HE was just a kid of 13 when he danced from the dressing room at the Lynn, moving smoothly from left to right foot, bouncing a tennis ball with grace between his left and right hand in an endless smooth rhythm. He glided between a row of novices in front of the mirror as they tucked in their elbows, watched their feet and shadow-boxed through a basic series of punches – he was moving at a different speed, the kid with the New York accent, the hands, the talk and he acted like he was the solo attraction in the ancient South London gym. He was, just don’t let him know.
“The gym stopped – nobody took their eyes off him, he just did it so easily – none of us had ever seen it before,” said Mike Costello, the BBC’s boxing commentator, who was the coach in charge of that gang of “rawos” in front of the mirror. The kid, by the way, weighed about six stone dripping wet. Not that water was in the habit of catching him too often.
It was 1984, his name back then was Adrian Carew and he just might have been the greatest 13-year-old I have ever seen. He won the National Schoolboy Championships that year, stunning fighters all the way to the Assembly Rooms in Derby. He also upset a few and that is to be expected when a kid comes from nowhere and leaves good young boxers in tears.
Carew never stayed long on that visit. He went back to New York and as a 17-year-old he represented Guyana at the Seoul Olympics. He won twice and went out on a close one to a veteran German. It was tight and it was discussed – Carew wanted the Guyanese to file a complaint, they never did and that relationship ended. It was not the first and it would certainly not be the last time the dancing kid fell out with people in the business; he made it an art form in the end, an inevitability for anybody in his fiery orbit.
Then he came back to London and dropped his dad’s name, used his mother’s name, became Adrian Dodson and in a decade created some history and made a lot headlines. And, you are right, they were not all good headlines, but he could really fight.
He went back to the Lynn, won the ABA title in 1990, was refused entry the next year and split with the South London club. That was very ugly, trust me. He went to the first modern Olympic qualifier and was the only British or Irish boxer to actually win the event. It was in early 1992 and he was picked to represent Britain at the Barcelona Olympics. However, he was offered welterweight, not his preferred light-middle; Robin Reid had the light-middle spot. The Reid-Dodson conflict was born – it’s a story of sparring tales, the oldest of the boxing stories. He said, she said, you know the one. There is meant to be a safe, a sacred vault with VHS evidence of the behind-closed-doors sessions between the pair. I met a liar once who claims he has seen it.
In Barcelona it was all about Dodson when his first fight was over quick; he looked good, he spoke well. Reid won and won and won and took a bronze. Dodson lost a scrappy maul to exit in round two. The conflict increased. Dodson talked about a crooked agenda, a covert mission to stop him. It would be the recurring theme in his career and life, a soundtrack to every failing, defeat, incident and sabotage. But, he could still really fight.
After Barcelona there was a press conference in central London to announce Dodson’s intention to turn pro. Ambrose Mendy poured the champagne and made the claims. It was Mendy at his finest. Dodson was not going to be a slave to a dirty system and he would make 100 million dollars in pay-per-view events. Mendy’s magical claims were laughed at. I never laughed, I knew what the tiny kid with the tennis ball could do. I think I also knew that it would go wrong and end in too many tears of anger and frustration.
That was over 28 years ago and I think of that afternoon every time I pass that venue. It makes me sad. Middleweights that were barely born then have made 100 million dollars in pay-per-view events. Dodson never did, but he had the chance, he had the dream.
Dodson won his first 18 fights, stopped what was left of Lloyd Honeyghan in 1995, lost to Winky Wright for the WBO super-welter title in 1997. He was disqualified for biting an opponent in a televised fight. There was a fine and ban. He won an IBO version and cried. He upset so many people in the business. He made enemies and they lasted. He refused to follow any line. He was always promising resurrection. He sat in my flat and told me how he could still do it. It was years after Barcelona, perhaps 20 years since the little kid with the bouncing ball at the Lynn. He believed it. But, he raged and raged and raged. And then it was the sunset and in 2003 he fought for the last time. He finished his career with 25 wins and six defeats. And then he stepped away and was gone.
In 2011 he came close to a return and, finally, a fight with Reid in Prizefighter at the Olympia in Liverpool. Dodson needed a sauna to shift some weight, it was a quick saga of more chaos. He was out, he was back in and then he was gone. Hey presto, down came the curtain.
I was told this, I was told that: He drives a taxi. He was in court. He is a single dad. He still drives a taxi, it’s a Jaguar. However, this was not about finding a lost fighter – I never tried – this is about remembering a fighter who somewhere between bouncing a tennis ball, the Olympics and a sauna in North London lost his way in the boxing game. Once upon a time Adrian Carew/Dodson could really fight.