Features

Rhiannon Dixon: Waiting for a break

The journey started in 2019; two fights, two wins. Rhiannon Dixon had made those tentative first steps on the professional ladder. Dixon had a fight scheduled for last March, but the global pandemic would leave her kicking her heels in frustration.

“I was gutted. My fight camp was finished, the last week is just about maintaining weight or just going over a few things you want to practice, just winding down really. Then Boris Johnson made that announcement that all public mass gatherings would be banned, I couldn’t believe it,” recalled Warrington’s Dixon, 2-0, O KOs. “You spend all that time and that happens. I was in camp for my fight in December and training with [welterweight] James Moorcroft for his British Title eliminator in January. I had been training in camp since December.” 

Dixon had an unbeaten run on the ‘White Collar’ scene before turning professional. Like many, Dixon has to fit boxing around a day job. She is a qualified pharmacist in an NHS hospital near her home in Warrington, a job which took on new meaning last March.

As Covid-19 changed the world, normal life became one of survival. Dixon saw plenty at the height of the first wave. Untold horrors, colleagues becoming patients, another number on the daily statistics that have become the norm, the true meaning long forgotten. What is seen and witnessed leave permanent scars, the job changed beyond any recognition.

Safety for patients and staff reached new levels, Dixon, thankfully, has felt some semblance of reassurance in a work environment that at times must have felt unbearable.

“The Coronavirus ward is actually one of the safest wards, you know everyone in there has tested positive, and we all take the maximum safety precautions to protect us and everyone else,” she said.

“In our hospital, there is hand sanitiser absolutely everywhere, everyone has got all their PPE on. In a supermarket, you haven’t got that and you could be touching baskets and things and the virus might still be on them. But at work, everything is constantly being wiped down every hour, everyone is really meticulous on the ward with cleanliness and hygiene because we know how dangerous it can be. I feel really protected while I am work.”

Dixon was inspired to take up boxing by watching UFC superstar Ronda Rousey and a desire to lose weight. In many ways, Dixon had found her calling, it was an instant natural fit: “It was probably because I was a dancer and I could pivot/turn into different positions to throw different shots and combinations.”

Adjustments to her day job proved necessary, a financial sacrifice to reach her full potential in the ring. Despite having a job that she loves, the hours involved came at a cost. The early starts, the long days, the mental strain, not a life for a professional boxer.

“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 on 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.”

Dixon has balanced boxing with her job as a pharmacist in an NHS hospital in Warrington.
Photo: Twitter @RhiannonDixon3

Anthony is former WBA lightweight champion of the world Anthony Crolla. Now retired, Crolla is embarking on a new career as a trainer. Dixon and her best friend, fellow professional boxer James Moorcroft, are the latest fighters to hook up with Crolla. They are now several months into the new working relationship and Dixon is pleased with what she has seen so far.

“It’s going really well. 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,” explained lightweight Dixon.

“So we have been focusing 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.”

Having a former world champion in her corner can only be of benefit as the career of Dixon progresses. With her relative inexperience, Dixon is learning on the job as she waits for the phone to ring. Quality sparring will certainly help her development, with fellow prospect April Hunter recently sharing a ring with Dixon. Before everything changed, former Olympian and world title challenger Natasha Jonas also shared valuable sparring time and sees real potential in Dixon. Unified world champion Terri Harper is another fighter who has passed on important experience in sparring.

“Terri is so nice, when I go somewhere to spar someone I get dead nervous. But she came over to me with her coach Stefy Bull and made me feel so at ease. She is actually one of the nicest people I have met in boxing,” said Dixon. “It is good sparring with people like Terri; they are so technical, they are always trying to set things up and looking to counter. They might look as though they are going to throw something, but it is really to counter you. It is really good experience for me, you learn so much. They know what you are planning to throw, you just can’t beat that sort of experience.”

Last year brought plenty of frustration, the stresses of work, no fight in sight and motivation for training waned. But the passing of time, a change of scenery and new daylight for the boxing world have seen a different fighter emerge from the darkness. There have been talks, with a renewed and realistic hope Dixon will soon be able to resume her promising career.

Women’s boxing had a real upsurge in momentum last year, Eddie Hearn’s Fight Camp series gave it a prominent position and the fighters delivered, the moment wasn’t wasted. From indifference and apathy, the fights in that Essex back garden last August changed everything.

The female fighters who had to previously ply their trade in relative obscurity now have a platform to be seen by the masses. Dixon is one such fighter, a potential star who is just waiting for her opportunity to shine.

Main image: Welterweight James Moorcroft; former world champion turned trainer Anthony Crolla and Rhiannon Dixon. Photo: Twitter @RhiannonDixon3