Training for the day is at an end. Rhiannon Dixon is unwrapping her hands after a pad session with Anthony Crolla, cue time for fighter and trainer to gently trade insults. The subject matter ranges from Ant’s flowing locks to Rhiannon’s taste in music. That is the tame stuff. Both laugh when the other lands a decent verbal jab.
“Did you see the post he put up about me the other day?” Rhiannon says, eyebrows raised in mock horror. “He said he’d dropped me with a head shot and a body shot? My mum was like, ‘Rhiannon, did he actually knock you out?’ Did he hell!”
It is a burgeoning stable of pro fighters at Fox ABC in Oldham, a good mix of characters with Rhiannon the only woman alongside Jake James, James Moorcroft, Bobby Faulkner, Sahir Iqbal, Levi Kinsiona and Alex Dilmaghani. It is an environment she is very comfortable in, and as the chat moves on to the growth in womens’ boxing, Ebanie Bridges gets a mention. The Aussie IBF bantamweight world champion has divided opinion with her weigh-in G-strings and ‘in-yer-face’ attitude. She apologises to nobody, and Rhiannon is on her side.
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“There was a massive stigma when she first started doing it. I don’t think anyone was really doing it before her. I can’t talk, I actually wore a thong to my last one [weigh-in]. You should be able to wear whatever you want to wear – full gown or underwear.
“I think it gives a good message to girls. You can be feminine and box. It’s not only tomboy girls who do boxing. There’s a whole range of people. When I first began, people said that I don’t look like a boxer. Now, my nose keeps on going to one side of my face, so I think when they look at me now, they do think I’m a boxer! I think it gives me character. It makes me look different. When I retire, I think I’ll get a Carl Froch nose!”
It has been an unusual pathway for the 27-year-old from Warrington. You would normally associate a healthcare professional with providing pain relief, although that is not the case with the unbeaten lightweight, a boxer who likes dishing out her own brand of medicine.
“I went to university and did pharmacy for five years and I was working as a pharmacist in Whiston hospital,” Rhiannon explains. “Throughout COVID, I never thought this [boxing] would be my reality, training full-time. I’m only young once so I’m going to take it and run with it. I don’t want to look back with any regrets.
“At the start of COVID, there was a shortage of PPE and there were no rules to begin with. You were getting mixed messages about it being really contagious, and then it’s not. It’s going to last two weeks, then no it’s not. People were dying and saying bye to their families on Facetime.
“It was a weird way of working. You had to learn about all these new drugs and medication. Then the vaccines came in and we had to do all the training around that. It was a massive learning year. Everyone was furloughed, but we were still working. I was really stringent. I didn’t want to go near my parents because they were classed as vulnerable and I didn’t want to pass it on to Ross [fiancé], because he’s a bit fragile!” She says with more than a little devilment.
Combining work on the COVID wards with training for fights took its toll. Now, with sponsors on board and fighting on Matchroom’s DAZN platform, it’s full-time boxing for the foreseeable future. Not something Rhiannon would have imagined a few years ago when her career path was looking very different.
“When I left high school, I started working at Warrington Wolves on the food stands. I ID’d a woman who was 40. I was only 16 at the time. I was s*** at that. Then I worked at McDonalds for a bit when I was at college. I was really good at it.”
Although mastering the line ‘would you like fries with that?’ Working at the golden arches was never going to be a long-term gig. A more interesting line of employment was to follow as a result of a fancy dress, boozy night on the town.
“In Wigan, on Boxing Day, everyone gets dressed up and goes on a night out. It’s a weird tradition. We went dressed as Mermaids and we were dancing on podiums in Surfers Paradise. The owner came over and said, ‘do you want to do this as a job?’ I said, ‘yes, if you’re going to pay me and my friends to drink and dance on podiums, then yeah!’ So, we became podium dancers. Now it’s a strip club, but when I was there it was not a strip club.”
University in Manchester was the next step, and during the last year of her pharmacy degree, Rhiannon started training for a white-collar contest. An undefeated stint on the unlicensed scene inspired her to take the sport more seriously. Now unbeaten as a professional (7-0-0), her biggest test to date is looming – against Staffordshire’s Vicky Wilkinson (5-0-1) for the vacant Commonwealth lightweight title.
“I feel that all my fights have been step-ups and I feel like I’ve been learning throughout all the different camps and fights. That’s what I need to do. I only had seven white-collar fights, so I am practically learning on the job. I do need to take fights like this so I can learn. I’m really excited for it and can’t wait to get back out there again.
“A lot of girls want to rush to world titles but I’m learning on the job basically. This will be my first ten rounds and I want to master doing ten rounds. All the world titles are with Katie [Taylor] and she’s fighting Serrano, so with every fight I just want to learn more. Different tests with different types of opponents. Hopefully I can get out four or five times this year.”
Ah yes, Katie Taylor. Very different to the aforementioned Ebanie Bridges, but certainly a role model and like so many other fighters, Ireland’s superstar is a source of huge inspiration for Rhiannon. Although when asked to recall their first meeting, the smile becomes a grimace.
“I have embarrassed myself many times in front of Katie,” she says with a shake of the head. “When it was being announced at a press conference that she was fighting Serrano [first fight], I was staring at her. Ant [Crolla] said, ‘I’ll introduce you to her.’ My heart was pounding, and she was like, ‘ahh, you’re a southpaw!’ and I was like, ‘oh my God, she knows who I am!’ Then she said, ‘I’d love to get some sparring with you,’ and I said, ‘f*** off!’
“Someone was filming it and it was like, ‘Rhiannon Dixon tells Katie Taylor to f*** off!’ But then I saw her in the changing rooms after my fight and I went, ‘I hope you know I didn’t tell you to f*** off! I was saying it as in I didn’t think you’d want to spar me! Obviously, I really want to spar you.’ Then I embarrassed myself again because I asked her to go for a drink and then everyone was like, ‘oh Rhiannon, no!’ If you’re reading this Katie, I’m not weird, I just get a bit starstruck around you!”
There won’t be any Taylor call-outs from Dixon any time soon. There is a long-term plan and plenty of time to pick up all the titles she desires. In the meantime, Rhiannon has to compete for the title of best athlete in the family as brother Andrew plays rugby league for Salford Red Devils, while brother-in-law Joe Mellor plays for Leigh Leopards.
“My mum and dad still don’t really understand it [her boxing]. My brother and my brother-in-law have been the athletes in the family, whereas actually, I’m fighting for a title. They never expected it. We’re a very sporty family but I think I’m the athlete of the family now and they’re all living in my shadow!
“The aim is this. When my dad goes out and he brags about my brother, the aim is for him to brag about me first and say, ‘my daughter’s a Commonwealth champion!’ I think I’m third on the list at the moment because there’s my brother and my sister has a baby!”
Goals set, the next challenge is in the shape of Vicky Wilkinson at Liverpool’s M&S Arena on March 11 on the undercard of Callum Smith v Pavel Stepien. So, if all goes to plan and Rhiannon has her arm raised at the end of the contest, is it feet up for a while?
“No, I need to keep up my pharmacist registration by doing so many hours. After the fight, hopefully I’ll be able to pick up some shifts at the hospital. But it’s hard when you’re out of it because at hospital, things change so much, and you have to keep learning all the time. Hopefully I can slot back in where I left.
“I do actually enjoy working in the hospital. It is hard at times and really stressful working on the wards, but I am a people person. Except for my own gym mates. They’re annoying.”
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