Oliver McManus @OliverGMcManus
Liam Dillon bids for his first professional title in a matter of days when he face David Birmingham on March 9th.
That fight will see the winner crowned the Southern Area super featherweight champion. I caught up with Liam, who has been making steady progress over the last two years, and began by asking him how he thought 2018 went.
“Well I started by fighting Kristian Laight and he’s a very tough man, as you’ll know, got the win against someone who was tricky and I learned a lot in terms of when to throw the punches and shot selection.
I really pissed him off and he had to try to knock me out
After that I had my toughest fight against Dean Evans, he really loves a tear-up. I remember seeing an interview with Mike Tyson, years ago, and he said he would love to go out and never take his eyes off his opponent so I did that to Dean. He told me after that I really pissed him off and he had to try to knock me out. He kept on throwing overhand rights and big left hooks to the body so I really had to box smart and dig deep in that fight.
Had the summer off and I fought Antonio Horvatic who has been around a bit and only gets stopped every so often. We looked at him and worked on pumping out the jab, leading with an uppercut before turning in a body shot. I caught him with some clean shots and he never went down easily. I really had my mark on that fight, dropped him three times and finished it in the third.
Then I finished the year against Michael Horabin who, I’ve got to admit, is a horrible opponent.”
Despite the journeyman nature of these opponents, Liam was keen to point out that each fight had been a learning experience with each fight bringing out something different from the performance of Dillon.
“None of them have been easy. I’ve seen shows where people are in the away corner and you just think ‘how have you got a license?’ They go over from one punch but that can be really bad for your ego if your opponents just go down from anything so I’m happy getting involved with these tougher fights. People look at my record and might think I’m not a big puncher because I’ve only got that one knockout but they’ve all been durable opponents.
He was the first one to start getting fiery and then I fought back
“Horabin was mobile so that taught me a lot about not rushing in. Sometimes I would rush in and I’d get clipped with a shot so I’d have to reset myself. Each guys has taught me different things about the sport.
I’d say that Dean Evans fight was probably the one I learnt most in because he’s the one that made it a fight, if that makes sense. He was the first one to start getting fiery and then I fought back. I was lunging in with my jab, I was swinging with him and I walked out with a busted lip and eye. That was a massive learning curve because I sat down with my team and focussed on getting back to those basics, working the jab and the angles.”
Those fights have seen the 23 year old mature significantly ahead of his years to the extent that I always forget he is so young. That is of no concern to the Sparta Gym fighter when it comes to facing Birmingham, his 37 year old adversary, on March 9th.
“After I fought Horvatic I had asked Steve (Goodwin) to get me a shot at the Southern Area title so that’s been delivered in his second show of the year. I found that out in December so I’ve been preparing since then, really. He’s a very fit come-forward fighter so we’d expect something a bit similar to Dean Evans, actually. From that perspective we’ve sat down as a team and worked out a plan, we don’t underestimate anyone.
I’ve seen massive improvements within myself with every fight that I’ve had, everyone’s got weaknesses so we’ll try to exploit those that he has and hope he doesn’t get to mine first! In seriousness, we’re working to be the better, cleaner boxer and get the quality work done. I’m mentally preparing for the hardest fight I’ve had which means I’m going to have to be fitter than I’ve ever been before.”
Trained at Sparta by Steve and Bob Kipps – father and son who are perhaps best known for training Ryan Rhodes in the late 1990s – as well as Ian Wilson it is the consistency around Dillon that has pushed him to another level. Joining him in the gym is the, recently retired, Matty Chanda and being in the company of all three is the key to success, as Liam explained.
“I’ve got a brilliant team around me, they put so much effort into my career and I find it unbelievable sometimes, to be honest. Winning this title would mean so much for all of us.
“I’ve sparred with plenty of pros but Matty is naturally fit and naturally strong so I learn off him all the time. He’s been in with Duke Micah and everyone thought he won that fight so to have him in my corner is really helpful for me. He never stops smiling, either, they’re all genuine people so that rubs off on me. They influence me to stay true to myself and grounded. Once you’re in the ring it becomes selective hearing and I only hear those four voices.”
It is a family business
It could never be an interview with a Goodwin fighter without Steve getting a mention and, true to form, it was only around ten minutes until talk turned to just how easy he makes life.
“It’s not just that he’s put me on regular shows but they’ve all been really good quality. My ticket sales have gone up with each fight because of how much they enjoy the whole event and the atmosphere.
“Like the rest of my team he’s a really genuine bloke. He’s got a nice family, I like how it is a family business. Just being with him it makes it so much easier just to focus on the boxing.”
Where the super-featherweight prospect goes from March 9th is obviously to be determined and whilst Dillon told me he’d love to get his hands on the British belt he also told me he was cautious not to set any targets.
“I would love for people to be able to Google ‘Liam Dillon’ and see that I was British champion but say I go on for the next 10, 11 years as a pro then it would be nice to know I’ve stayed active and gave the best I’ve got.
“The thing with setting a target is that if I achieve it then I might feel like that’s enough, give myself space to relax, I want to achieve as much as I can and be able to really look back when I’ve finished. I’ve probably already achieved more than I first thought, if I’m honest, but I’m not going to stop here.”
Hearing that attitude was really refreshing and throughout speaking to Liam he was constantly articulating about the permutations of his life and career. A man with his priorities in order and certainly all the attributes to be successful, it was really nice to hear Dillon say just how happy he was in life –
“I’m really enjoying my boxing, it’s always been a hobby and it doesn’t feel like a job – I am still scaffolding so it’s an escape, still. People say they hate training but it’s all worth it come the fight but I love all of it. I’ve still got a long road ahead of me and this is the first step.”
That enjoyment for everything boxing encompasses is evident when he’s in the ring, fighting with a certain air of freedom. We came full circle and back to the fight with Birmingham. The bout headlines a triple header of Southern Area fights at York Hall. At 37 years of age Birmingham is, I’m told, in line to be one of the oldest Southern Area title holders of all time and he comes into it full of confidence. 14 years the younger fighter, Dillon was confident their showdown should be set to steal the show,
“He’s got a piece of history that he’s vying for, being one of the oldest, his three losses have been at Southern Area and two undefeated fighters so it’s a brilliant name to be up against. He’s beat quality operators in guys like Anesu Twala. Each fight I seem to be training harder and harder but the fights aren’t getting any easier, Ollie! I’ve been sparing 12, 14 rounds so I’ve got the confidence that I can go the 10 rounds and live with any pace he wants to bring.
“I’m looking forward to showing everyone how much I have improved but he’s going to try and ruin it for me, you can guarantee that. It’s boxing, at the end of the day, but I’m going to box smart and come out of it with the belt around my waist.”