By Anthony Cocks
Not everyone gets a second chance in life.
But for Sydney’s Billy “The Kid” Dib 43-4 (24), who will fight for his fourth major world title next weekend, rebirth and rebuilding has been a common thread of his storied career.
It seems like only yesterday that the now 32-year-old Dib was the rising star of Aussie boxing, a swaggering, teenage phenom widely touted for his close friendship with the bellicose featherweight champion Prince Naseem Hamed. But the proud Lebanese-Australian now finds himself in the role of veteran heading into his fight for the vacant IBF super featherweight title against the “American Dream” Tevin Farmer 25-4-1 (5) in Sydney, Australia this Friday night.
It has at times been a hard road to hoe for Dib, who has managed to stay world ranked for well over a decade despite world title losses and personal tragedies that threatened to derail his career.
This writer was ringside when Dib stepped into the ring for the first time as a pro at the State Sports Centre in Sydney to face fellow debutant Chad Roy Naidu over four rounds on the undercard of the WBC light heavyweight title eliminator between Paul “Hurricane” Briggs and Stipe Drews in 2004. The influence of Hamed’s tutorage was obvious as Dib juked and jived, boxed and banged his way to a fourth round TKO.
Dib was always on the fast-track to glory. He signed with Golden Boy Promotions early in his career, won the IBO super featherweight title against rugged South African southpaw Zolani Marali with Johnny Lewis in his corner, climbing off the canvas in the third to win a razor-thin points decision.
Then it was back to the States, where he had fought five times as a pro already – including at such famous venues as Madison Square Garden, the Mandalay Bay and MGM Grand – for his first shot at a major world title when the then-23-year-old Dib challenged WBO featherweight champion Steven Luevano, 35-1-1 (15) at the time, at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall on the undercard of Bernard Hopkins versus Kelly Pavlik in October 2008.
The well-drilled Californian southpaw handed the 21-0 (11) Dib his first loss and taught him a valuable lesson about the pro game at the top level.
“It was at that moment that I realized that I really needed to up my game,” said Dib, who was less than three months removed from the Marali victory. “I learnt good lessons from that loss.”
Coming second wasn’t something Dib was familiar with and it took him some time to come to terms with the loss. A devout Muslim, he took a pilgrimage to Mecca to deal with his demons and determine whether he would ever box again.
"I started to think that my whole career was all hype and that I couldn’t really live up to it," Dib, who went 98-15 in the amateurs, told the Daily Telegraph at the time.
It took Dib 10 wins and almost three years to get back into the world title picture. This time he was better prepared for world championship level boxing when he faced Mexican veteran Jorge Lacierva 39-7-6 (26) at the time, for the vacant IBF featherweight crown at the Olympic Park Sports Centre in Sydney in July 2011.
Dib largely put on a boxing clinic, using his excellent footwork to keep turning Lacierva and walking him into counter shots before slipping out of the way. Two of the three judges had him winning a wide points decision by scores of 118-109 and 119-109, while the third judge saw it closer at 115-112.
“That was the greatest night of my sporting career, a moment in my life that I will never forget,” he said.
After a first round demolition of unbeaten Italian southpaw Alberto Servidei in November, Dib took on the Nacho Beristain-trained Eduardo Escobedo on the same card as Daniel Geale making the second defence of his IBF middleweight title against Osumanu Adama in Hobart, Tasmania in March 2012.
Escobedo, 32-3 (23) going in to the fight, was 28-years-old and in his physical prime. The IBF number three contender previously went 12 rounds with a prime Daniel Ponce De Leon in what was the big-hitting Mexican’s sixth defence of his WBO super bantamweight title four years earlier and was riding an 11-fight win streak coming in to the bout.
He didn’t think much of Dib before the fight, labelling him a “little pussy” for what he perceived as a negative fighting style, but it was the Sydney sharpshooter who had his way with him on the night, sweeping all six rounds on two of the judges’ scorecards before the Mexican’s corner withdrew him from the bout.
Dib was on a high. He took a non-title bout against another rugged Mexican in southpaw Juan Antonio Rodriguez in July 2013, suffering cuts over both eyes from head clashes before winning decisively on points after 10 rounds.
After taking the rest of the year off to recover from his wounds, Dib faced one of the toughest tests of his career when he squared up against unheralded Evgeny Gradovich, the IBF number 11 contender.
The little-known Russian carried a 15-0 (8) record into the ring but little else after being drafted into the fight on a month’s notice when original opponent IBF number three Luis Franco (11-1) abruptly withdrew citing his dissatisfaction with the $20,000 purse on offer and claiming he was retiring from the sport.
In a tremendous battle at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods in Mashantucket, Connecticut, Gradovich edged Dib on two of three scorecards to claim a narrow split decision victory.
Dib bounced back with a majority decision win over fringe contender “Machine Gun” Mike Oliver four months later before rematching Gradovich on the undercard of Manny Pacquiao versus Brandon Rios in Macau, China in November 2013.
This time around Gradovich outboxed Dib before stopping him in the ninth round to retain the IBF featherweight title.
Once again, it looked like the end of the road for Dib.
“I had a good run early on, the losses to Gradovich were heart-breaking, but that’s boxing,” said Dib. “I put the past behind me and jumped back on the horse. I believe everything happens for a reason and the Almighty had other plans for me.
“Here I am in 2018 on the verge of quite possibly becoming a three-time world champion [including the IBO super featherweight championship]. God is great, I’m blessed.”
The brace of losses to “El Ruso Mexicano” proved to be a temporary setback. After three consecutive victories in 2014, Dib travelled to Japan to challenge WBC super featherweight champion Takashi Miura, 28-2-2 (22) at the time, at the Ota-City General Gym in Tokyo in May the following year.
Miura, a heavy-handed southpaw, had won the WBC title from Gamaliel Diaz in April 2013 with a dominant display that saw him deck the reigning champion four times en route to a ninth round TKO victory.
In the fourth defence of his green belt Miura walked Dib into a neutral corner in the third round and caught him with a left cross as he bounced off the ropes. The Australian crumpled to the canvas, bravely hauling his body back into the ring from under the bottom rope where he fell and made it back to his feet, but a sideways stagger-step when referee Hector Afu asked him to walk forward put paid to his championship dreams that night.
The fight was immediately waved off.
“I have no excuses,” said Dib. “Miura caught me with a good shot, I kissed the canvas, got back up, but the ref saved me from what possibly could have been a dangerous loss.”
Shortly after the Miura loss tragedy struck the Dib family when his 21-year-old fiancé Sara was diagnosed with leukemia. The cancer took her life just eight weeks after she was first diagnosed with the disease, but not before he was able to marry her in a ceremony that was brought forward four months from its original December date.
It was a difficult time for Dib, who admitted to the Daily Telegraph at the time that he was in a dark place and that it took work to step out of the dark shadow cast by the death of a loved one.
Dib’s unwavering Muslim faith has helped him get through the worst of it.
“Again, this is the Almighty’s will,” said Dib. “It was her time and she was called to go back to her creator. I know Sara is resting in a much better place.
“I accept what God has written and it is because of my faith that I know I am able to move on with life.”
It took Dib nine months and a lot of soul-searching to return to the ring.
In July last year Dib returned the States for the first time in three years to face Yardley Armenta Cruz on the undercard of the Mikey Garcia versus Adrien Broner bout in Brooklyn, New York. With Robert Garcia cornering him for that bout, the fight ended in a no contest after two rounds when Cruz was unable to continue after an accidental head clash.
Returning to Australia, Dib took stock of his career and decided that a change of trainers was needed to breathe new life into what could well be the final chapter of his fighting life. He chose former three-division world champion and Hall of Famer Jeff Fenech to guide him and for the past year they have been tirelessly working on refining his style and adding new wrinkles to his game that include a higher punch output and some crafty inside fighting moves.
“Having Jeff in my life has been an absolute blessing,” said Dib. “He is the best thing to happen to me in years. I feel that Jeff has given me that confidence I was lacking. He has helped bring happiness into my life.”
Dib will need to be confident against the 28-year-old Philadelphian Farmer – another southpaw – who hasn’t lost a fight in almost six years and is riding a 19-fight unbeaten streak.
Farmer is coming off a 12-round no contest against Kenichi Ogawa 22-1 (17) for the IBF 130-pound title last December that was originally ruled a split decision victory for the Japanese fighter in what was a nip-and-tuck battle at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.
According to CompuBox Punchstats, Farmer threw more punches, landed more punches and connected at a higher percentage.
The fight was later changed to a no contest and Ogawa was stripped of the title after testing positive to the banned substance androstanediol.
It was Farmer’s first fight since being shot in the hand at a family gathering less than six months earlier.
“I felt it was a competitive fight. Truth is I thought either of them could have been announced the champion,” said Dib.
“Tevin deserves this opportunity again and I look forward to testing my skills against him on August 3rd to determine the new IBF super featherweight champion.”
With Fenech in his corner Dib has a renewed confidence in his own ability and what he believes he is capable of achieving. And if a positive mental attitude counts for anything, then Farmer will have his hands full this Friday night at Technology Park in Redfern against the renewed, retooled and reinvigorated Dib.
“A happy fighter is a good fighter and you will see that on August 3rd,” said Dib.