“Listen, the last time I spoke to you properly, before the last fight, there was a lot of animosity and maybe a little bit of immaturity between us, but we’re both different now and there’s a lot of respect,” said Dodson, who cannot wait to vie for the Lonsdale belt again.
He said: “It is the best belt in the world. Paul keeps saying he wants his belt back, but people forget that it was my belt first, and I never lost it in the ring [he won the belt by beating Alan Foster by 11th-round TKO in 2003 before relinquishing it due to inactivity brought on by injury]. I actually think it was closer that it was on the cards last time, and he had a terrible cut that could have stopped the fight. It took Mick Williams doing the best cuts work you’ve ever seen on a Frank Warren show to win him the fight, but that’s the past.
“I pushed him to the wire in possibly the worst physical and mental state I’d been in. I’d been out for 12-months and you can’t do that and be on your game. You can talk about sparring Peter Quillin and that, but we’re not sparring for a living. You can go on about hill runs, but we’re not having a race or I’d be a bit paranoid right now. If anything’s changed this time then it is me. Paul does what he does, nothing will have changed from the last fight, but I’ve got new things that I can bring out for this one.”
So, any chance of lifting the lid on these ‘new things’, or was the 32-year-old teasing us to pass time en route to a Friday evening gym session? “You know what, people talk all this sh*t before a fight, probably to convince themselves, but I’m not doing that — that’s why I’ve come off Twitter,” he said.
“People might be sitting there wondering why they haven’t seen me on Twitter, why they haven’t heard from me and why my gym door’s shut. I’m focused, no one’s heard a word from me, until today, and won’t until the fight comes around in three-weeks time.
“I’m not arsed what anyone says. I know the outcome — I’ll get in that ring and do what I know I can do. I won’t say this or that, putting hash tag ‘same result as the last time’, which people tell me Paul’s done. I’m not listening to anything anyone’s saying this time. I’m not arsed about all that — I just want to fight. I’ve just solely concentrated on one thing, getting into shape for this fight and going back to basics.
“But don’t get this all wrong — I get on with Paul, he’s a nice lad and we were on the phone the other week. This is not personal. I don’t want to spoil things between us because I really like the lad. We’re Scousers. We don’t pick sides. We stick with each other.”
It wasn’t just the loss to McKenzie that threatened to derail Dodson’s career in 2012. A failed drugs test saw him hit with a five month ban for ingesting the banned substance Methylhexaneamine via an over-the-counter supplement called Hemo Rage.
Talk about stimulating, the drink almost derailed Dodson’s career and cast a shadow over his reputation, especially as many condemned him without reading the UKAD’s full report, which backed up the statement they made when speaking to BoxingScene last year, namely that: “[The] UK Anti-Doping [Agency] is comfortably satisfied that the athlete did not use MHA to enhance his sporting performance.”
“I got banned for six months because of that stupid stimulant,” said Dodson. “You assume it is alright if you’re picking it up from a shelf. It’s worked out better, me getting that ban. I’ll be the first to admit that I had a lot of flaws, a lot of things to sort out, but you want to improve all the time and you want time to get things right.
“I went into a Board meeting for disciplinary action. In no way shape or form do I want to bad-mouth [BBBoC General Secretary] Robert Smith, because he does a fantastic job, but what I’ll say, and have said to his face, is that the Board needs to take some responsibility. I’ve been a pro fighter since 1999, never failed anything or been disciplined, so I’m under the impression, as are a lot of other fighters, that if you buy it off the shelf then it is legit.
“Look at the law of averages. I’ve taken off-the-shelf stuff before and never failed a test. I did this one time. I saw the stuff online, ‘Dodson’s a cheat’, and all that, and went on there and told them to check out the report. What am I supposed to do? People understood that it was a mistake. I probably wouldn’t have boxed in that time anyway.”
It wasn’t just Dodson, Enzo Maccarinelli tested positive for Methylhexaneamine after using a product called Dexaprine. The hugely popular Welshman is the last person you would cast in the role of ‘drugs cheat’.
“It is harsh for fighters, we’re not chemists and don’t know what the sketch is when it comes to the pharmaceutical side of things,” admitted Dodson. “We’re fighters, end of. Enzo’s a mate of mine; he is cut from the same mould as me, an honest pro who would never cheat. Robert Smith said they are addressing that situation, but they all sat and looked at me as if I had 10 heads for mentioning it. I’m not a cheat, don’t chuck that at me and take a licence fee without giving me some notice into what’s on the list or not.”
The rematch between Dodson and Smith landed on Matchroom’s Bolton Arena bill last month after originally being penciled in for Frank Warren’s postponed Wembley Arena show. Dodson, though, is happy with the switch, telling me that it means he is practically the home fighter.
“I turned pro with Matchroom, I won a British title with them and boxed Carl Froch with them,” he said. “I’ve always been a Matchroom fighter [Writer’s note: Barry Hearn told Nick Peek of the Liverpool Echo that Dodson would be ‘Liverpool’s newest superstar’ during a February 2002 interview], apart from when the Hayemaker thing came up [in 2009], and I’ve spent a lot of time with [Matchroom’s quiet and unassuming Director of Boxing] John Wischhusen — I’d like to think we’re friends. I remember sitting in an office with John, and him telling me that I was the best prospect they had and that they’d do anything I needed to get me to the top, but I had an operation on my hands (in 2002) and that had an effect.”
He added: “This is just an amazing show to be on, but it could be in Thailand or anywhere, all I need is the ref and the judges. Well we won’t need them because it isn’t going to the final bell. I know I didn’t do enough last time. I was really sh*t and under par, but I took Paul to the wire after 12-months out the ring. I don’t care who you are or how many rounds of sparring you have, you can’t beat competitive fights.”
Still their first fight was hardly one for the ages and the rematch was met with a collective groan when Kenny Anderson decided to relinquish the belt to deal with some ‘personal issues’. Dodson doesn’t care what other people think; he believes that he has earned his stripes.
“[Fellow Liverpudlian Super middleweight contender] Rocky [Fielding] is not quite ready,” he said. “Jumping up to that level too early can wreck fighters. I want to win this title and let these other lads fight for the British afterwards because I’ve been there before and want to move forward. I want revenge then the European title.
“This is all thanks to John Rice, he’s changed things for me and I won the British title with him last time we were together. It isn’t called chemistry, it is called respect, and you have to respect your trainer until the point where you’re scared. Not so much fear of them, just fear of letting them down because you respect them so much. You need that for your trainer to get the best out of you.”
Back to the Commonwealth light-heavyweight title challenge to McKenzie, and the moment in round three when Dodson’s legs were stiffened by a succession of clubbing rights from the nightclub doorman. Given the result, Dodson could be forgiven a regret or two over his flirtation with the 175lb division.
“No, I didn’t regret the fight, just the preparation beforehand,” he said. “I was with [Salford-based trainer] Oliver Harrison and, for whatever reason, it just didn’t work out — and I’m not blaming Oliver for that. It was partly my fault that it just wasn’t there for that fight. I’ve got a photo of myself in the car heading over to the weigh-in and I just looked dead.
“The main punch that did me in was a shot to the side of the head from a really big bastard. He clobbered my left ear as I was going down and the force was what knocked me to the floor. McKenzie’s a three-round fighter, I’d have schooled him after three, but he’s a devastating puncher early and good at what he does. I won the first two then he copped me in the third, just like the Froch fight [for the British and Commonwealth 168lb titles in 2006]. The third round must be unlucky for me!”
And that was that. After a bit of a catch-up conversation about two of his favourite subjects, the Mayan Prophecy and Nibiru’s effect on the weather, Dodson had reached the gym; he was ready to put some sweat and tears into yet another top-secret training session. However, the sound of a passing ice cream van on my end of the line provided us both with a timely reminder of the sacrifices a fighter has to make.
“Is that an ice cream van?” he said. “Go on, buy us an ice cream, lad.”
Sure, but it will have to go on ice until both fighters have weighed-in for a rematch that is bound to be better than their gritty and bitty first encounter.
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