Local hero: Sean Dodd interview
Ahead of his showdown with Tom Stalker on Saturday night, Sean 'Masher' Dodd speaks candidly to Shaun Brown about his love for Birkenhead, how boxing gave him a renewed sense of purpose and the book that helped him turn his life around...
“It’s not Miami by all means, but it’s Miami to me.”
Birkenhead means the world to Sean ‘Masher’ Dodd.
When he leaves town, he is lost in a world unfamiliar to him, eager to get back home to where it all began and where it went downhill for a while before he picked himself up to produce a turnaround in fortunes that has become one of British boxing’s feel-good stories of the last two years.
A life of drinking, fighting, smoking pot and playing football were a short-term fix for something that he desperately wanted long-term. A sense of purpose, a drive that would motivate and transform him from a young man who was beginning to get a bad name for himself into a role model for the kids who often see him out on a run and are keen to get a picture with their local hero.
It wasn’t until he was 25 that Dodd decided to give himself a kick up the backside, his life beginning to take its toll on his mother.
“I remember saying to myself there’s more to me than drinking and fighting,” Dodd recalled.
The real Sean Dodd hadn’t been seen yet. His Uncle Roo’, a Sergeant in the Marines at the time, was a picture of everything that Dodd wanted to be.
“He’s a gentleman. He had stability, a lovely wife, lovely kids and I looked at him and thought - I wanna be like him. I want that stability and that persona.”
Dodd had found what he had been looking for. A career of challenges, discipline and respect. Training, getting fitter by the day, passing all the tests required… it was all coming together. But that would all change when his Uncle asked him to attend a boxing show with him.
The nephew who had once wanted to be just like his Uncle was now wanting to be like a 15-year-old kid called Brendan White who he watched fight that day.
“I wanted to be in his shoes, how he felt with the way people were clapping him. He was a nice kid.”
The gym beckoned. Training became daily. The bug had bit. Three months into a new chapter of his life and he was fighting as an amateur. Success in the ABAs.
A choice had to be made. There lay ahead more tests for Dodd to complete to join the Army and embark on a life far removed from the streets of Birkenhead.
“Derry Mathews, who I was training with, advised me and said: ‘Look, turn pro you’ve got it all there. Your dedication, your ambition, your style, you’ll suit the pros and you’ve got a good fanbase and support behind you which I had in the amateurs’.
“I said I had been training for two years for the Army and my coach Sean Trodden had said ‘You can join the Army up until the age of 32, so it’s never too late but with boxing it’s now or never. Turn pro, give it a whirl and, if it works, crack on. If it doesn’t, go join the Army’. I believed in my coach, I said okay. I had faith and trust in him. I turned pro and the rest is history!”
Dodd believes in living for the moment. He doesn’t want to think about what might have been, what might have happened had he found boxing much earlier. He has found a happiness that took a long time coming. But this is boxing, a new day brings a different test. Dodd may have found his true calling but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t going to challenge him before the bright lights of Sky Sports came calling.
“You’ll never know who you are until you’re ready to take a risk in life. Andy was a big risk.”
Dodd’s professional fight record had still not reached double digits when he was presented with an opportunity to fight Andy Townend for the vacant Central Area Super Featherweight title in May 2010 at the Doncaster Dome. Dodd hadn’t been in against anyone with a winning record whereas Townend had gone ten rounds with Rendall Munroe; a version of Munroe that had already boxed Scott Quigg twice and had been to Japan to take on WBC super bantamweight champion Toshiaki Nishioka.
It was Dodd’s first major shot, his first title opportunity that saw him drop down to super featherweight. There was a lot at stake but there was also a lot going on in his personal life.
“A lot had changed for me,” he said. “It was a big ask and at the time I’d just moved house with my girlfriend at the time. We’d just had a little boy, so we were in the middle of moving house and getting settled.”
Dodd would lose the fight and split with his then partner, causing a heartache that came out in full inside the confines of the gym.
Things hadn’t been great at home for Dodd, and the break-up was one that he saw coming during camp for the Townend fight.
“I remember being on a run and saying to myself: 'we’re going to split up'.
“I can remember being in the gym… [coaches] Sean Trodden and Danny Kelly pulled me to one side and asked me what was up with me and I said: 'nothing' and they said: ‘No, we know there’s something wrong’. They sat me on the side of the ring and said: ‘If you don’t tell us what’s going on we’re going to pull you from the fight’.
"I broke down and cried and got upset and just said [that] things at home are hard. That upset me. They said: 'sort it out, get your head on it and let us know if you’re going to be able to do the fight or not because we’re not putting you in there if your head’s not on it.' I think that’s what I needed. I needed that little shoulder to cry on, get it out and get on it. I gave it my best in the fight and it didn’t work out.”
Dodd was close to calling time on his career despite his best efforts. He hadn’t boxed for ten months when he watched a Thai boxing friend of his compete. That night would take him to a conversation with a good friend of his. Just him and ‘Gibbo’ in a van chewing the fat over what Dodd might do with his life.
He decided he was going to become a journeyman. “I was going to give it a crack because I was skint and didn’t have a pot to piss in.”
Struggling financially Dodd was swerved away from the arduous life of Mr 'Have Gloves Will Travel' to a meeting with Steve Wood. A productive chat would see V.I.P. Promotions become Dodd’s manager and be tasked with lifting the career of ‘Masher’ to loftier heights.
“I thought brilliant, this is like a new chapter in my life and I thought I'll give it a whirl with Steve and see how we go,” said Dodd. “And he got me a fight, and then got me another fight lined up and I was 2-0. I was happy. I done six rounds, better money than doing four rounds. I felt great. Then he got me matched up again.”
Then would come the call that would change it all. At three days’ notice Eddie Hearn made Dodd an offer he simply couldn’t refuse to fight Gary Buckland.
Victory over Buckland coincided with Dodd’s mum giving him a book by Rhonda Byrne called The Secret. A 2006 self-help best-seller, credited for part of Conor McGregor’s meteoric rise to UFC super stardom, that claims positive or negatives thoughts can change the world thanks to the ‘law of attraction’ philosophy.
Dodd had dreamt of the big stage, better money and the bright lights of primetime TV. A win over Buckland followed by two fights against Scotty Cardle (one loss, one draw) thrust Dodd into the Sky Sports Boxing limelight. His name now known in Birkenhead and across the U.K with fight fans.
“I end up giving the book away to a friend to help them and I never got to finish the book! I was telling my sports therapist Julie Mancini. She had heard people talking about the book. I told her I had given the book away and she went and bought me the book again.
"So, I'm literally now reading it again, keeping on top of it, staying focussed and I want to finish the book. I want to get right through it and see what the final chapter is like. That's how my life has unfolded. It's been unreal.”
After wins over Pasquale Di Silvio, Francesco Patera and Lee Appleyard, Dodd now sits as WBC International and Commonwealth lightweight title holder.
The Echo Arena in Liverpool has become a second home for him and his legions of Birkenheaders. Goodison Park, the night Tony Bellew conquered the world, was a pinch me moment for Dodd. A place on the undercard was a win in the boxing lottery. One for the scrap book and the grandkids.
Another date at the Echo is just around the corner. In speaking to him there is a sense that it is his most important fight to date when he faces Tom Stalker this Saturday night. The headline acts are Paul Butler and Stuart Hall, but there are many who will be inside the home of big-time boxing in Liverpool to see how this quickly developed grudge match plays out.
The fairytale continues then but at some point, there will have to be an acceptance that this isn’t just a story to please the thousands in attendance. Titles are at stake; bigger fights are on the horizon and who knows where it will all end up. Leave the fairytales with Walt Disney. Dodd will take the tag off with a victory against Stalker.
“If I beat him, amongst the crop of opponents that I’ve beaten, I think that’s when I can actually say you know what I’m here now, this is me, I’ve proved my worth. I’ve beaten the experience, the young and fresh and now I’ve beaten a lad who thought he would just annihilate me. I think once I beat Stalker that’s when I’ll be like this is for real, and the story will continue.”