Rhiannon Dixon: “Katie Taylor came to watch my fight. And when I was talking to Katie in the changing room it just felt like a dream.”

Rhiannon Dixon: “Katie Taylor came to watch my fight. And when I was talking to Katie in the changing room it just felt like a dream.”

When I interview Rhiannon Dixon many things repeat themselves. There are swear words, mainly by her, actually, exclusively by her. We exchange gossip, trust me, if we released the unedited Zoom recording, we would get sued and cancelled. I sometimes think an interview is a stretch of a description. 60 minutes or so of chat, a fraction used for the finished written article, they always start and end the same way. I ask a question Dixon answers another one I didn’t ask. But we get there, it takes longer than perhaps it should. But we get there. Eventually.

The more you interview certain fighters the more they become less formal. Trust is built, and you get more out of the fighters the more you speak to them. Bit by bit you build that bond. I’m still wary, I like to be the fall guy in the banter. People say the pen is mightier than the sword. I would rather not test that theory. For safety reasons, my own, I hold back. At least I tell myself that. There is a reason why I write and not fight.

Dixon has come a long way since I first interviewed her early last year. We all have. The initial frustrations of not being able to fight because of the lingering pandemic have been replaced by a fighter now fighting under the bright lights of Matchroom and DAZN.

The Matchroom debut took place on December 18th in Manchester. The opening act on a special night. It should have come sooner, Dixon should have fought in October in Liverpool until she was pulled from the card the day before her fight because no opponent could be found. And it very nearly happened again. Opponents came and went until her first-ever professional opponent stepped in to save the day:

“She was meant to come over on the Tuesday before the fight but she didn’t arrive, and nobody told me they were trying to protect me like last time. But on Wednesday I still didn’t have an opponent. I then got to the press conference on Thursday and was told it was Vaida Masiokaite. I wanted somebody else but I was so grateful she stepped in at such short notice to take the fight because it could have been Liverpool part two.”

The unbeaten Warrington prospect eventually got her fight, but not until she had to endure a tough and stressful fight week. Dixon told FightPost she thought it would be a repeat of what happened in Liverpool:

“I got really down about it. I thought this is it I’m not fighting again. And I thought all these tickets I’ve sold I am going to have to go and give refunds, it would have been so embarrassing. I had all these sponsors from my last fight which all ran over to this fight and I thought I would have to tell them I am not fighting again. They had all bought tickets for Liverpool and then again for Manchester, and then if I was to go on another Matchroom card they’d be thinking is she even going to fight, that was what I kept on thinking. Usually, on fight week I can imagine myself getting into the ring, but during that week I told Anthony I couldn’t imagine myself fighting with all that was going on. I said to him I will only think I’m fighting when I step in the ring and see my opponent opposite me.”

Fighters need that smooth transaction from fight week to the actual fight. Preparation is key, but Dixon was denied that. Opponent changes, having to deal mentally with thinking her fight might be off, it all comes at a cost. The first night on the big stage was a big moment for Dixon and despite her own too self-critical assessment overall it was a job well done and with more lessons in the bank to draw on down the road:

“I was obviously training for Tereza Dvorakova and then it got changed to a southpaw. So the last few weeks I was training for a southpaw opponent and then Vaida stepped in who is an orthodox fighter. I didn’t think Vaida wanted to commit to any of her punches and she was dead negative. So it was hard to get up for it and it was obviously nerve-wracking fighting on a Matchroom show especially coming from White-Collar. I have never been on that sort of stage before. But it was all a learning curve though.”

Dixon improved her record to 4-0, winning a comfortable 60-54 decision over Masiokaite. Being first on the card meant only friends, family and the hardcore got to witness her Matchroom debut. Despite the problems in fight week, the experience on fight night was valuable. The sparse crowd equalled less pressure. Dixon could hear her trainer Anthony Crolla shout out the instructions without the intrusion from a vocal crowd, it gave her time to grow into her new environment.

When Dixon returned from a long absence in September, she wasn’t pleased with her performance, and in Manchester, the feeling was the same:

“I don’t really notice the crowd I can only hear certain voices. I could hear everything Anthony was saying to me, what he was telling me to do. I haven’t even watched it yet. It was awful. I got out of the ring and told Ant that is probably the worst I have ever fought and I said do you think they will have me back, he said well obviously yes. I said I don’t think so based on that performance. But when I spoke to Katie Taylor afterwards she said there wasn’t much more I could have done and she told me that she had fought people who were dead negative and you just can’t get to them. I am really over critical of myself, obviously, Ant said there are things we need to work on but he said I didn’t need to be so self-critical of myself. I know I am a million times better than that.”

Much like her ‘comeback’ win in Bolton Dixon is being overly harsh on her performance. A far from ideal build-up, an opponent who wouldn’t engage and her first time on the big stage, the fight and the experience still ticked many boxes. Despite everything, Dixon can still be pleased with her night’s work. It sets things up quite nicely for 2022.

Dixon is used to sparring with the elite, and she will enhance that even further when she will have the opportunity to train with the undisputed lightweight champion Katie Taylor early next year. Taylor was in Manchester on media duties for DAZN, and was in the arena early to see Dixon make her Matchroom debut:

“Katie Taylor came to watch my fight. And when I was talking to Katie in the changing room it just felt like a dream. Then I went to work today and people were asking me about the fight. But when I was going around speaking to patients, I was thinking on Saturday I was fighting at the AO Arena and nobody even knows. It’s like Hannah Montana living two different lives.”

The double secret life is typical of most boxers. Most have day jobs, supplementing the passion. Dixon has taken time away from her job as a pharmacist in an NHS hospital. Dropping hours to focus more on the boxing, says plenty about where her priorities now lie. Boxing won’t wait, one chance to realise the potential and the considerable hype that is around the former White-Collar fighter.

Dixon has been in an almost constant state of weight cutting during the past 12 months. Staying ready, staying in camp for fight dates that came and went without reward. But 2021 ended on a high, but the weight cut is hard on her and those closest to her:

“I’m awful in fight week. I am so moody, Ross and I argue all the time during fight week. I don’t cut a lot but I am very sensitive, I love food. I was walking around the Trafford Centre and I was so grumpy. I was thinking all these people could go into any restaurant and just eat what they want. I was so grumpy and so moody. I kept thinking that they could pick up some chocolate and just eat it and I can’t. So that obviously didn’t help. When we were running prior to the fight and we had to run past people who were having takeaways and we could smell them, I said, what sicko has a takeaway.”

The plan is to keep learning and staying active. Dixon isn’t getting ahead of herself and knows the importance of pacing her career correctly:

“I just need to stay active. I wish I had fought in September, October and then December, but obviously, that didn’t happen. But I am hoping I can stay as active as possible. I’m still learning on the job. I haven’t got all the amateur experience of going to tournaments around the world and fighting the type of opponents some of the girls have. But when I turned professional that was something I took into account coming from the White-Collar scene. So I am not bothered about moving slowly because I am still learning, so all the experience I can get I will take. That’s why I like sparring and training with all these amazing girls like Chantelle Cameron and Natasha Jonas because I can learn so much.”

Her life has changed so much during the last year. Without restrictions, it would have moved even quicker. But 2002 offers Dixon hope and plenty of it. The rough diamond of talent will evolve further in the next 12 months. Under the guidance of Crolla and being able to spar with the likes of Jonas and others on a daily basis will only see her career go in one direction.

Photo Credit: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing

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