By Richard Hubbard
‘You can talk all you want in boxing, but the true talking is done in the ring’
FEBRUARY 2016 quickly turned into a month of boxing bombshells.
First up, Amir Khan called Kell Brook’s bluff and dealt him out of the school of high stakes by opting to up the ante – not to mention a couple of weight divisions – and head to Vegas to take on Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez. While the boxing fraternity were still digesting the prospect of Khan’s desert storm on May 7, promoter Frank Warren threw an even less predictable curve ball into the mix for his ‘Tale of Two Cities’ show at Liverpool’s Echo Arena on March 12.
Social media began to buzz with rumours of the Hall of Famer firing a bolt from the blue corner onto his already stellar cast list and the guessing games began – Butler-Colan? Smith-Cotto?
No, the unlikely bulletin was the news that undefeated superstar Guillermo Rigondeaux was destined for a date on Liverpool’s docklands with British super-featherweight champion James ‘Jazza’ Dickens.
The show, headlined by Terry Flanagan’s defence of his world lightweight title against another local favourite, Derry Mathews, was originally set for February 12 before an injury to the champion delayed proceedings for a month, opening a lucrative and tantalising door for Dickens.
The 24-year-old, who had began preparations for his mandatory shot at the European title, had gut feeling that a bigger opportunity might just be about to knock and was alerted to the possibility of a punch-off with the ‘WBA super-champion in recess’ a fortnight before the match was made public.
“My management phoned me and asked if I wanted the fight and I did, as any proper fighter would,” recalled the Scouse southpaw. “I snatched at the chance, it was confirmed right away and it was on.
“I had a feeling something good was going to come up and had been training hard already. When I got the call I understood why I had been training so hard, now my chance had arrived and I got into camp straight away.
“Khan-Canelo came about the day before and everyone was shocked, then the next day this came out and people were even more shocked! To say this is a bigger shock is really something and it is great promoting by Frank – I am lucky to have the chance to take the opportunity.”
For Dickens it was divine intervention, with the 21-1 man (ring record, not odds) a fighter with a strong faith. His memorable month was enriched further when his fiance Katie gave birth to their second child, a baby boy named James Jnr.
“I do believe in fate and I believe God has got a will for me,” he reasoned. “Last time when I fought for the British title (a year ago against Josh Wale) we had a baby three weeks before that fight and this is exactly the same. I have been through all this before and I believe it is for a good reason and I believe with this fight I can bring a lot of hope to kids in this city.”
Dickens reveals that his rumpus with Rigo has been particularly well received locally, bringing a media attention to himself that he is not entirely familiar, or comfortable, with. He acknowledges, however, that it all goes with the territory.
“It’s great, I’m blessed and honoured to be in this position, but as a fighter you’ve got to keep yourself away from that. It’s like the bright lights and fame in a sort of way, but you’ve got to keep yourself in the dark a bit and training hard, stay focused and keep your head on the fight.
“It is not for me to enjoy that sort of thing, it is just something that comes with it and I don’t necessarily enjoy it, but I know you have to interact with your fans. I have tried my best to interact, but I have stayed focused as well.
“I think there will be a sell out now Rigondeaux is coming to England, he might never come here again and might definitely not come to Liverpool again. It might be the only time he fights in Liverpool so I think people will get down and see him as boxing fans,” he added, having not really considered the possibility of a rematch should Rigo be repelled.
“Urm, there is no rematch clause in the fight, but I don’t think he is looking past me. He looks at this as a warm-up fight, whereas I’m looking at it as a stepping stone towards a world title.
“Ever since I was a kid I have been looking at Rigondeaux to fight, since he turned professional. I knew I would turn pro one day and I thought it would be for a world title when I fought him. I have been sat waiting for this fight all my life, he doesn’t even know who I am and he will be watching Quigg and Frampton. I will be watching him.”
Dickens’ faith he believes has nurtured him throughout his boxing career of inevitable highs and lows to a point in life now where he suspects his prayers have been responded to. The setback of a defeat to Kid Galahad – a sparring partner for this fight – in 2013, he was quickly able to place into perspective, while his current increased profile will not see him rise above his own self-imposed station.
“Of course, if you believe that much you can’t go wrong. I ask God every night to answer my prayers and he has. My life, from when I was a kid, the way I see my life panning out I couldn’t ask for it to be any different to what it is right now. I’ve got a great family, I’m fighting the best 122lbs fighter in the world right now, I’ve got coaches and great friends around me who have supported me from day one.
“I don’t forget, by the way, I know all this has come about, but I still remember the lads I went to nursery with and they are still coming to these fights. I’m staying grounded, but the opportunities for me have gone massive and I couldn’t have asked for any better.
“I honestly do believe that my prayers have been answered and if you have that much belief there is no way that it can’t be answered.
“I think it is massively important to believe in the people you have by your side when you have your downs because anyone will be there with you when you have your ups. People you have by your side as a fighter when you are going through your downs, you need them a lot more than they need you.
“When I had my only loss as a professional the first thing I done was phone home and say that it is God’s will, don’t worry, we’ll be back. This is like clarification that everything is happening for a reason because it is what I have asked for. It is not like it is landing on my lap, it is what I’ve thought about for years.”
Dickens is choosing to take little notice of the pundits and boxing’s Twitterati, who commend him for taking the fight, but suggest his role in the production is little more than a walk on part to make up the numbers.
He may well be given as much chance as the tortoise against the hare, but exudes a quiet confidence that he refuses to allow outside forces to diminish as fight night nears in his home town.
“Of course and I understand why. He’s won the Olympics and has been world champion as a pro, so I give him the credit he deserves but it is not up to anybody to give me credit, I know my self-worth and I don’t look to anyone for their praise.
“If they can make me confident they can also bring my confidence down by listening to what they say. I try not to get myself involved in what people think, I know that what I’m capable of is inside me, it is not on Twitter, I can’t look for it anywhere outside of my own body or mind.
“Everything I am capable of is inside me already, so what I have to do is believe what I believe, rather than believe what they say.
“He’s not a world champion either, people forget that he is just a man, he is not a machine, he is no god and is not to be idolised by me. He is a man and he is my next opponent. Every bit of talking I’ve done before is in the ring and I’m happy I’ve done that because there’s valuable lessons that I’ve learned from doing my talking in the ring. There are a lot of fighters who shout their mouths off who haven’t got half the knowledge I’ll have going into this top fight.
“You can talk all you want in boxing, but the true talking is done in the ring. If that is not good enough for the media or public then I’m sorry, all I can do is fight.”
The golden ticket presented to Dickens does come without the coveted prize of a world title belt, something he is again philosophical about and puts down to a script written upstairs.
“Yeah it would have been nice if this was for a belt because I’m giving it my all. But I also understand that this is God’s will and this fight means something to me and is happening for a reason, not for a belt. I’ll find out in the future why this is not for a belt and why everything happens.
“Today I woke up and looked at my beautiful family, I just had a son a few days ago, and looked at myself going to the gym and thought ‘how lucky am I to be in this position’, a young Liverpool lad who in less than two weeks time is going to be fighting the best in the world. I am so lucky.”
He might consider himself lucky, but he is doing his utmost to leave little to chance in preparations for taking on who many consider to be the world’s finest fighter. Finding suitable sparring is not an exact science as Rigo replicas are not easy pickings, which has resulted in the coaches at the Everton Red Triangle identifying his numerous strong points and finding sparring partners possessing one of those qualities before piecing it all together.
“I know there is no one on our land better than Rigondeaux so it is hard to get sparring that is going to be as good as him, but there are certain fighters with certain skills that can replicate what he’s got. We might have to go around a few different sparring partners to get it all, it is like a little jigsaw with every spar, you put it all together and on the night hopefully you have got the gameplan spot on.
“You are not going to get an exact replica from anyone, but you will get bits and pieces from various sparring partners. There is also a lot of mental focus and visualisation for me, along with a lot of will, determination and faith. That is where I am at going into this fight.”
Box Office or BoxNation, this is one not to be missed.