Rhiannon Dixon: A New Start
The more times you interview the same fighter, you seemingly get to have a front-row seat on their life and career journey. From the lows of a painful defeat, to the highs of an unlikely victory. You see and share the changes, the disappointments and often treading carefully when asking a specific question. The first time I spoke to Rhiannon Dixon was in late February, the unbeaten Warrington lightweight prospect was busy preparing for her 3rd professional fight, everything seemed relatively simple, the virus seen on the news seemed so far away, but very quickly we found out it wasn’t.
Rhiannon was scheduled to fight in late March, and with only days until the fight, suddenly everything stopped. A full-time pharmacist, focus understandably turned to the day job, harrowing scenes, nervous times, boxing and the motivation for it waned. Gyms closed, nothing to fight for, no fight to aim for, Rhiannon did what she could to retain her fitness, but she admitted it just wasn’t the same.
But, at least for now, things are improving, fights are starting to happen, although, for the smaller promoters, the rising costs of putting on a show are severely restricting what we get. Fighters do now have that semblance of light, a reason to hope that soon they will be back doing what they love.
Rhiannon, with her motivation back, can see a way back, a glimmer of hope that she will be able to make an appearance inside a ring in 2020. But things have changed, a new trainer, a new gym, hours at work adjusted and reduced to accommodate her new surroundings. Money has been sacrificed in the search of a dream, a sacrifice even more impressive in these uncertain financial times:
“I’ve had to cut down my hours now I am training with Anthony. He trains at 2:30 in the afternoon, so I have to move my hours around so I can get to the gym in time. I’m just doing 25 hours a week now for the foreseeable future. In the last camp, I was doing so much work, obviously with me being a pharmacist, you have to stay switched on all the time. I was training at 6 in the morning, then after work and I was getting really tired.”
Anthony is the former WBA lightweight champion of the world Anthony Crolla. Now retired, Crolla is embarking on a new career as a trainer. Rhiannon and her best friend, fellow professional boxer James Moorcroft are the latest two fighters to hook up with Crolla. Six weeks or so into the new working relationship Rhiannon is pleased with what she has seen so far:
“It’s going really well, I’ve been there for six of seven weeks now. We have had this time where nobody has been fighting and we have gone back-to-basics. Anthony said when he first met me that he knows I am an aggressive come forward fighter and he didn’t want to change that but he wanted to add a few extra things to the way I fight. So we have been focussing a lot on my footwork and making me lighter on my feet. I’m just really enjoying and I feel that every session I have I am learning something new. Anthony is very technical, breaking down stuff and he picks up on things, and we work on any weakness he might see. Everything is very structured, he has a plan for you even before you go there. James and I go there at the same time, and some people might give us the same workout or drills to do, but Anthony understands we are completely different fighters. Everything is very methodical and is worked out for our individual needs.”
With Rhiannon being in and around the Manchester area and with the many connections of her new trainer, there is quality sparring available in abundance on her front door with the likes of Chantelle Cameron and Natasha Jonas as options going forward:
“I’ve not done any sparring as yet. But when we do start Anthony has said it will be a lot of technical sparring with James and the other lads in the gym. But obviously he works with Joe Gallagher still and Natasha is there and I have sparred with her before so hopefully, I can spar with Natasha again. After the performance, she gave against Terri Harper you can see how valuable that experience would be to me.”
It was supposed to be a year of building on her two wins in 2019, but with her scheduled March fight falling through Rhiannon hasn’t graced a ring yet this year. But there are tentative plans for a return to action in early December, although, with the latest wave of rising infections and more government restrictions, even those plans have a great degree of uncertainty around them:
“My manager Steve Wood is on about putting on one of those dinner shows with waiter service as you can only have a certain amount of people in arenas or halls. But with all the local lockdowns and the rules keep getting changed I don’t know if it will come off, I hope it does because I haven’t had a fight this year.”
In May when we last spoke, Rhiannon without any hopes of a forthcoming fight and her regular gym routine assigned to the past, motivation levels understandably dropped, more so with the stresses of her day job at the height of the pandemic. But many months on, things have eased at work, a little hope for a fight in the future. With a new gym to call home and having her friend James Moorcroft in the gym alongside her, Rhiannon fully intends to make up for lost time:
“My fitness dropped massively, I was trying to do bits but it wasn’t the same. I put on a bit of weight which I am now trying to shift. Having James in the gym with me helps massively. He is my best friend and my partner’s friend as well, and because I am quite shy when I meet new people or go into new places, I am dead quiet. So having James there is good because he is a massive chatterbox he takes all the conversation, so it is really good to have a familiar face around me.”
Over the recent August Bank Holiday period, thoughts of seaside trips and ice cream were replaced by the gruelling Three Peaks Challenge. Rhiannon, her partner Ross and James attempted to climb Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon, the highest peaks in Scotland, England and Wales in under 24 hours in aid of Wigan and Leigh Hospice. The trio did each peak one after the other, taking it in turns to drive to each one, and they finished their quest in just over 21 hours, and in the process raising over £1400 for the Hospice:
“We’ve always enjoyed doing the walks and then we took James one time and he really enjoyed it. With so many people donating to the NHS, some of the other charities have kind of been forgotten and are now struggling. So we all thought we would do a challenge we have already wanted to do and raise money for the Hospice”
Sometimes we make appointments our bodies can’t keep, or at the very least shouldn’t keep. Good ideas often end up being very painful ones:
“It was horrible. We didn’t have a driver, he pulled out at the last minute. So on the Thursday night we were thinking we wouldn’t be able to do it, but we had put it all over social media that we were going to do it. So I drove up to Scotland, and we just took in turns driving. When we were walking up Scafell we didn’t speak to each other, we were just so hungry and tired, it was really hard.”
With so few cards around at the moment and that is unlikely to change in the next 6 months or so, many boxers will sadly fall away from the sport, and probably, never to return. But at just 25, Rhiannon has time on her side. A year of change and frustration could be of immense benefit going forward. There is no rush, patience will be key. Time will allow the new partnership to gel and thrive. The shy reserved fighter on the other end of the phone will have her day to shine, the switch will be pressed on what makes a fighter gravitate from normal mode to fighter mode.
With her sport booming and the depth and quality increasing, Rhiannon wants in. There is real hope that titles are part of her future and hopefully, in the coming months, that promise will have an opportunity to develop and flourish.