“The stadium was too big. I didn’t really enjoy it, if I’m honest.”
Dorian Darch recalls the night he, along with 70,000 other fans, crammed into Cardiff’s Principality Stadium in 2017 to watch Anthony Joshua’s WBA, IBF and IBO heavyweight title defense against France’s Carlos Takam.
He was clearly not that impressed with the glitz and glamor that came with AJ, and Eddie Hearn’s rather lavish roadshow.
On the other hand, maybe a small part of him wondered if, in an alternate reality, he could have stepped into that ring.
Just three years earlier, in the same city, he stepped into the ring to face AJ himself in what was only his fourth professional fight.
The setting for this interview is a bit more modest than the home of Welsh rugby. Indeed, many would feel that the Rocks Bar in Newbridge is doing little to allay the prejudices that follow Dorian’s new career move.
After nine years as a professional boxer, the gloves are now off – literally.
Dorian has made the transition to the brutal world of barefoot boxing and has become the latest fighter from Wales to try his hand at what is arguably the most brutal sport in the world.
His debut fight against Mason Shaw last year saw him emerge victorious after a second round knockout, and he now has his eye on becoming one of the stars of the scene.
We first meet for a chat in the parking lot of the bar. In the corner is a dumpster full of unspecified debris, some old tires and a hollowed-out punching bag at the entrance to the back room, which doubles as the Pantsside Boxing Club.
Once a pub, much of the old bar is still there, creating the kind of setting you’d expect in a Guy Ritchie movie.
Aside from Dorian’s massive size, his inability to sit still is quickly noticeable. He exudes the kind of energy you would expect from a child on Christmas morning.
Honestly, there’s plenty for him to look forward to. This weekend could indeed be one of his finest hours in the ring.
Dorian is set to fight at BKB 24 at London’s O2, with a bid to become the first Welshman to win a world heavyweight boxing title in over a century (although, as you can imagine, the records are a little sketchy are).
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It’s a chance to make a bit of history and Dorian is focused on the task ahead.
So much so that the 37-year-old has parted ways with his beloved Strongbow Dark Fruit — for now, anyway.
“Preparations are going well,” he says. “I think they thought I was going to screw up my workout at Christmas because everyone knows I love Dark Fruits! But I drink all year round, so quitting at Christmas was no different than quitting at any other time.
“I took my daughter to Lapland just before Christmas and it was £8 a bottle up there and that helped me stop!
“When I came back, I only drank on New Year’s Day and Boxing Day. That’s all.
“The belt is currently empty. Daniel Podmore and I would fight for it, but he has pulled back and now Jody Meikle has stepped in.”
“It’s not quite the same as a boxing belt because it’s a new sport. But because my boxing career hasn’t really ended well – I haven’t really trained, I’ve wronged myself – in a way it just sorts that out well.”
Dorian openly admits that he lost his love for boxing towards the end of his professional career.
Seven consecutive defeats was a lot in itself. But to complicate matters further, his last fight with Dave Allen at Sheffield in 2020 was dogged by controversy and allegations of repair.
Dorian was knocked down in the third round of the fight, with authorities being warned of alleged betting irregularities.
Both men have always vehemently denied the allegations, although Dorian’s response at the time of “should have thrown a few pounds on myself if I knew lol” probably didn’t do him any favors.
“I was on my way to the office to get some paperwork and I got a picture of the back page of the newspaper with DARCH FIX ROW,” he says.
“I almost crashed my van!
“But the media feeds on that sort of thing.
“I went there. The first round went well, the second round went well. The third round was stopped because he came out like a bull.
“I then had people on Twitter complaining that their damn bet hadn’t paid out.”
The investigation came to nothing, but given his nosedive in form, he was forced to do everything he could after talks with the British Boxing Board of Control.
It was a bitterly disappointing way to end a career that brought back many fond memories, including the fight with former Olympian Joshua at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena in 2014.
For the civil engineer from Aberdare, it was more or less a culture shock from the start.
Even the weigh-in was unlike anything Dorian had ever experienced, though most of all he remembers being blown away by his opponent’s imposing figure.
“I had never done anything like this before,” he recalls.
“I’m not a nervous person, but I had spent all my time thinking I was six feet, but he was huge. I joked that their tape measure must be wrong, as it only had to be six feet tall. I looked up at him and my neck hurt!”
So, what was it like stepping into the ring with one of the icons of British boxing?
“Pretty good. Paid for the vacation to Mexico!” he smiles.
Joshua won by technical knockout in the second round of the match, although Dorian seems quite pleased with how he has done.
“If you look at the fight, the first round, I didn’t do too bad. But as soon as he caught me, I was fucking gone. He didn’t knock me down. That was always my claim to fame.
“But if the ref hadn’t jumped in, he would have hit me in the f*****g third row.
“I was gone. I wasn’t even pretending I was okay. I was like f*****g Bambi.”
Dorian would go on for several more years, but it was a moment when exactly what it took to get to the top was revealed.
He admits that his career probably didn’t have the kind of professionalism it took to even give him a chance to get his hands on the AJs of this world.
But Dorian’s love for scrap has never wavered after all these years.
“Bare-knuckle is more suitable for me, if I’m honest,” he said.
“I’m a fighter. I’ve never really been a brilliant boxer.
“I was a leader when I was younger. From 18 to 24 I fought in pubs, fought in football or rugby. On the football field, by the way. I don’t like hooliganism. They’re all f*****gw** ***, they are.
“I played amateur football, played rugby for Aberdare.
“My mood wasn’t exactly right for rugby. If someone punched me, I’d just fuck them.
“But I’ve always loved a scrap. When you come from the Valleys, it’s almost ingrained in you. If you go out on a Friday night, have a few pints and a scrap.
“In the Valleys, the rugby boys are only five or four miles apart. And when you go to a town for a drink, everyone just fights each other!
“Then say hello to them the next day. I think it’s really stupid.’
He makes no attempt to dress up for who he is: some may admire him for it. There is no pretense. No fake philosophy or unpacking the psyche to try to justify things. No stories about a harrowing or traumatic childhood. No noticeable complexity to his character. He is a man who enjoys a can and a punch up.
Of course, it would be hard to condone that kind of behavior. Indeed, he admits that his antics almost caught up with him on several occasions.
“I almost went to jail twice,” he says.
“That’s why I got wise and started boxing.
“I was about 23 and realized it was probably time for a change. I didn’t want to be locked up for some bullshit.
“My first fight was over in about 40 seconds. It’s the last time my mom came to see me. She said there was something wrong with me!
“Boxing probably set me on the right path. It also helped me quit drinking, although towards the end on a Wednesday I would drink cans and answer the phone, find out I was arguing on Saturday and then pick up the can.” down.
“Stop drinking is not a problem for me. I find it quite easy now. I am not an alcoholic, despite what my wife says! If I have to stop, I stop.”
Bare-knuckle boxing clearly fills the void in a similar way. During the lockdown, Dorian put away a dazzling number of cans every night.
“Dark Fruits is like pop,” he said. “You know, when you get off work it’s nice to have a can. I ended up drinking about 12 cans a night, which isn’t good.
“I don’t really know why I drank so much. It was really stupid.
“I have this fight on Saturday and am doing the exact same thing again!
“It doesn’t hurt anyone. I just enjoy a drink. I always go to work and stuff.”
Still, things were clearly coming to a head, with his newfound drinking habits — coupled with his dismissal from his employer due to the pandemic — putting increasing pressure on his family.
“My wife told me to sort myself out,” he said.
“She kept talking about it, so I said, ‘I’ll have to start fighting again’. She only knew it was a bare knuckle a few days before!”
Dorian talks about how his family has now accepted his new venture, and it seems he may have learned a few lessons in professionalism from his time wearing the gloves.
“Thanks to my sponsor, Maull Groundworks, I’ve been able to take time off from work for the first time in my life, so I’m fit. I’ve been the strongest for a long time.
“During my professional boxing career, I used to go to work and after work to the gym at 6pm and just train once a day. I now train twice a day.”
Dorian takes nothing for granted in this upcoming fight. He has even done strength and conditioning sessions with former rugby star Tom James to get himself up to speed.
It’s hard to wonder if he might regret his boxing career and how it turned out. Would he perhaps have achieved more if he had done something else?
“No,” he snaps, not even allowing enough time to ask the full question.
“Some fighters are misled, they think they are better than what they are. I beat some journeymen early in my career and then I asked to take on Ian Lewison. I’m not funny, but he f* * ***g hit me I broke my damn jaw I was eating soup for five weeks.
“Some people would go back to the gym. Maybe people are starting to blame, but he was just better than me.
“I wasn’t able to compete at that level.”
Bare knuckle boxing has clearly given Dorian a new lease of life and probably keeps his other vices in check.
If he sticks to it, he might also be able to afford a vacation to Mexico.