CRAIG JOHNS BREAKS THE FIRST RULE ‘I have got my family and I’m fat and happy’
CRUISERWEIGHT’S LIFE STORY IN PRINT
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