This afternoon in Belfast (on American time), former British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion Tyson Fury will continue his media march, where he alternates between saying there's no rush to get him to world level and that he's ready for the Klitschkos after his next fight, by facing Martin Rogan in a 12-round bout (which was scheduled to be 10, originally) for (or not for) the vacant Irish heavyweight title, a trinket frankly so meaningless that it really doesn't much matter in the actual boxing world whether the belt is on the line or not, as it merely serves to boost an ego and help with marketing.
Fury (17-0, 12 KO) is one of the sport's more polarizing figures, it seems, and I'll admit that I've seen him both ways. He has at times been a clumsy, unrefined oaf, a 6'9" guy who looks like he's still trying to get a handle on how his body works. He's also made truly ridiculous statements about his career, and probably overdoes the arrogance all things considered.
His best performance to date, by far, was his win over an uncharacteristically fat and out out of shape Dereck Chisora last July. Fury dominated that fight, which seems on paper unlikely to happen again were a rematch to be scheduled. Chisora came in 20 pounds over his normal fighting weight, and he looked and fought like someone who wasn't prepared to fight. But Fury did the job that night, and won easily and clearly.
Since then, the 23-year-old Fury has scaled back his competition in a big way. In September he defeated American club fighter Nicolai Firtha in a fight that surely wasn't fitting for a guy who can't quite figure out if he's stepping up to world level or not. The always-game Firtha was, as always, game, and made it a good fight. He rocked Fury bad in the third round, but Fury survived and came back nicely, winning via premature stoppage in the fifth round.
Unfortunately, the idea that Fury was going to be protected and helped by referees gained some momentum in his next fight, when he faced Neven Pajkic in November. The two built a dramatic storyline based around Fury once going to a Pajkic fight in Canada and being demeaning or something, so of course the two just had to fight. Once again, Fury won by questionable stoppage, this time in the third round. Pajkic had put Fury down in the second, but Fury did come back to score two knockdowns in the third. An enraged, aware Pajkic made clear he was fine after the fight, and some had questions.
Now the common denominator in those fights, more than referees John Keane and Phil Edwards having a similar mindset, was the fact that Fury was hurt by Firtha, who is not a puncher, and hurt by Pajkic, who is not a puncher.
Today, he faces Martin Rogan (14-2, 7 KO), a 40-year-old brawler who turned pro in 2004 at the age of 33 and quickly became a fan favorite. It's easy to understand why. He's a blue collar everyman, and he fights his ass off to the very best of his limited ability. There's nothing about him, other than the fact that he's in better shape at 40 than most ever were at 20, that makes him seem like any kind of celebrity or public figure. He's got an old-timey pugilist feel about him when he speaks and when he fights. He's gregarious and friendly, though he can get hot-headed, and he seems to truly fear no challenge.
In April 2008, Rogan made his mark by winning a Prizefighter tournament at York Hall, which raised his profile quite a bit. Suddenly, he was a living, real Rocky Balboa, a nobody who was somehow winning the fights. Since it was real life, the Rocky story was Prizefighter, and not the world heavyweight championship, because the idea of Rogan or Balboa being world heavyweight champion is frankly absurd.
Eight months later, he was matched with Audley Harrison, the famous former gold medalist and professional flameout extraordinaire, arguably the generation's biggest flop, not just for British boxing, but for pro boxing in general. Harrison, though he'd won two straight, was pretty much written off at that point.
But, he was still a guy with an Olympic pedigree and true boxing skills. The unrefined Rogan operated on brute force and desire. Turns out that was enough to pull off the upset, as the aged, unheralded, unschooled Rogan won a 96-95 decision and became more famous than ever.
About three months later, Rogan stopped Matt Skelton in the 11th round to win Commonwealth title. The Rocky story just kept going. And then it had to end.
In May 2009, Rogan was controversially halted by Sam Sexton in the eighth round. With the finish unsatisfying, they had a rematch in November. This time, Sexton truly left no doubt, battering Rogan out after six rounds, when an exhausted Rogan had to call it a day. It was a brave effort and a damn fine fight, but time and reality had caught up. He was outclassed.
Rogan took a year off before taking a couple of easy fights in November 2010, winning both. He hasn't fought since then, and now he faces Fury.
The odds seem insurmountable. Rogan, 40, is certainly no small man at 6'3" and weighing in at 228 pounds for this fight, but Fury is 6'9" and has come in at a career-low 245, looking lean and fit for the bout. I've said I find this fight to be rather grotesque, an absurd carny act from a promoter who really has just the one fighter, a marketing tool in Ireland meant to draw in fans to a nonsense fight that doesn't seem, to me, to be all that different from Haye vs Harrison a couple of years ago.
But I also can't shake the fact that Tyson Fury gets hurt, and that Martin Rogan has nothing to lose by going in there and simply winging shots at Fury, who is very hittable. If Rogan catches Fury square on the chin, who's to say what happens? He is a physically strong man who may well be fighting angry.
I'm picking Tyson Fury to win handily, but nothing can really shock me here other than a Martin Rogan win by decision, which would be truly out of left field. Conventional wisdom says that if he's going to win this one, after a long layoff and with highly questionable stamina, it has to be on one big blow. I like Fury to stop a determined Rogie, but maybe with yet another scare in the early rounds. Fury TKO-6