CRAIG JOHNS BREAKS THE FIRST RULE ‘I have got my fam­ily and I’m fat and happy’

CRUISERWEIGHT’S LIFE STORY IN PRINT

Sunday Sun - - Boxing -

ASK most Bri­tish box­ers as they turn pro­fes­sional what they would like to achieve, the ma­jor­ity would dream of win­ning a Bri­tish ti­tle.

That famous Lord Lons­dale belt is al­ways highly-cov­eted and for New­cas­tle’s pop­u­lar cruiserweight Jon-Lewis Dick­in­son he not only won one, he de­fended it suc­cess­fully three times to ensure one now sits per­ma­nently and proudly on his man­tel­piece.

De­spite that, as Dick­in­son sits in NINE Bar at St James’ Park re­flect­ing on his ca­reer ahead of the re­lease of a book of his life story which is out this month, it’s clear that there are frus­tra­tions that he didn’t go be­yond that. No re­grets, but cer­tainly frus­tra­tions.

A de­cent am­a­teur, Dick­in­son signed with in­flu­en­tial pro­moter Kel­lie Maloney and won Prize­fighter be­fore mak­ing his suc­cess­ful run to the Bri­tish strap and his de­fences.

But hav­ing won the ti­tle out­right, Dick­in­son wanted a lit­tle time off to cel­e­brate and was in­stead thrust straight back in against Ovill McKen­zie where he lost the belt more through lack of mo­ti­va­tion than any­thing. Des­per­ate to put it right, he jumped quickly back in against Court­ney Fry but in­jured his leg in the build-up and was un­able to run. Re­fus­ing to pull out, he fought and was beaten again.

So by the time Match­room Box­ing an­nounced a show at the Metro Ra­dio Arena with An­thony Joshua in 2015, a match-up with Stephen Sim­mons felt like a cross­roads mo­ment in his ca­reer. Go­ing in many won­dered if Dick­in­son was fin­ished.

Prov­ing the doubters wrong, the pop­u­lar Ge­ordie stopped the un­de­feated Scots­man by fin­ish­ing him in the eighth round in ar­guably the per­for­mance of his ca­reer. “It was class that night. Re­mem­ber the crowd? The whole place just went up. It was un­real,” he says with a huge grin. “I al­ways tell peo­ple I shouldn’t have been in for McKen­zie or Fry. I wish I could erase those two fights from mem­ory. “But ob­vi­ously it just sounds like ex­cuses and peo­ple think you’re ly­ing. But I al­ways knew that with a proper camp I would be able to do what I said I could.

“So when I proved it, and the crowd went men­tal, I was over the moon. It was such a big thing.”

The re­lief that night was plain to see. As the of­fi­cial stepped in, Dick­in­son took a step back, paused for a mo­ment to let the a t m o s - p h e r e sink in, than sank to his knees with his head in hands. He ad­mit­ted af­ter that de­feat could have ended his ca­reer.

As it hap­pened, the win, which gifted him a WBC sil­ver in­ter­na­tional belt and world rank­ing, looked at the time to be the start of phase two of the Jon-Lewis Dick­in­son story. At that time there were even mur­murs of a po­ten­tial match-up with Tony Bellew whom he’d lost to as an am­a­teur.

“We all thought that Sim­mons win was go­ing to be the spring­board to big­ger things.

“It was a big win on a big show and I’d got my­self in bril­liant shape – phys­i­cally and men­tally. I showed it in that fight. “My­self, Ron (Rowe) and Gary (Barr – his two coaches) had big plans and wanted to re­ally push on but the fights just didn’t come.” Af­ter the Sim­mons win Match­room chief Ed­die Hearn had promised to quickly re­turn to New­cas­tle but var­i­ous things hap­pened such as in­jury to B r a d l e y S a u n d e r s and the loss his younger b r o t h e r T r a v i s en­coun­tered on the card, which ul­ti­mately de­railed those plans and left Dick­in­son in limbo. At a time when mo­men­tum was high and fans were hot on the cruiserweight, Dick­in­son didn’t know when the next fight was com­ing. A po­ten­tial New­cas­tle show was resched­uled about four times be­fore never hap­pen­ing at all, while an of­fered fight in Manch­ester fell through also. It was a year later when he did even­tu­ally step back into the ring, but only on a small-hall show in Gateshead against jour­ney­man Jiri Svacina. It was a tune-up ahead of a fight in Glas­gow with un­de­feated Tommy McCarthy which was meant to get Dick­in­son back on track to­wards world hon­ours.

But by now, Dick­in­son’s heart had com­pletely gone.

“It was frus­trat­ing be­cause I just felt like that mo­men­tum was wasted,” he con­tin­ued. “Peo­ple were ex­cited and want­ing to know when the next one was com­ing. It felt like I was let­ting peo­ple down, even though I wanted to fight. My next fight was over a year later and by this time I’d grew so frus­trated with the sport that I just wasn’t men­tally right any­more. I’d fell out of love with the sport.

“It was a warm-up fight in Gateshead and I’ve never en­joyed fight­ing jour­ney­men. I couldn’t get up for it at all but I did need to get the rust off.

“So then next I fought Tommy McCarthy on a big show in a mas­sive arena in what should have been the big one for me, but there was no­body there. I took a few fans down but I couldn’t see or hear them be­cause they were stuck that far up in the crowd. The at­mos­phere was crap.

“Com­par­ing that to when I fought in the arena in New­cas­tle, it just killed it off for me.

“I boxed ter­ri­bly that night be­cause my heart just wasn’t in it any­more. I knew then I was fin­ished, enough was enough.

“Truth­fully, go­ing in re­tire­ment was al­ready in my mind. ‘Get beat and I’m re­tir­ing’, I was think­ing. A boxer shouldn’t even be think­ing about de­feat. I f you are, you’ve lost al­ready.”

Hav­ing started box­ing at the age of 11, Dick­in­son re­tired aged 31. Twenty years ded­i­cated to a sport as de­mand­ing as box­ing.

Sure it brought plenty of frus­tra­tions, but many great mem­o­ries too.

“In many ways it’s a re­lief to be done now. I do go to the arena shows and get the itch, but I’m happy in life. I’m fat and happy!” he jokes.

“I’ve got my fam­ily and a re­ally good busi­ness (Dick­in­son has his own Land­scap­ing com­pany – JLD Ground­works), so in the most part I don’t re­ally miss box­ing. It re­ally does con­sume your life.

“I loved box­ing and ev­ery­thing I achieved through it, but it does take over and it’s nice not have that any­more.

“Even just lit­tle things like when I was ac­tive I would con­stantly feel guilty about the slight­est lit­tle cheat meal or snack. Your mind is just con­stantly think­ing about your weight and keep­ing it down – even when not in fight camp. I was con­stantly watch­ing what I was eat­ing and watch­ing my weight. And then you couldn’t leave the house with­out peo­ple ask­ing about when your next fight was. Don’t get me wrong, I loved stop­ping and talk­ing to peo­ple, but to­wards the end when the fights weren’t com­ing – par­tic­u­larly af­ter Sim­mons – it was just frus­trat­ing be­cause they were ask­ing and I couldn’t tell them any­thing be­cause I didn’t know my­self.”

Quite of­ten re­tir­ing from box­ing can be dif­fi­cult for those who ded­i­cate their whole life to some­thing that just sud­denly isn’t there any­more.

As Dick­in­son tucks into some juicy-look­ing ribs be­fore he heads off to a steak joint he’s been rec­om­mended, it’s clear Dick­in­son is not one of those sad cases. His life is one of great mem­o­ries of the past, but a happy and hope­fully fruit­ful fu­ture.

Jon-Lewis Dick­in­son re­acts af­ter beat­ing Stephen Sim­mons of Scot­land in their WBC In­ter­na­tional Sil­ver Cruiserweight Cham­pi­onship bout

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