Interview: Dynamite Dean Phillips
By Gavin Macleod (November 18, 2004)
When Welsh lightweight Dean Phillips decided to take time out from his boxing career back in April ’98 after losing a six round points decision to Steve Conway, many wondered whether the man from Llanelli would return to the ring at all. At the time, Phillips was 22-years-old and had a record of 11-5 (5 KOs) but had become disillusioned with the sport after contract problems and disputed decision losses coming in three of his five defeats.
“Dynamite” Dean Phillips
Five and a half years later however, and with a college degree in IT behind him, Dean Phillips returned to action in November 2003 to jump-start a career in which he now had a rejuvenated interest in pursuing. On that night he came back with a bang, literally, as he disposed of the experienced Nottingham based journeyman Nigel Senior, a man known for his durability, inside the first round. Then followed a fantastic fifth round stoppage win over former Commonwealth lightweight title challenger Gary Hibbert, a win that announced to all in the domestic 135lb division that “Dynamite” Dean was back and looking better than ever. Completing an impressive return to action was a fine display in out-pointing former Commonwealth lightweight champion Michael Muya over eight rounds on the undercard of Jason Cook’s successful IBO title defence against the man who disposed of Muya as Commonwealth champ, Kevin Bennett.
With Phillips rising higher up the rankings since his second coming, he set his sights on gaining himself a title shot, and locked his targets firmly on the Commonwealth strap held by Hartlepool’s Kevin Bennett 15-4 (6 KOs). After some delay, it was finally agreed that the two men would meet this coming Friday (19th November) in Bennett’s hometown at the Hartlepool Borough Hall, signalling a remarkable career transformation for the 28-year-old Phillips, now 14-5 (7 KOs).
Doghouse Boxing managed to speak to Dean this week about the second half of his career and the impending fight with Kevin Bennett. Here is what the extremely likeable Llanelli man had to say:
GM: You were out of the ring for five and a half years and are now looking better than ever. How would you compare the fighter you are now to the one you were before your lay-off?
DP: Yes, I’ve learned so much from my previous mistakes. The stuff I did wrong back then, I am doing right now. This time around, it's all been about putting right my previous wrongs and making use of my experience. I am an all round much better fighter and a seasoned pro.
GM: Since your return to the ring you’ve had three fights and three wins, what are the positives and negatives you have taken from each bout?
DP: Good question, don't get asked this usually. Well, the one round blowout of Nigel Senior on my return last November was all about rebuilding my confidence inside the competitive ring. 5 and a half years out of the game is a long time. Despite training going extremely well prior to that fight, there were still question marks over ring-rustiness and stuff like that, the type of things that can only be answered when you’re in the ring fighting. But the moment the bell rang to start the fight, it was like everything clicked back into place, and it was like I had never been away. I can't think of any negatives from that fight.
In the Hibbert fight, obviously the big positive was that the win leapfrogged me up the British rankings into title contention. I was caught off guard in the second round of that fight though and was put down momentarily, sort of a flash knockdown. But looking back at it, it has made me tighten up my defence greatly. So I believe I have turned that negative into a positive. It also answered an inner question in me of how I would react when something like that happened in a fight. A lot of fighters get all the confidence knocked out of them and get defensive when they experience a crisis in a fight. However, my instinctive reaction was to fight back with serious intent, and I unleashed a perfectly timed left hook on my opponent that sent him sprawling seconds later.
The Muya fight was a benchmark performance I believe for this fight with Bennett. While Bennett struggled against him in their meeting, I did the job much more convincingly. I worked out Muya’s rangy style immediately and would have stopped him had I not had swollen hands in that fight. Having said that, I am glad the fight went the full 8 rounds, as it gave me the rounds under my belt, which I needed.
GM: Subsequently, how effective a preparation have these opponents been in building towards a fight with Kevin Bennett?
DP: The last 2 fights have been ideal preparation. Kevin Bennett is a natural light welterweight, and fighting people like Hibbert and Muya, who were big lightweights themselves, I believe these fights have primed me to fight someone like Bennett. Hibbert was a former Commonwealth title challenger, and Muya was the former champion, so a statement was made in me winning those fights: that I am ready to fight for and win the title for real.
GM: The last time we spoke you told me that the Bennett fight was the one you were looking towards and after some time you have finally put yourself in a position to secure it. Presumably it was a huge boost for your motivation when you were able to finalise a deal for the fight?
DP: Yes, it isn’t good for a boxer to be kept not knowing who he is fighting or when he is fighting. For this fight, I have had plenty of notice and as a result am in the best physical and mental condition of my life; I am completely focused on this job. It makes the world of difference when you know who and where, then you can get motivated for the job.
GM: How has your training for this fight been going, and have you done anything different in the gym to prepare for your title challenge?
DP: I’ve done quite a few things different, and I have made necessary changes to my routine and my life as well. I’ve also made all the right sacrifices and have been living like a champion for a long time in the build-up to this fight.
GM: Have you been happy with the sparring you have done for this fight and which boxers did you use?
DP: I’ve been sparring with a variety of different weights and styles in the build-up to this fight. Dazzo Williams, British Featherweight Champ, has been a great help, along with Dai Davies who is a sharp super feather. Sparring with fast, sharp featherweights and Super-feathers definitely keeps me sharp and on my toes. Apart from this, I have had a variety of different weights against me as well, including bigger, stronger guys so the sparring has been varied.
GM: Were any of the sparring partners brought in to specifically imitate the style of Kevin Bennett, and who do you think has helped the most in preparing you for the type of tactics you expect Kevin to employ?
DP: I haven’t really modified my sparring for Bennett’s style. I haven’t felt the need to do that, as I spar with a variety of styles all the time anyway. This ensures that I am fully prepared to handle anything in front of me come fight time.
GM: In light of Jason Cook’s recent defeat, not aided by his battle with the scales, are you happy with making the lightweight limit?
DP: Well, I am a natural lightweight. I have been at this weight for as long as I can remember and am so strong at it. I was a lightweight in my first stint back in the mid 90s, but decided to boil down to super feather at the time not the right decision. I was young and naïve at the time and to be honest didn’t know any better. If you look at my record, all my best performances back then were at lightweight.
As is seen all the time, those fighters that continually boil themselves down through weight divisions will come a cropper sooner or later. I learned my lesson back then. That is the reason I am now fighting at my natural weight; I have learned from my mistakes. I feel so much stronger, healthier and more confident at this weight.
GM: What approach do you take to lose the weight before a fight?
DP: Well, I don’t have to take any weight off! I just eat a healthy, balanced diet all year round. I stay away from all the bad stuff, and only eat good. I don’t have to do anything drastic like drying myself out or starving myself before a fight, because my weight is good all year round. That’s how I believe it should be for all fighters, but sadly too many of them these days mistakenly think that they have an advantage “boiling down” a weight division, when in actual fact they are disadvantaging themselves because they are weakened at the weight. We keep seeing bad things happen to these fighters time and again, but for most people it is a case of having to learn the hard way.
GM: The fight is taking place in Bennett's hometown of Hartlepool, do you hold any reservations about fighting in his backyard?
DP: I naturally wanted the fight to be in Wales, but as he is the champion, I respect his decision to fight in his hometown; I would do the same. However, I am not fazed by the prospect of going to Hartlepool. I have fought on away soil many times in my career and it really does bring out the best in me. It has inspired me to train even harder to what I usually do. I won’t be at all fazed by his hometown support, as at the end of the day, they will not be able to help him when the fight gets underway.
GM: How do you rate Kevin Bennett as a fighter in terms of his strengths and weaknesses?
DP: Well, he is very defensive in his fights, certainly the ones I have seen him in. Whether you would count that as a strength or a weakness is open to debate. I personally think it’s a weakness, as that sort of style means he is very inactive in his fights. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out that sort of style. He likes to counterpunch a lot, but I have grown up with counter-punchers. I actually learned how to box in a gym where counterpunching was a speciality, so you could say that counterpunching is my roots, and I am very well versed on how best to deal with counterpunching fighters.
However, I don’t want to sound disrespectful of Kevin at all. He is the champion, and has shown great character and courage, certainly in the way he pulled through against Muya. I believe he also showed great courage in some of the fights he has lost at light welter too, as well as frustrating Jason Cook in a challenge for the IBO lightweight title. It will be a good fight, and am looking forward to it.
GM: Providing you win the title, what effect would that have on the life of Dean Phillips?
DP: It will be the first title of my professional career, so winning it will have a profound affect on my life. I want to go on to bigger things, and winning the Commonwealth title will be a step in the right direction. It’s all about getting out of the sport all the years of hard work put into it, and I aim to fully utilise my potential in the coming months and years after winning this title.
GM: Finally Dean I’d like to thank you for taking the time out to talk to us in what must be a busy week for you and on behalf of everyone at Doghouse Boxing I wish you the very best of luck for this coming
DP: Thanks for the interview; much appreciated.
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