Lincoln’s Tony Dowling was a successful amateur boxer who turned professional in 1996 and has had eight years as one before retiring back in 2004; Tony had mixed success at the top level winning 11 of his 18 fights. His start in boxing was bright and in the unpaid ranks he eventually won a junior European championship on Italian soil. After earning the gold medal and after arriving back home he did not take his medal off for two days as he felt so proud of his achievement. As a professional he was a virtual unknown outside the boxing world but he soon became a respectable fighter inside it. Whilst learning his trade Tony boxed as both a junior and senior, winning Schoolboy and Midlands titles along the way. He also fought his way to the national ABA championships quarter finals despite only weighing in at 80kg as a heavyweight (the maximum is 91kg).
I first introduced myself to Tony a number of years ago asking him if I could have a chat with him about his career etc, six years later I finally re-established contact with him and Tony agreed to an interview.
Tony came across as an intellectual individual, calm and gentle in manner. The big man towered over me at 6ft 3″ and he also appeared in good condition, he now earns a living as a personal trainer with LA Fitness. Tony is now into his third year as personal trainer, formally he worked in the building trade for many years.
It all began when Tony got involved in group scraps along with his two brothers and he always wanted to be top dog. A particular time stands out above the rest of them when one day a young kid of similar age picked a fight with the youthful 8 year old potential pugilist. The young Dowling struggled to get anywhere near his foe, who was dancing rings around him and springing up on his toes using a quick jab that took Dowling by surprise. Never experiencing anything like this before Tony acknowledged his peer was hard to hit whilst using flamboyant footwork and movement.
Tony had a long think to his self and decided he would like to develop the noble art further before walking into the Lincoln St. Giles ABC for the first time. The club was suggested by his young rival who had surprised him with the flashy footwork and crisp jabs. Both youngsters never fell out again and became good friends, going to the gym many times together.
One night Tony was walking to the gym with a gum shield in his pocket (as he knew he had sparring that night) and a car pulled up with the trainer and Gary Jenkinson who was an old professional boxer from Lincoln inside it. Because Tony was now registered with the ABA they informed him he had a fight in Nottingham and to get in the car as the fight was that particular night. On the way he thought they were having him on until he got to the bypass then realised it must be true. He was now destined to have his first ring encounter; he didn’t have any nerves as he had no time to think about it. I began this interview by questioning Tony about this fight.
So where did you have your first fight as an amateur Tony?
I boxed at Nottingham’s Commodore hotel and my fight was the first on the show.
Who did you fight?
I boxed a guy called Kevin Pierce from the Martin ABC near Woodhall Spa. He came right at me until I eventually stopped him in the second round; the feeling was great after my first fight. All the lads at the gym wanted to be my pal and told me “you’re one of us now” and they took me under their wing.
What were they like before your fight?
I had not made that connection before the fight, and when I went home I felt on top of the world. I beat Andrew Curtis in my second fight on points. Because I was a big lad I had to keep waiting for a fight until four months later I took on Michael Monaghan who we all know has fought Carl Froch. He was a decent fighter from Nottingham and I managed to beat him on points. I went on to win my first ten fights before people started to wake up and realise this kid was pretty special. I won my first national title as a schoolboy becoming national champion in twelve fights, remaining unbeaten along the way. After my early success nobody wanted to fight me until I entered the junior ABA’s and I got to the Midland’s final. I won the Midlands Counties title and then won the quarters and the semis. In the final I fought this kid from London at Bethnal Green’s famous York Hall and was robbed, he was the kid I had beaten in the schoolboy finals. This was my fifteenth fight and losing was heart breaking.
What was it like tasting defeat for the first time?
It was horrible, but I got back into the gym and knuckled down to my training. In my next fight I boxed in Kings Lynn and got beat again, this time by majority decision. I kept my head down to hard work and was selected for England, my Mum and Dad were so proud. I was the captain of the team and was the biggest boxer. I got a bye in the first round then drew the Italian in the next. Bearing in mind the tournament was in Italy I was not over-whelmed by this. I managed to beat the Italian so convincingly that I gave him one of my England vests. I beat a boxer from Poland in the semis before I boxed a guy called Scott Gamer who later turned professional and I defeated him on points. I then became the European youth champion at 16 years old and later Scott became the British Heavyweight champion as a professional. I wore the medal they gave me and had it on for a whole two days. I was very proud, I still have the medal. I went on to win the schoolboy championships a second time, gaining revenge against the boxer who had defeated me in my 16th fight. I had a spell without any fights as I couldn’t find a suitable opponent until I decided to enter the junior ABA’s again. I won the junior ABA’s and took my opponent to school, boxing his head off. I was oozing with confidence because I was selected as an England international. I then went into the National Association of Boys Club category B and I got byes right through to the semis. I then fought in the finals and beat a kid called Les Stephenson whose dad was a former British champion. Because I was a bit temperamental we both got disqualified, I got hit after the bell and I hit him back. I captained England again over in Greece and I got a bye in the first round and drew a Yugoslavian in the second round, he was a big guy.
What weight were you then?
I was a light-heavyweight and I drew a German in the next round and I was guaranteed a medal if I beat him. I lost by a score of 13-10, I was a bit gutted. I was now 19 and thinking of turning professional. My friend Kelly Oliver, who was the ABA champion three times, suggested I fight as a heavyweight in the senior ABA’s. After considering this I turned up to fight and there were three of us, whoever was drawn out of the hat first was required to fight twice. I won the Nottingham and Lincolnshire titles and then won the Midlands finals; I boxed in Bromsgrove and fought a guy called Richard Hardy who was 6’ 5”. He was trying to intimidate me in the changing rooms. I won the fight by stoppage and this was certainly one of my best performances as an amateur whilst in the quarter finals of the senior ABA’s. In the semi-finals I boxed future professional Mathew Ellis who was the two-time ABA champion. It was the first ever time I felt it against any opponent, eventually getting stopped in the first round. I was not scared of anybody but I let the occasion and the quality of my opponent intimidate me. I lost to the eventual winner. One of the things I never took advantage of was taking a count if I went down. The referee counts for a reason but I always got straight back up. It wasn’t until I retired that I realised I had been making this mistake. You have ten seconds to try and recover and this never registered with me. I was too brave. The next year I went in to the ABA’s again and had some good wins against some good opponents. I had developed more muscle and was more mature. I got to the Midlands final again but had to pull out through injury.
At what age did you turn professional?
I turned professional at 19, almost 20 along with John Ashton and Carl Greaves, who turned pro at the same time as me. Carl was a world champion as a pro and is now a successful manger trainer and promoter.
When you turned pro did you have a job at the time?
Yes, I worked on various building sites with my father. I worked through the day and trained at night, if you’re not a top pro or just starting out you can’t afford not to have a job unless you have some good sponsorship behind you. I won my first two fights before I dropped my hands in my third fight and got tagged ending up on the seat of my pants. I got up straight away before the ref called it off. I had a few months off before I started to work my way up through the pro ranks until I boxed Lee Swaby. There was some rivalry as we were from the same city of Lincoln. I felt that Lee was not giving me enough credit before our fight, we fought a ten round contest in Newark and it ended up being a real war of attrition. Eventually I was stopped at the end of the ninth round but immediately after the fight Lee was clapping me and the crowd joined in to acknowledge my brave performance as I had earned all their respect. I was two or three rounds in front but I got caught by a shot from nowhere and I never recovered. It was a really good shot and I take nothing away from Lee Swaby, he is a great fighter and a great guy, we are now friends.
Tell me about your fight with David Haye.
I got the call to fight David on the Monday and on the Friday our fight would take place, the weigh in would take place on the Thursday at the Peacock gym. I got the fight because I had come off a good win against the very useful and capable Denzile Browne. I was told I had to weigh at the championship weight and this was 13st 8. It was going to be on the television and I had to lose ten pounds before the fight but I knew I was getting paid well and Christmas was approaching so I could do with the money
You’ve got to have a lot of character to get in the ring with Haye, especially considering his success in a star studded amateur career and the fact he was destined for big things as a pro.
Nobody would fight him. John Ashton knew I would not turn the fight down, after the weigh-in I was walking down Carnaby Street and I walked past David Haye and he said hello. It was amazing this happened as I did not expect to bump into him again before the fight as London is so busy.
Who was your hardest opponent?
It has got to be David Haye due to his speed, power and class. Without a doubt he was the toughest and most talented. I was a bit weak after making the weight but he was certainly very fast. He kept hitting me and I went down but I kept getting up.
Did you retire after the Haye fight?
No, I had two more fights winning won and losing one. At 29 I retired from boxing, my wife wanted me to retire and she was very supportive throughout my career.