'Jazza' Dickens - Great Expectations
'Jazza' Dickens is building himself quite a reputation. The talented super bantamweight from Liverpool admits he has noticed a sharp increase in interest since starring alongside Olympians Natasha Jonas and Thomas Stalker in a recent documentary which highlighted his likeable personality but, for boxing insiders, it is the 21 year old southpaw’s combination of aggression, dedication and skill which has long held their attention.
Yes, the tales you may have heard about Dickens are all true. He does do his roadwork whilst the majority of the country are fast asleep, he did build a boxing ring in his mother's flat out of Tesco carrier bags and chipboard and he does spend a great deal of his spare time helping out at a local homeless shelter. But, whilst all those idiosyncrasies add to the intrigue surrounding the scouser, they shouldn't overshadow the most important part of any professional boxers make up; James 'Jazza' Dickens can really fight.
Since turning professional eighteen months ago, Dickens has chalked up ten successive victories with four of those wins coming early. The unbeaten record shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. Any up and coming boxer would be expected to beat the opponents that the talented Liverpudlian has so far faced. What marks Dickens out as one to watch is the manner in which he goes about beating them. From first bell until last, there is no sense of Dickens going through the motions or coasting. His attacks are varied, relentless and Dickens appears to relish every single second he spends in the ring. One of the most striking aspects of Dickens’ game is his sense of distance and timing. At times, he seems to float effortlessly in and out of range. The 2010 ABA champion also seems to have acquired the extremely useful knack of performing to his best when given his toughest tests. Tough Scot James Ancliff retired after two rounds whilst, in what I consider his best performance to date, Yuriy Voronin was stopped in the fourth.
When you add his undoubted raw talent and enthusiasm to the invaluable experience gained from being a member of the Great Britain amateur setup, incredible self discipline and an unshakeable desire to do both himself and his supporters proud it creates a potentially potent mix.
Obviously, we are only at the start of Dickens' career and the big tests are yet to come. There will come a time when skill and enthusiasm alone won't get the job done and Dickens will need to reach down inside and find that something extra but as it seems certain that we will be hearing a lot more about 'Jazza' in the coming years, it is the perfect time to catch up with Dickens himself, his trainer Paul Stevenson, manager Steve Wood and BBC Merseyside's boxing summariser and sports author Gary Shaw to find out more about the man himself and gauge opinion on just how far he can go.
The Fighter – James ‘Jazza’ Dickens 10-0 (4)
“I’ve definitely noticed a big increase in attention recently. Since the documentary went out, it’s gone wild with people messaging me and adding me on twitter. I don’t know how to cope with it really but I’ve been trying to message everybody back. It’s madness but I’m enjoying it. I’ve also noticed more interest on the boxing front. I’m learning all the time and I’m getting a lot more recognition and support off people. My fan base is building with every fight. I get a good feeling when I win but don’t really celebrate because it’s my duty really.
“I’d like to fight every week and I’m in the gym all year round either sparring or working on my fitness. I’ll take a few days off after a fight but that’s it really. I’d say I’m improving on becoming more of an all round fighter. Paul and Mick (Stevenson, trainers) are always pointing out chinks in my armour in the gym so I’m always working on them. I like to work on speed and watch fighters like Mike Tyson, Manny Pacquiao and Marvin Hagler. Fighters with good timing. I don’t know if it’s something I’ve picked up but I do know it’s a God-given talent. I like working hard and won’t let myself fall into a rut of punching slow, I’ll always punch hard and fast. Paul and Mick wouldn’t want less than 100% either. I like to give it my all because there are people paying good money to come and watch me and to not give 100% would be conning them out of that money. I feel privileged to be able to give it my all and be able to make it exciting for them.
“I just enjoy my boxing. Hopefully I’ll be where I want to be one day and I’ll fight whoever I have to fight to get there. I believe in concentrating on my own game. Good luck to them. God bless them but I’ll fight whoever to get where I want to be.
If people are talking about me it’s a good thing. I let them make up their own minds and if they want to support me then I’m really grateful. Everybody has their own opinion and you have to take the good with the bad in boxing. I’m just happy and privileged to be talked about. I need to thank my sponsors! Thanks to Avondale Payroll Services!”
The Trainer – Everton Red Triangle trainer Paul Stevenson
“Jazza’s the type of fighter you dream about training. He’s dedicated, disciplined and gives 100% effort 100% of the time. You look at him and see a cheeky smile but never be mistaken into thinking he isn’t serious. We have a good laugh in the gym but he has a lot of skill and ability.
“We’re trying to make him more of a complete fighter. He’s had a lot of time in the amateurs where certain types of tactics are required. I always believe that for good lads like him, it doesn’t matter what type of scoring system it is, they just need time to adapt to it. We’re working on different types of defensive work. Lots more head movement, rolling and slipping and countering from range and different close range stuff that’s probably more mentally demanding than physically. Jazza also does quite a lot of things that are pretty unorthodox. If you looked at a textbook you wouldn’t teach those things but you don’t knock it out of them because it’s difficult for his opponents to cope with.
“When you work with him in the gym, you get a strong sense that this fella could do something special. You don’t wanna put too much pressure on him as he’s only young and has only had ten fights. You hear a lot of talk about titles but there’s plenty of time. He’s still got to mature yet which is scary. He’s not the type who has to sit down on his punches because he throws them fast but he’s developing some real power. He weighed 8st 12lb for his last fight but who knows how he’ll grow. We’ll have to see. There are some good opportunities at super bantamweight. It’s a hot division and there are some big fights there that with the right experience and preparation he’s more than capable of winning. My old trainer used to tell me that you can’t fight nature and we won’t.
“I have a couple of little stories about the type of character Jazza is. On Christmas Day we have a big family dinner. Nobody knew what Jazza was doing so I rang him up and invited him. He says “Thanks for the invite Paul but I’m down at the homeless shelter dishing out Christmas dinners”. He gave his Christmas dinner up to help people that he doesn’t even know. He also feels a big obligation to his fans. He really wants to please them and send them away having had a good time.
“I believe you have the makings of a world champion. The road to all world title is paved with luck, both good and bad, so you need the right things to happen at the right times but he definitely has that potential.
The Manager – Steve Wood, promoter of VIP Boxing
“Jazza’s a dedicated boxer, willing to learn, willing to travel to spar good kids and he’s getting better with every fight. I feel – and I don’t want to over hype him – that he could go all the way.
“I like to think that I’ve gotta a good level of trust with Jazza. He just lets me get on with things and I think his progress has been nice and steady since he turned professional. I would like him to have had more TV dates but unfortunately the television situation hasn’t been very good recently. After Sunday, I think he’s probably outgrown my shows and he’s gonna have to look for TV dates because he’s gonna be pushing for titles over the next twelve months. I think after he’s had a couple of eight rounders and maybe a ten, he’ll be ready for the British title. The problem is Hatton Promotions probably have too many fighters and not enough dates.
“I’ve noticed in his last three performances that he’s punching harder. That was always my concern. As he’s a fast mover and always in and out on the soles of his feet, I wondered if he could generate the punching power to become a good pro. He’s settled down and adapted and is sitting down a bit on his punches. I thought he had everything except maybe the punching power but now that’s coming too.”
The Expert – BBC Merseyside Boxing summariser and author of The Mersey Fighters Vol 1 & Vol 2 Gary Shaw
“The first time I saw James ‘Jazza’ Dickens boxing for ‘The Solly’, I was impressed. Very impressed. Southpaw, fast hands, good movement. Fast feet, in and out, hardly gets caught. Tikka takka boxing.
“Whilst this impresses most observers however, it takes something special to raise an eyebrow at a Merseyside boxing show, but seasoned scouse boxing fans did just that – along with a knowing nod and appreciative smile - whenever they saw Jazza perform. And perform he did. Even before his ABA title in 2010 James was on that select, but growing local list of, ‘boxers to see’.
“As he got older and bigger, and as his punches began to both vary in style and increase in power, it became clear that, Olympic qualification aside, this was a kid who had the potential to be a great professional.
“London 2012 never quite worked out and, after turning pro in May 2011, Jazza has rattled off a series of polished and, it has to be said, exemplary, almost punch perfect performances. And there are some tough, seasoned men on his record; the likes of Barrington Brown, James Ancliff and Chuck Jones. None of these are mugs yet all were bamboozled by Jazza’s speed, skill and range of shots – double jabs, uppercuts, the rarely seen right hook to the body, all from a cunning and stunning array of angles – and then he’s gone. Only to be seen again when his arm is raised in victory at the end of the contest.
“On further inspection there is more to discover; a dedication that I personally have never seen in a boxer so young - just follow him on twitter or facebook to see the 4am runs and ‘in bed’ by 6pm posts. Then there was the half-marathon he ran the day AFTER his second pro fight – in a time most athletics’ club runners would be proud, less than one and a half hours.
“More knowledgeable boxing fans may also look at the weight Jazza has boxed at so far – and note, together with his own interviews, that to be ranked at featherweight is slightly disingenuous. This is a young man who can make super bantam comfortably. Super bantam? Where the likes of Quigg, Munroe, and the much hyped Frampton and Kid Galahad currently reside? I’d back him to beat the last two even now.”