Following close to two years of verbal sparring, three postponements and a catalogue of obstacle and misfortune, Liverpool’s former British Super-Middleweight champion Tony Dodson finally exchange blows with current champion Carl Froch in Nottingham, England tonight.
Tony Dodson’s propensity for injury and withdrawal caused fans, writers and the champion himself to question his stomach for the contest. In Froch, Dodson had an opponent willing to pose the question publicly and for a long time it appeared unlikely Dodson would ever get the opportunity to prove the doubters wrong.
A degree of mutual, if begrudged, respect remains, but equally conspicuous is the genuine dislike or mistrust the unfortunate delays nurtured. In short, this is an old-fashioned needle match.
Whilst the history of the fight is littered with bad luck and disappointment, the delay has also allowed interest to grow – arguably disproportionate to the present value of the matchup.
However, in this fractured era of multiple sanctioning bodies, spurious eliminators, super-champions and inter-continental titles it is refreshing to see the high regard the classic British title and the accompanying Lonsdale belt still holds. In conversation with Froch a year ago this week, his eagerness to secure the Lonsdale belt to keep – achieved after three successful defenses – was palpable.
Beyond that this fight, though enriched by the pair’s troubled history, represents little more than the completion of the domestic jigsaw for the champion. Providing closure ahead of a presumed assault on European and World honors in the New Year. Highly ranked by all the significant sanctioning bodies, if such a concept isn’t too paradoxical, Froch is well placed to provide challenge to the two current custodians of all four belts; Joe Calzaghe and Mikkel Kessler. Alternatively, he could contest the inevitably vacated belts should the Welshmen and the Dane commit the ultimate crime and fail to unify. As a leading figure within the Hennessy stable it is highly likely the WBC opportunity would arrive first given the opportunities garnered for Junior Witter and Howard Eastman.
A growing fan base – 6-8,000 fans routinely emerge for ‘Froch nights’ and various appearances on SKY, BBC and, fleetingly, ITV – ensure a nationwide recognition of the champion. Froch is a fighter going places and the moment of truth is fast approaching.
Providing stark contrast, the stuttering career of opponent Tony Dodson – still three years the champion's junior and with forgotten potential of his own – approaches the fight seeking redemption. Dodson’s pedigree and potential are widely forgotten since the maelstrom of bad publicity his injuries and withdrawals generated. Premature prophecies of a knockout return on Internet forums further maligned his reputation amongst the sport’s diehard fans. Recent comments certainly show a man learning from the experience and patently delighted to soon be able to return to his truer self – one who believes actions speak louder than words.
I spoke to Tony earlier in the summer and I was struck by his sincerity and humility, a far cry from the super-confidence tonight’s opponent exudes. The former champion has certainly become acutely aware of those that have stood by him during the difficult times he’s endured: “I love Liverpool and am proud to say I am from there. All my family and friends know I am a level-headed person that doesn’t let any of this [boxing notoriety] go to my head. If I did I am sure my mates would pull me down a peg or two!”
Clearly home comforts and the spirit of the Garston area of Liverpool provide familiarity and foundation for much of Tony’s life, only leaving the area to find focus and rededication to boxing in Ireland. Now 26, and potentially one punch away from recapturing the British title – Dodson’s lifelong friends and his family remain a secure anchor. “I’m still good friends with the same group of lads I’ve always associated with, most are ex-boxers and keeping ‘Yingi,’ Karl, Eddie, Mark, James and Dean as friends is really important to me as they knew me when I had nothing and treat me the same. But the main man, personal and professional, is my Dad.”
Talking to fighters, usually the product of working-class or deprived areas, frequently elicits tales of broken homes or, like Tony, parents who provided unstinting, selfless support for their son’s career. “He (Dad) used to work nights on the cabs, stay up all night to take me to the gym in the morning – just so I could be the best at what I do. He’d fall asleep in the car – that’s what you call dedicated [and I] love him for it. I try to be the same with my boy, Anthony. Being over here [in Ireland] all the time I don’t get the time I need with him – I just hope he doesn’t hold it against me when he’s older.”
Whatever the outcome tonight, Tony Dodson will be grateful for the opportunity to fight Froch – whether he is quite ready given his extended periods out of the ring and lack of rounds since is open to conjecture. But when you’ve withdrawn three times and your nemesis is only one more step away from leaving domestic class – ducking the fight was never really an option. “As for him saying I ducked the fight? That really is untrue. I’ve never ducked a fight in my life and I’m not going to now after 38 Amateur fights and 23 (now 24) [pro fights]. That’s a load of sh– – but I understand why he would think that after all that happened.”
Referring to Dodson’s amateur career uncovers surprising success for the uninformed, an England team member and Junior gold medallist – Dodson has pedigree that, as yet, he has failed to transfer consistently to the professional sport. “I was picked at 16 for the under-19 squad, which was an achievement in itself. I won 4 schoolboy titles, beating Enzo Maccarinelli (current WBO Cruiserweight champion) on the way to one of them. Won the Junior A.B.A’s twice and won the Junior Olympics in North Michigan in 1996. In 1995 I was in the same England team as Nicky Cook, Ricky Hatton and David Barnes that beat Russia on their soil – first English team to do that. I knocked out about 18 of my 38 opponents as an Amateur – I’ve always been able to hit!”
Impressive credentials for the current English champion and given the progress and standing of his contemporaries, Hatton, Cook and Maccarinelli in the ensuing decade it would be easy to stamp failure across his resume. But with this fourth chance to face the highly touted Froch, and with a commanding right hand at his disposal – a story of success, persistence and self-belief may yet be penned. It’s would certainly represent a belated ascent for the likeable Scouser.
Sky Sports televise in the UK.