Can 'Rogie' roll back the years and shock Fury?
Britain's world ranked heavyweight hope Tyson Fury stays active when he faces former Commonwealth champion Martin Rogan for the near-mythical Irish Heavyweight title at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast on Saturday night. It will be only the 19th time since 1890 that the Irish heavyweight title has been contested, and only the second time since 1997. Fury, ranked 8th by the WBC, looks on course for a world title shot within the next 18 months, but Rogan – 41 next month – is a no-nonsense brawler who will be looking to upset the Fury road show with what would be a colossal upset.
40 year old Martin Rogan (14-2, 7 KOs) still drives a cab in his home city of Belfast, despite winning a British Commonwealth title and defeating two of Britain's Big-Four of black heavyweights that dominated the British scene for the previous decade – Audley Harrison and Matt Skelton (the other two being Michael Sprott and Danny Williams.) A powerfully built 6' 3'' brawler who forgoes boxing skill for all out offense, Rogan would undoubtedly have cracked the world's top-ten had he embarked on his boxing career a decade earlier.
In fact 'Rogie' as he is affectionately known didn't begin his pro career until he was 33, and even then it was something of a stop start affair with just one fight in 2004, two in 2005, and one in 2007.
His breakthrough year came in 2008 when he competed in the first ever Prizefighter tournament at the York Hall in Bethnal Green. The revolutionary format pitched eight fighters in a quarterfinal lineup competing in three round bouts. The quarterfinal winners then progressed to the semi finals and those two winners went on to contest the final, with the whole tournament taking place within the space of three hours, and shown live via Sky Sports.
Rogan TKO'd Alex Ibbs in the second round of his first bout, outpointed the previously unbeaten Dave Ferguson in his semifinal, and then outscored another unbeaten fighter in David Dolan in the final to lift the first ever Prizefighter trophy and a cash prize of 25,000 pounds.
Meanwhile, in late 2008, Audley Harrison was attempting once again to get his topsy-turvy career back on track, and decided it would be a good idea to take on Rogan, who's profile was high from winning Prizefighter, but was still little more than a raw novice. Harrison no doubt believed that Rogan would provide him with no more than a brisk workout. However, the Irishman failed to read the script, and put on a typically sensational brawling performance, beating Harrison by the thinnest of margins to take the ten round decision.
If that win had been something of a stunner, Rogan's next victory had UK fight fans believing that anything was possible, when he became the first man to stop the hulking former world title challenger Matt Skelton, bludgeoning him to defeat in the 11th round and winning the Commonwealth heavyweight title in the process.
In his next fight in May 2009, Rogan found himself in the unusual position of bookies favorite as he defended his Commonwealth title against Norwich heavyweight Sam Sexton, a talented boxer who's only loss had been on a stoppage to Dereck Chisora.
In the early rounds it looked as if Rogan would be too much for Sexton as his aggression and punch volume left the challenger with no option but to cover up. However, Sexton has an excellent left jab, and it was that punch the began to make a mess of Rogan's left eye by the middle rounds.
By round eight, Rogan was living on borrowed time, yet a savage attack had Sexton out on his feet. When the Norwich man signaled that he had lost his mouthpiece, Rogan astonishingly backed off and allowed the referee to retrieve it, an action that will probably haunt him for the rest of his life, for within seconds of the bout resuming, the referee decided Rogan's eye injury was too severe and stopped the fight in Sexton's favor.
There was a rematch six months later, and this time a fifth round clash of heads resulted in another nasty eye injury for Rogan, whose corner pulled him out after the sixth. Rogan boxed twice at the end of 2010 against a pair of Eastern European nonentities, and had barely been seen or heard of prior to the unusual press conference leading up to Saturday's fight that saw both men entertain reporters with songs and standup comedy.
The same cannot be said for 23-year-old Tyson Fury (17-0, 12 KOs) who is rarely out of the news these days, with his father Gypsy John Fury's imprisonment, his baby son's health issues (happily now resolved), his escalating weight problems (also resolved) and claims of mental health problems (still apparently ongoing.)
Earlier this year, Fury vacated the British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles he had won with his career-best performance over Derek Chisora last July. It had been hoped that he would defend his titles against rising prospect David Price, the official number one contender, but when negotiations broke down over money, Fury chose to forgo the belts.
Whereas the 6' 9'' 255 pounder had looked purposeful and controlled in outpointing Chisora, he had looked wild and undisciplined in his two bouts since – TKO'ing fringe contender Nicolai Firtha in five rounds in September, and stopping Canadian brawler Neven Pajkic in the third two months later.
Firtha, a solid journeyman who had just gone the distance with current WBA heavyweight champion Alexander Povetkin, rocked Fury with a big right hand in the second round. Fury regained his composure to take control of the fight and stop Firtha in the fifth, but the young giant had been hurt and exposed for the first time in his career.
However, that was nothing compared to what happened in his next fight. Taking on Canadian champion Neven Pajkic, a fighter bereft of even the most rudimentary of boxing skills and with just five career stoppage wins, Fury was sensationally floored heavily in the second round. Fury had looked wide open for the right hand from the opening bell, and was tagged repeatedly after the knockdown before being saved by the bell. In round three an incensed Fury came out throwing bombs and floored Pajkic twice, resulting in the referee stopping the fight, somewhat prematurely in the eyes of many.
This writer had criticized the selection of both Firtha and Pajkic as opponents for Fury, believing that he is a fighter that needs to concentrate in bouts, and when facing opposition that he has no respect for, his concentration lapses. On both occasions this writer was proven right.
Can Martin Rogan go one step further than Firtha and Pajkic and actually defeat Fury? Rogan can hit hard with the right hand, and we have all seen how susceptible Fury can be to that punch. The Irishman will be dwarfed by his opponent, conceding some 6 inches in height and as much as 20 pounds in weight. But Pajkic was exactly the same size as Rogan and had no trouble penetrating Fury's defence and finding his chin.
The bottom line is that Tyson Fury's promoter Mick Hennessy should be providing his fighter with better opposition than Martin Rogan, who would've given him a tremendous fight several years ago, but has barely been active since 2009 and has suffered with severe back problems since. It is hard to imagine that Fury is more focused for this fight than he was for his last two. There are plenty of name heavyweight out there that would demand Fury's respect, yet these fights are not being made.
If Rogan enters the ring fully fit and Fury has his mind on other things then once again we could see some high drama, with the Irishman connecting with wild but dangerous punches. The most likely outcome however is that Rogan is a largely spent force, hampered by inactivity and injury, and that Fury takes him apart systematically in a half-dozen rounds.
Fury by TKO in six.
Big Fight Odds: Tyson Fury 1/8, Martin Rogan 9/2 bet365