By Cody Kaye: When you’re on top, losing never comes easy. Just ask former IBF featherweight champion Billy Dib. “Man, nothing has ever hurt as badly as losing that belt did. When you lose, you feel like you’ve left a part of yourself behind. Mate, I was a sick and sorry sight that morning, waking up without that world title. You know, if you woke up, in the condition that I was in with the world title, you’d be ok. Even though the fight’s been voted as one of the fights of the year – it’s just a hollow feeling without having that belt to go with it.”
Since first coming to, battered and bruised on that morning of March 2, Billy Dib has been consumed by one constant thought – winning back the belt he lost to undefeated Russian, Evgeny Gradovich. “In the first fight, I said things. I said if I can’t beat Gradovich then I don’t deserve to be in boxing. Whatever. But when I said that, I was angry. I can’t take anything-away form Gradovich in terms of what he’s achieved. He’s a world champion now. But I can take his title away. And you know what, paybacks a bitch. I’m going to make sure he feels exactly how I felt that morning. I’m going to smash this guy’s head in.”
On November 23 in Macau, China, fighting as the semi main event on the undercard to Manny Pacquiao and Bradon Rios, Dib will finally get his shot at redemption.
The 28-year old and his trainer Billy Hussein have spent more than three months preparing for the rematch, the longest training camp in Dibs 38-fight career.
“I’ve trained extremely hard. I needed to.” Shaking his head, a wry smile spreads across the likable Aussies face. “Let’s be honest mate, losing to the Russian was a wake up call… I’ve been making the same mistakes since I was a kid, and I’ve been getting away with them. Gradovich exposed me that night. I look at the tape and it’s like damn, what was I thinking? Getting hit with the same shots over and over, pulling out, being an idiot. Hands down, chin up - stupid stuff man. But we’ve been in camp for something like 14 weeks now, a long time, and they’ve drilled it into my head, day after day after day. I’ve been on that floor to ceiling time after time after time – hands up, roll, slip, dip. Mate, I sleep with those words in my head.
And he’ll need to. As Dib found out in the first fight, there is simply no quit in the man dubbed, “The Mexican Russian,” a name he earned due to his relentless, come forward style of fighting. Gradovich has already made one successful defence of the IBF crown he took from Dib in March, earning a unanimous decision win over number one contender Mauricio Munoz last July.
After suffering a severe concussion in their first fight, and leaving the ring with several less litres of blood than when he first stepped into it, Dib knows better than anyone there’s nowhere to hide against Gradovich, but that’s exactly how he wants it.
“It’s balls out time - you know what I mean? We’ve been working so hard, I’m not just going in there to hit and move, and duck and slip… I want to punch his head in. He caused me some damage last time, I caused him a bit, but round 12 is over… Now it’s time for round 13.”
Dib acknowledges, however, that he can’t simply stand toe to toe with the Russian for another 12 rounds, as much as he may want to. “Look, you’re going to see a bit of everything in this fight. Yes, I have to engage and exchange, but it’s also brains against brawn with this guy. I have to out-box him, I have to out-will him, and yeah, I also have to out-fight him.
But lurking just beneath the bravado and excitement lives an overwhelming sense of pressure – a need to atone for past mistakes, and a desire to restore the faith in Australian boxing. “This isn’t just about me anymore. I really believe I let everyone down when I lost that fight. I felt like I let my family down, my fans, and my country. I have one chance to change all that… I may never get another shot. So this fight… man, put it this way, losing it just isn’t an option.”