The term, ‘drinking at the last chance saloon’ has become a bit of a cliché in boxing. Fighters such as Audley Harrison talk about their 'final opportunity', and, when they lose, they get rehashed to face some young prospect for a respected title. They then tell the public the same lines as before, and we repeat the cycle until they finally retire.
However, for Tony Dodson (29-7-1 14KOs), his mandated British title super-middleweight clash against fellow scouser Paul ‘Smigga’ Smith really does fall into that category.
Despite once being built as a potential star and holding the British title, Dodson, over the last few years, has lost the big ones. He himself knows that.
“I have really under-achieved in my career. My story is a case of so many ‘what ifs?’ Now I am getting older, I'm 32, and the chances are running out. But I really think this means more to me than is does Smith, as I have more to lose. I am drinking at the last chance saloon, and I am going to fight like that, like it is my last chance.”
Things really do seem, for once, to have fallen into place for Tony. With Kenny Anderson vacating the title for unspecified ‘personal reasons’, it has given Dodson the chance to win back the title he never lost in the ring (a car accident led him being forced to give up the title).
With Anderson vacating, Dodson and Smith were ordered to fight for the vacant belt in a rematch of their encounter for the same title in March 2010 (Smith WPTS). A surprise to many, but not to Dodson.
“There really isn’t anyone else to fight for it. You have Rocky Fielding, and he is a good friend of mine. This guy will be British champion one day, no doubt, but he hasn’t had many fights. What would be the point of ruining him now? Me and Paul have paid our dues and it is right that we fight for it.”
You cannot really argue with the logic. When Anderson won the title, he fought the ghost of Robin Reid. With Degale and Groves moving on to bigger things, and not even bothering to count the likes of Froch and Magee, it is a fight that seems to make sense. Until the likes of Frank Buglioni step up, this will be the best British title fight the division has to offer.
It seemed as though Dodson had seen the last of super-middleweight when, in January 2011, he moved up to light-heavyweight for ‘Prizefighter’. Victories against Michael Banbula and Menay Edwards got him to the final and he looked impressive. Sadly, it was a final he couldn’t participate in due to cuts sustained in his quarter-final against Banbula, but it was certainly a return to form. Two more wins took him to a fight for the Commonwealth belt against Ovill Mckenzie. It was there that it went wrong.
“You have to remember, I only moved up to light-heavy because I had lost my fights against Quigley and Smith. It was easier for me to look for new opportunities up in weight. At ‘Prizefighter’, I showed I was strong at light-heavy. It was all going well until I faced a huge puncher like McKenzie, and he stopped me in three rounds. In that third he caught me round the back of my head and I went down. He then got me on the ropes, landed on my chin and the ref stopped it. But I never went down. Even Smith who was commentating told me I had a great chin. I don’t see him being able to stop me at super-middle.”
The big question for many is, how strong will Dodson be at super-middle, after his time away? Tony is in no doubt that he will be at his best.
“In my last fight in November against John Anthony I weighed in the day before at 12st 1lb. I did that because I wanted to show the Board that I could make super-middle. I only went into the ring at 12st 12lbs because Anthony was 13st 3lbs and I didn’t want to be giving away over a stone in weight. But I fought well, I was hitting and not being hit, it was all good.”
As previously stated, this is a rematch of the fight that took place three years ago. In a packed out Echo Arena, in a British super-middleweight title clash, Smith overcame a horrific cut on the left eye (surviving an inspection in the fourth) to beat Dodson by scores of 117-112, 116-111 and 115-112. Though the result was fair, the scores seemed rather wide (Boxing News only giving the fight to Smith by one). It is a fight that Dodson knows he could have done so much more in.
“I carried a lot of demons into the ring with me that night which all went back to the Tony Quigley fight," said Dodson. "Let’s remember, that fight against Quigley was one of the greatest fights ever to grace a British ring. It was a total war and I got stopped in the twelfth. I was leading on the cards but I was exhausted in the last round and he got me. That stayed with me against Smith.
"I should have gone for him when he was cut, but I was worried about blowing out. I caught him in the twelfth round and my trainer said ‘you’ve got him’. I realised I could have done that all night, and I blew it. But mark my words; those demons have been obliterated now. But he deserved the fight, and did well to come through with that cut.”
Three years down the line, many are wondering what both fighters have left. Dodson himself, is expecting a better Paul Smith than last time.
“Paul says he has got better technically. I find that hard to believe, I think we know what Paul is going to do. But going with Joe Gallagher, he is going to be extra fit. So I think I will be fighting the same Paul Smith, but one who is even fitter.”
It would be remiss not to mention that after the McKenzie fight, Tony failed a drug test which resulted in him getting a four month ban. Dodson was more than willing to speak about what happened.
“I have never been a cheat. When I was dropping my carbs before the Mckenzie fight I was getting tired obviously, so I took ‘Hemo Rage’ which was available over the counter, to perk me up. I never realised it contained Methylhexaneamine which had been banned six months previously. I had stopped taking it a week before the fight, but it showed up. It is the same stuff that Enzo and Dillian Whyte got done for. I showed the drugs guy what I had been taking and he realised what had happened. They gave me a small ban and issued a statement saying that they were satisfied that I was not trying to cheat. I have always felt that if you need to cheat you are in the wrong sport.”
After a number of setbacks, the reclaiming of the British title would mean the world to Dodson.
“In my career, that British title is the only thing that keeps me going, that makes me go to the gym and train my heart out. When I was British champ I used to bring my belt home for my son, Andy. Now I have my daughter Lucia who is four weeks old, and I want to be able to do the same for her. It means everything to me.”
Finally, Tony Dodson has one message for anyone who thinks he may be finished and undeserving of a coveted British title shot.
“People who think I am done can keep talking. Come fight night I will be answering all those questions and I will be British champion once again, mark my words.”
One thing that makes this fight so fascinating is that no one really knows what either fighter has left. But even the most sceptical will say that both have got a huge opportunity here and, at this stage of their careers, they will look to grab it with both hands.
I have a gut feeling this could be something really special.