If Warner Bros turned Tony Dodson’s life into a movie, many would feel it was too far fetched. As will be seen during this interview, had certain moments have played out differently, he may be sitting here a former World Champion. Not many fighters have 41 professional fights, never mind some of the bruising encounters in Dodson’s’ incredible repertoire. Tony’s boxing story began in 1985 and a Merseyside cinema.
“I went to watch Rocky IV, at Walton cinema, my dad took me with my brother and sister and from that, I never looked back. I left school at a young age and was getting paid to box from the age of 12 when I was on 50 quid a week. By the time I was 18 I was on 600 quid a week cash in hand, I was smashing it and you think its gonna last forever, but it doesn’t. My dad never missed a training session, he’d work nights and then take me to the gym at eight and sleep in the car outside.”
Dodson had a great amateur career, which is still talked about to this day, despite only having a handful of fights. Such success meant he entered the professional game highly touted, at a young age, with multiple promoters fighting to gain his signature.
“I was young. I’d won seven national titles and a junior Olympic gold medal after only 38 amateur fights and had never lost to anyone from England. I mean, David Haye pulled out of the NABC finals wouldn't fight me because of my record. My background gave promoters something to promote me with but in reality, I didn’t have enough fights, having to learn my trade like a pro. I took on the name ‘Warrior’ and had to live up to it. How the hell was I going to really make an assault on the pro division with no experience?”.
He made his pro debut on the 31st of July 1999 and it could not have gone more to script. He stepped into the ring with Michael McDermott, dispatching him easily in the first round.
“I’d just turned pro and was excited to get on the big stage and I had the weight of the world on my shoulders, expectations were high. When you’re young and naïve you think everything’s easy, but I was a boy in a man’s game. I was nervous and I didn’t always control that, people thought I was the next big thing, rightly so after what I’d done as an amateur. I remember walking to the ring, there was a good crowd and I had a few hundred people down even though it was in Carlisle. Being a young lad, with Barry Hearn walking you to the ring and the original Matchroom attire, it was surreal. But the fight lasted 25 seconds, I finished it with a left hook and folded him”.
Dodson went on a thirteen fight unbeaten streak over the span of the next two years, with multiple knockout victories. As such, he lived up to the name ‘Warrior’ with his youthful enthusiasm and ability to finish to the fight at any second. Confidence was high going into face Varujan Davtyan, an unknown fighter from Armenia. However, the fight would go to points, inflicting Tony to his first loss as a professional.
“I shouldn’t have lost that fight. One thing that happened back in those days was never seeing them get on the scales. And you could see physically he was two stone heavier and he was unheard of in this country. He had an abundance of experience, with over 20 fights. I just got involved in his type of fight, whereas as I got older, I got more experience and learned how to control fights. Even though I was always game for a fight, I controlled them a lot better and if I used that sort of mentality and ability with knowledge back then I wouldn't have lost.”
As the fights became tougher, it became more apparent that natural ability would no longer be enough. Whilst cutting down to the super-middleweight limit was also proving to be a struggle.
“It's not going to be a walk in the park. You know that as you move up levels, they don't just fall over. You have to use skill and ability to get the openings and then take them out. I just started to use my size far too many times because I was big at the weight. The first time I made 12 Stone, I was 14 years of age. The weight cut was 12 weeks of hell basically living off nothing. Everyone will say our Sport Science has come a long way and it would have helped me had I known back then.”
Not only was the weight cut hurting his body, but it also resulted in his post-weigh-in routine which also became a stumbling block. Nutrition was not the same as it is now, and as a result, Dodson found himself feeling sluggish on fight night.
“I wasn't educated with nutrition, don't forget this was 1999, it wasn't the way it is now, and the knowledge wasn’t there with the internet. I got on the scales made the weights, then I’d run to McDonald's and I'd eat an abundance of shit. Then two minutes later, I’d throw up it was just to get that craving. Obviously, that's gonna be bad for you. It had adverse effects, I performed shit the next day because I wasn't putting in the right nutrition. But again, hindsight is a beautiful thing.”
That loss to Davtyan shocked everyone, but it is a testament to Tony and his attitude that he followed it up by fighting dangerous competitor Brian Barbosa. The American was highly thought of in boxing circles however had not had the exposure in Britain at that time. Dodson took the fight on only four days' notice after IBO champion Brian Magee pulled out of the fight.
“We knew the guy. We knew his record. We know what he's done. We know what he's about. We knew I’d win. And then I went to look at his record, he was ranked by every governing body in the top five in the world. He was a beast, a genuine opponent. Name someone else from my city who’s boxed someone who is ranked that high, but I did. I absolutely schooled him. At that weight, I looked physically bigger, stronger, and a lot sharper and faster. But again, when I dropped them in the sixth round, I snapped the tendon in my knuckle. So, I was out of the ring again for another six months.”
After that impressive victory, he went onto fight for the WBF Intercontinental Super middleweight title. A fight he would win, but once again he found the weight cut difficult.
“Then in the next fight, I looked like a different man because I had to kill myself to make the weight. The Russians have been doing it for years. Eastern European countries are supposed to be so far behind, but they’ve been doing this for 20 years. Sports science, training properly, getting it right with the food and nutrition. We're just so far behind compared to them. Now, obviously we are starting to catch up but back in the 90s they were so far advanced.”
Then in 2004, days before he was scheduled to defend his British title for the first time, he damaged his t9 vertebrae in a devastating car crash. This proved to be a tough time both physically and mentally, with his career on the edge.
“I had a car crash and was on the sidelines for 18 months or so. Well, that’s life, shit happens. I'm gonna come back from it. I went into depression after that and I didn't think I was gonna fight again because I was in a mess, I was in a bad way. I didn't know where I was going, what I was doing. I've had to relinquish the British title, which was the best night of my life, winning the most coveted belt.”
It was a phone call from Barry Hearn, which helped him get a chance to change his training camp and get his career back on track, gaining revenge over Davtyan.
“Barry phoned me and said, listen, I know what you're going through. I think you've got so much to offer and I’m going to send you to Ireland. Being away from all the bad things that dragged me down, gave me a new lease of life. I wanted to make up for lost time. I came back and boxed Davtyan and knocked him out which was refreshing.”
After three more consecutive victories, he gained the opportunity to win back his British title when he travelled to the National Ice Arena in Nottingham to face Carl Froch. After a competitive start, a left hand to the body ended the fight, with only five seconds remaining in the third round.
“I think I took the Froch fight too early. I should have had another couple of tests before I got there because for me it was more personal, because of what he said. He said I dodged him, I don’t give a fuck I’ll fight anyone, I’ve never dodged a man in my life, to this day. I didn’t really give him as much credit as he deserves, he’s quite possibly the best super-middleweight this country’s ever seen. To win four world titles the way he did it, he’s got a solid chin and I was under pressure to take that fight and it was a massive payday.”
‘The Cobra’ was backed by a rowdy home crowd, although due to Dodson’s experience this did not phase him.
“It was my first time on the big stage. It was exciting, but the crowd didn’t faze me one bit. Once you get in that ring, it's just you and them. It doesn't matter where it is, it could be in Beirut. I went to Russia and everywhere as an amateur. Once that bell goes, it's you and him.”
In true Dodson style, he followed the loss again by putting together four consecutive points victories. Carl Froch had moved onto world level, once again freeing up the British title, creating a fight with fellow Merseyside hopeful Tony Quigley. Quigley had only lost one professional fight at the time, to Nathan Cleverly. Everyone in attendance at the Echo Arena that night was part of a special fight, a back and forth encounter which was one for the ages. ‘The Warrior’ dominated the majority of the fight, with Quigley looking all but beat until the twelfth and final round.
“With the Quigley fight, I don’t know how I lost it. There were 60 seconds left, I was eight rounds up on every single card. Even though he dropped me in the second I was still eight rounds clear on every scorecard. I was in such great shape, training in the Hayemaker camp out in Cyprus, I had the best preparation I could have asked for. It won the fight of the year and was probably the best performance of my career, but it was gutting for me. I was proud of the fight and in he’s clearly got a steal chin, I can punch and I fucking hit him. I caught him with everything and he just didn’t budge one bit, he hung in there and it worked for him. I’m not a bitter man, it was his day and it was an absolute war from start to finish.”
To be continued in part two