“We’re going to have to revoke your licence and recommend you don’t box again – we’ve found a query in your brain scan”. The words no boxer wants to hear on the other end of the phone. Craig Dickson had been preparing to return to the ring in hopes of working towards another title shot when he received the unwelcome call from Robert Smith of the British Boxing Board of Control. The former welterweight boxer reflected on that devastating moment:

“It hit me really hard at the time, you don’t want that decision taken away from you, you want to make it yourself and stop when YOU want to. But I had to sit and take it on board and realise what was important. I had a wife, two kids, a full time job – boxing was really just a paid hobby for me. But it was really tough for me to let go when it’s been that much a part of my life. Giving up that routine, that lifestyle – it was hard. It was almost like these guys who come out the army and can’t adjust to ‘normal’ life”.

It’s no surprise it was difficult, Dickson had spent the past decade dedicating his life to the sport. Although, it was almost another combat sport he competed in. As an escape from ‘hangin’ about with the boys in the scheme’, the then 18 year old took up kickboxing with a friend and instantly enjoyed it, focusing on getting fit and prepared for a bout. It was this preparation that led to his first taste of boxing as he headed to a local club for some sparring. He left with a broken nose! This would no doubt be a deterrent for many but it had the opposite effect on Dickson. He decided to keep his feet planted on the ground and switch over to the Sweet Science.

Under the tutelage of Kris McAdam, Dickson turned professional and had a promising start to his career, working hard to become an integral part of Tommy Gilmour’s St Andrews Sporting Club’s schedule. Racking up a fourteen fight unbeaten streak earned him a shot at the Commonwealth title, which he was unfortunately unsuccessful in, and soon followed an opportunity to fight on the popular Prizefighter series on Sky Sports in 2008. Unknown to him at the time, Craig Dickson ‘The Boxer’ would enter the ring in September 2009 against English rival Darren Gethin in a rubber match, lacing his gloves up and having his hand raised as the winner for the final time.

When you stand next to Craig, it’s hard to believe he spent his professional career making the welterweight limit. With boxing taken away from him he was left with an abundance of time and no clue what to do with it, which eventually led him to weight training and helping out in an amateur boxing club.

“There’s a long life after boxing. I had basically lost a ‘full-time job’ outside of my actual full-time job and was left lost. I couldn’t sit at peace in the house, it got to a point even my wife was telling me I had to do something. One thing I knew is I wasn’t doing any more running, I was done with road work, so I just started going to the gym and focusing on weights and giving a hand occasionally at Kris McAdam’s amateur club, jumping in and of there, Craig Docherty’s gym and eventually Colin Bellshaw’s, which I was enjoying”

An introduction to professional coaching started in Bellshaw’s Saltire gym when boxer Steven Rae looked to Dickson for tips on turning professional.

“Steven Rae was floating between gyms, he had been having issues sorting his professional licence and was asking me for advice, so I told him to get his medical sorted and that I would be happy to assist and start training him. So from that point onwards I was spending all my time doing one-to-one coaching with Stevie, week-in week-out. I trained him to 2-0, when unfortunately due to work commitments, he had to retire but he left the sport undefeated”.

Although the relationship had been short-lived, the experience was valuable as Craig felt like he had found his calling and it was professional coaching where he wanted to focus his time.

“It really helped me getting away from that feeling of wanting to fight. I had really been struggling to find that ‘something’ that would change my mentality. I kept thinking ‘I want to get back in there’, but helping Steven made me realise I could get that in teaching”.

Craig Dickson ‘The Trainer’ now has one of the most exciting stables in professional Scottish boxing in Kash Farooq, Ross Murray, Jordy McCorry and Boris Crighton. Ranging from Ross at light-flyweight to Boris, currently sitting around super middleweight and light-heavyweight. Despite the differences, Dickson’s training is evident: Boris’ recently slip-counter right hand shot that dropped Gennadi Stserbin almost mirrored a set-up we have seen countless times from Farooq. Speaking of his training methods, Dickson explained:

“I pretty much show them all the same stuff. I like to get the guys moving their head, feinting, slipping and countering and I’m lucky, even though Boris is a big guy, he loves all that and that’s half the battle. All coaches have a style but I’m not too pushy, I like to let the guys play to their strengths and their talent take them to what’s comfortable.”

On top of the physical and technical side of mentoring his fighters, the former boxer is well aware of the psychological side of the sport, during his career he even enlisted the help of a sports psychologist in an attempt to change his mindset and get back to winning ways. A quick glance at his stable and it’s clear he has quite an array of personalities to deal with, the spectrum as wide as the weight differences between them.

“It’s all mind games in coaching – whether its in the ring or motivating them to get up for training. Dealing with different personalities is just another challenge but I enjoy it. I’ve had to adapt – the old school ways of shouting ‘you need to do it this way’ are gone. They’ll just bite back now. Younger guys respond better to suggestions and talking about trying it my way – it’s almost about ‘selling’ my ideas and methods to them.”

The camp is thriving with an interesting mix of champions, title contenders and hot prospects. Their achievements have generated acclaim and interest in Dickson, who now finds himself regarded as one of the top coaches in the country. But for now the stable door is shut, limiting clientele to four regardless of who chaps. With a wife and young family at home, Dickson’s life is a “constant juggle of time but nights like Kash winning the British title make it all worth while!”

As he reflected on his own boxing career, perhaps being overly self critical, Dickson told me the only regret was ‘leaving the sport with nothing’ but it’s clear he never left the sport, we are merely on a new chapter.

Article by Allen Payne as part of a series on boxing trainers, Men Behind the Mitts.