Rhiannon Dixon: “I really want to get out there, I just want to fight now.”
By Hannah Lucas
When she’s not on the frontline tending to patients on Covid-19 wards and ensuring they’ve got the meds they need, hospital pharmacist, Rhiannon Dixon, is fighting to become an established British lightweight prospect under the supervision of trainer Anthony Crolla.
After being motivated by domineering UFC fighter at the time, Ronda Rousey, she joined her local boxing gym at 20-years-old with the sole ambition of getting fit, but confesses that she ‘fell in love with the sport.’ Her love for boxing drove her down the unlicensed route, before she turned professional in 2019, whilst still pursuing her day-job.
Of that time, Dixon recalls:
“I used to go to the gym at six in the morning, then go to work for the full day, then go to the gym at night. It just wasn’t feasible; I was running on empty all the time.
“But now, since being with Ant, my manager lets me work what hours I can to fit in with boxing, so I’m training in the afternoons with Ant and it is really tiring, but we’re managing it.”
Now under the wing of former world champion, Crolla, Dixon, 25, is destined to reach the pinnacle of her boxing career:
“It’s amazing training under a world champion and learning from him. He’s massive on footwork though. Because I’m a southpaw, that’s one thing he really wants me to get good at and being illusive with all the feints.
“Me and James Moorcroft changed coaches during the pandemic, so we’ve gone back to basics and stripped everything back, so we’re like brand new fighters again. We’ve been working so hard since we’ve been with Ant; we’ve been training like we are in a training camp. It’s been really good, because we’ve had that time to really get to know each other and we’ve not been rushed into a fight. But, I really want to get out there – I just want to fight now.”
But, with lockdown restrictions in place, Dixon hasn’t been able to put that training into practice.
“With the small hall shows, they’re not able to run at the moment and I’m a small hall show fighter. It’s not financially feasible for them to be put on, because putting on a bubble like the big shows costs so much money.
“Last year, I thought I was going to get out maybe four or five times and solidify myself as one of England’s top prospects, but I’ve not been able to do that, so I’ve just been trying to develop what I can with Ant. We thought we’d get to fight in December, but obviously, coronavirus stopped that.
“So, I’m just hoping to get out this year, or get an opportunity on one of the bigger shows. I’m around fight weight now, so if any opportunity becomes available I can jump at it. I’m just trying to train as hard as I can in each training session and hopefully, someone might spot me and be like, ‘she looks alright, let’s get her on a show.”
Recently, Crolla brought in Geordie welterweight, April Hunter, for Dixon to spar against:
“She’s such an amazing person and she’s a really good fighter. She’s got a fight date soon in April, so I can’t wait to see her out.
“We’ve both got a lot to learn from each other and I think we can gain loads from sparring each other. She’s really talented and I think we’re going to be sparring again, so I can’t wait for that.”
Keen to reach the top of her game, the Lancashire lightweight has also got some rounds under her belt with the likes of Natasha Jonas and Terri Harper:
“Being able to spar these world champions like Terri, then Natasha, who’s unbelievable and an Olympian, it’s just a massive confidence boost for me, because I’ve been in the ring with these talented female fighters.
“And obviously, I’m just starting out in my career, so the people I’m fighting aren’t going to be anywhere near their level, but I’ve shared the ring with them.”
Back in 2019, Dixon got to put her initial training to the test. In September, she made her pro debut against experienced Lithuanian, Vaida Masiokaite. The encounter ended in a victory for Dixon and has been hailed by her as the greatest moment of her career so far:
“I didn’t think it was going to go as well as it did, I was so nervous before it and when I was that early on in my career, I just didn’t do things properly. I used to run out in the first round and try to do everything, and then I wouldn’t breathe the whole two minutes.
“I just wish she didn’t get up, but apart from that, my debut couldn’t have gone any better and it was on TV as well. It was just a massive eye-opener into the world of professional boxing for me.”
Alongside experiencing her first victory, her debut was also her first experience of the snide side of the sport.
“I don’t know if you could see it on TV, but when I walked over to touch her gloves she shook her head at me and wouldn’t touch gloves. So, I went back to my corner and I was like, ‘she is on sight now,’ and I just went for her, because I thought, ‘that is just so rude, I’ve done nothing to you and you won’t touch my glove.’
“And then, she was on the same show as me afterwards fighting some other girl and she started waving at me like we were friends. So, I don’t know what’s up with her, I don’t know whether she hates me or were friends,” she laughs
Even though she’s already taking on big names in training and smashing her professional bouts, when asked what her ultimate goal is, Dixon’s humble response reflects her virtue:
“My goal’s just to inspire younger girls, because we don’t see a lot of girls carrying on sports after high school. There’s not a lot of women in sport, it’s only the elite athletes that stay on, so I’m just trying to inspire more girls to get into the sport of boxing.
“It’s not just for lads and like me, hopefully more girls will continue sport after high school, because the next generation, they’re going to be even better than us girls who are pros now, or who are in the amateurs now. So, it’s just to inspire them and hopefully, one day I might be a world champion, but we’ll just take each fight and see how it comes.”
Besides that, despite her success in the pro ranks and brandishing an unbeaten record, Dixon doesn’t intend to hand in her NHS badge any time soon either, especially in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic:
“I love both boxing and my job so much and I do want to keep both up, but we’ll just see what the future holds. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been on the Covid ward and that’s a massive eye-opener. But, I love my job and I love looking after people.”
As she faces the daily traumas of the wards ravaged by the virus, Dixon reveals:
“Obviously there’s a massive emotional aspect. There’s a lot of people dying and initially in the first wave people weren’t allowed to go in and say goodbye to their family members, because we didn’t know how to do it safely.
“But now, one person can go in and say goodbye. So, there’s been times where you can see families making the decision of who’s going to go in and say goodbye to their parent or sibling, and that’s horrible to see.
“Then, the actual coronavirus, seeing how it affects people. One day you go in and they’re fine and then, the next day, you see the palliative nurses are there and they’re on end-of-life meds and you think, how can something change so drastically, so quickly?
“But, I’ve been so fortunate that I still have a job in this time and I still get to do what I love, boxing. So that’s been a massive help, but obviously, some people aren’t as fortunate as me, aren’t working, aren’t able to get to the gym, so I really feel for other people.”
To have such drive and determination to pursue a boxing career alongside a white-collar role, surely there must be some inspirational figures who influence Dixon’s mentality. When asked, she replied:
“I’ve always seen how hard my mum and dad work; they’ve engraved that into me. So, doing this job as a pharmacist and doing this as my dream, it’s second nature to me.
“But, what Stacey Copeland does for a female boxer, she’s always promoting it. Every single time there’s a female sparring, she’ll always invite me, or whenever she’s on the radio, she’s always trying to promote female fighting. The first time I met her she was like, ‘I want to be involved in the Board of Control and do this for female fighting,’ so she’s dead inspirational.
“Then watching a fight like Natasha Jonas and Terri Harper, that’s massively inspirational. Terri was a fan of Natasha and ended up fighting her, and Natasha’s a single mum and yet she’s boxing full-time trying to be a world champion.”
As she looks to others as sources of inspiration, it’s clear to me that Dixon is almost unrivalled in that respect.
She’s an NHS hero, a role model for younger girls and an all-round genuine person – they don’t come more inspirational than that.
It’s inevitable that when her hard work coupled with her talent pays off and she becomes more well-known, she will be deemed an inspiration by many more.