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Dennis Hogan’s Brisbane Homecoming is No Feel-Good Story for Christmas

Arne K. Lang

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Dennis Hogan’s Brisbane Homecoming is No Feel-Good Story for Christmas

Dennis Hogan will get back to his home in the Australian city of Brisbane just in the nick of time to spend the Christmas holidays with his wife and baby daughters. This reads like a nice opening line to a heartwarming Christmas story, but it’s not. File it under Heartbreak.

Don’t misunderstand. Hogan loves his wife, the former Brideen White, and his daughters, aged three and 10 months, but it wasn’t supposed to be this way. He didn’t plan on returning home without first capturing the figurative scalp of former WBA/IBF 154-pound world champion Julian “J Rock” Williams. But the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry and that goes triple for boxing, even in a normal year.

Ten years ago, at age 25, Hogan left his home in Kilcullen, Ireland, a town in greater Dublin, for a new beginning in the Land Down Under. In Ireland he had worked as a carpenter. Work became scarce after the recession hit, but Hogan wasn’t pushed to Australia so much as he was pulled there. As an amateur, he had boxed in a tournament in Brisbane, impressing someone with connections who told him, “look me up if you ever decide to turn pro.”

In Ireland, many boys grow up with the dream of becoming a world boxing champion. That yearning was especially intense in Hogan who was introduced to the sport by his maternal grandfather, Paddy Burke, the local boxing coach in Kilcullen.

In Hogan’s words, his grandfather was “over the moon” when Dennis won his first pro fight. But Paddy did not live to see his grandson’s pro career evolve beyond the preliminary stage. His final words to Dennis before he passed away were “Give it everything you got.” Last year, Dennis got a tattoo with these words inscribed below an image of his late grandfather. It was inked below his heart.

Hogan was off the radar of most boxing fans in most of the world until April of last year when he challenged WBO 154-pound champion Jaime Munguia in Monterrey, Mexico. Dennis came out on the short end of a majority decision, but the overwhelming consensus in the Anglo community was that he was robbed. Had the judges seen the same fight as those tuning in on TV, it would have been a massive upset. The Mexican came in undefeated (32-0) and was a big puncher.

Hogan’s consolation prize was a date with another undefeated fighter, WBC world middleweight champion Jermall Charlo. They met at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn on Dec. 7, 2019, and that didn’t go well for the Irish Aussie. Dennis was on the deck twice before the bout was waived off in the seventh round. It was the first stoppage of Hogan’s career and reduced his record to 28-3-1.

Dennis concedes that he made a big mistake by moving up in weight to take on an opponent as formidable as Charlo. He resolved that henceforth he would stay at 154. When he received an offer to fight “J-Rock,” he pounced on it. The bout would happen on the day after Christmas at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. The winner was promised another title shot.

On Oct. 22, Hogan arrived in Las Vegas to begin a 9-week camp with new trainer Wayne McCullough. A longtime Las Vegas resident, Belfast native McCullough is a two-time Olympian who turned pro after winning silver at the 1992 Barcelona Games and would go on to win a world bantamweight title. He was tutored from the very onset of his pro career by the legendary trainer Eddie Futch and he and Hogan would hit it off splendidly.

Nine weeks is a long time for a fellow with young ones at home to be away from his family. One might think that spending it in a party town like Las Vegas would mitigate the sacrifice, but don’t be fooled. The allurements of the Strip held no appeal to Hogan. “I have been 100 percent focused on becoming the best boxer that I can be,” he told this reporter.

Hogan had an inkling that things might go awry when he learned that Julian Williams’ chief sparring partner (who shall remain nameless in deference to health privacy laws) had tested positive for the coronavirus. As it turned out, that was a precursor of more bad news. Julian Williams was forced to pull out.

Dennis was given the option of taking on James Kirkland who was slated to appear on the card in a supporting bout. On paper, Kirkland, the trouble-plagued, 36-year-old Texas southpaw, was a far lesser threat than “J-Rock.” Kirkland had fought only twice against no-name opponents since being thrashed by Canelo Alvarez in 2015. But a match with the heavy-handed Kirkland would have necessitated a return to 160 pounds and Hogan said thanks, but no thanks.

The entire card has evaporated, but in these fluid times one shouldn’t be shocked if it gets patched back together with a new main event.

It was a bummer of a year for Hogan before this latest development. He is great friends with Jeff Horn with whom he has sparred many rounds. Sitting in the stadium and watching Horn take a beating from Tim Tszyu in their big domestic clash this past August was tough to take. Horn has been up and down since he beat Pacquaio, notes Hogan: “After the first round I knew that Jeff was going to have an off night.”

Hogan’s name was immediately bandied about as a future opponent for Tszyu. He says he was offered the fight but had to turn it down because he is under contract with Premier Boxing Champions who, he says, has been very fair in their dealings with him. He won’t denigrate Tszyu, but one gets the impression that he isn’t all that impressed with the son of the Hall of Famer. “A fight with Tszyu is a fight I would embrace,” he says with relish. (Tim Tszyu is back in action this coming Wednesday opposing New Zealand’s Bowyn Morgan.)

The Moloney twins, Jason and Andrew, have a big following in Australia, and Hogan is a fan. When Andrew’s rematch with Joshua Franco was ruled a no-contest because of a phantom head butt, there was a big stink. “It was the most disgusting thing I ever saw in boxing,” says Dennis. “For the two rounds that it lasted, Andrew fought the perfect fight.”

Hogan anticipates that he will stay in the boxing game, likely in a promotional capacity, when his career is finished. He can tap into the big Irish community in Brisbane that inflates the gate whenever he is on the bill.

“As much as it’s a heartache, boxing in my blood,” he told this reporter in a conversation that took place before he knew that his fight with Julian Williams was in the jeopardy. At age 35, Dennis has a short window to realize his dream of becoming a world champion. For boxers of his vintage, a postponed fight, at least in theory, is more disadvantageous.

When Hogan left Brisbane to complete his preparations in Los Angeles for his date with Jaime Munguia, he got a big send-off. The Queensland Irish pipe band walked him into the airport. The previous month, he and Brideen – who is also a recent emigrant from the Emerald Isle – and their little girl Aria (whose sister wasn’t born yet) were given their own float in Brisbane’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.

As I write these words, Dennis Hogan is homeward bound. His plane hasn’t yet touched down in Australia and when it does, he won’t be in Brisbane, but in Sydney, where he must quarantine for 14 days before completing his journey. Hopefully there will be some presents under a tree when he finally makes it home after a long expedition that yielded nothing but another disappointment.

Merry Christmas, Dennis, and if your retort is “bah, humbug,” well, we can certainly understand your frustration.

Photo credit: Getty

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Michael Coffie vs. Darmani Rock Smacks of Joe Joyce vs. Daniel Dubois

Arne K. Lang

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Although it wasn’t a world title fight, the match between Joe Joyce and Daniel Dubois which took place in London on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, attracted a lot of buzz. Only one heavyweight bout in 2020 was more eagerly anticipated, that being the rematch in February between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder.

Joyce vs. Dubois was that rare pairing of two undefeated heavyweights who were roughly at the same stage of their career. Dubois was 15-0 (14 KOs) heading in; Joyce was 11-0 (10).

And that brings us to the crossroads fight on Jan. 30 at the LA Shrine Expo between Darmani Rock (17-0, 12 KOs) and Michael Coffie (11-0, 8 KOs). Unlike Joyce vs. Dubois, this is not a well-marinated showdown, but yet there are some parallels, most notably it’s a match between unbeaten heavyweights in which the victor will undoubtedly make a big jump in public esteem and the loser, more than likely, will be pushed back into the shadows.

There was a big age gap in the Joyce-Dubois fight. The 35-year-old Joyce was the older man by 12 years. Likewise, Rock vs. Coffie features a young old-timer vs. an opponent who is merely young.

Michael Coffie, 34, came to boxing late after serving eight years in the Marine Corps. He entered the New York City Golden Gloves tournament on a whim and with virtually no formal training and yet he succeeded in reaching the finals.

When Coffie (pictured)  turned pro, his manager was none other than Randy Gordon, the former chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission who has kept his hand in boxing as a journalist and radio personality, co-hosting a boxing-themed talk show on Sirius FM with Gerry Cooney. Gordon knows more than a little about heavyweights, having been involved with Bonecrusher Smith who was briefly (very briefly) the WBA world heavyweight champion.

“(Bonecrusher) was not anywhere near the fighter that Mike is,” Gordon told Hall of Fame boxing writer Bernard Fernandez on the occasion of Coffie’s pro debut in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. On that night, Coffie needed only 61 seconds to dismiss his opponent, ending the contest with a short right hand. The sacrificial lamb, wrote Fernandez, “went down like an anvil dropped in the ocean.”

In his most recent fight, on Nov. 7, Coffie was matched against Minnesota veteran Joey Abell, a noted spoiler. Abell would have been a good measuring rod for assessing Coffie’s progress, but unfortunately the bout was over almost before it started. Early in the second round, Abell suffered a biceps injury while throwing a punch and couldn’t continue.

The “A” side in this fight, however, isn’t Coffie but the other guy. Darmani Rock, 24, had an outstanding amateur career, winning several important tournaments including the 2014 Youth World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria. Rock was upset in the finals of the 2016 Olympic Trials and then turned pro, signing with Roc Nation, the deep pockets sports management company founded by Jay-Z.

darmani

Darmani Rock on the right

Questions have been raised, however, about Rock’s dedication. He weighed 278 pounds in his last fight, 30 pounds more than in his pro debut. (Coffie’s fighting weight also hovers around 270 and he is the same approximate height – both are listed at 6’5” — but Coffie has always been big.)  Moreover, Rock has been inactive for 15 months and may have trouble shaking off the rust.

Darmani Rock hails from Philadelphia; Michael Coffie from Brooklyn, more fodder for the tub-thumpers. Philadelphia was the stomping grounds of Smokin’ Joe Frazier. The City of Brotherly Love has arguably produced more good prizefighters per capita than any city in the country. Brooklyn spawned Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe, and Shannon Briggs, all of whom bubbled out of gritty Brownsville which also happens to be the neighborhood where Michael Coffie spent much of his youth until he was spirited away to a less threatening environment by foster parents.

I don’t want to get carried away with the Joyce-Dubois analogy. Joe Joyce had a stronger amateur pedigree than Darmani Rock. Daniel Dubois had a spectacular run leading up to his match with Joyce including a one-sided triumph over well-regarded Nathan Gorman. Moreover, neither Joyce nor Dubois had ever fought an opponent with a losing record. The same can’t be said of Coffie and Rock who have built their records on the backs of the usual suspects. Darmani Rock’s last two opponents were both 42 years old.

Moreover, Coffie vs. Rock isn’t the main attraction on the PBC card. Top billing goes to Caleb Plant’s 168-pound title defense against Caleb Truax.

As we recall, the Joyce-Dubois fight produced a major upset. Dubois was understood to be faster on his feet and more heavy-handed – considered more likely to turn the tide with a single punch – but youth was not served on that night at the historic Church House in Westminster. Joyce methodically peppered Dubois with his jab which caused a big lump to develop over Dubois’s left eye. The eye eventually shut completely and the fight ended in the 10th round with Dubois taking a knee and allowing himself to be counted out. Joyce’s victory elevated him to #2 in the WBO rankings, a notch below Oleksandr Usyk who is potentially his next opponent.

One doesn’t know what will transpire when Coffie fights Rock, but as Michael Buffer would say, “someone’s ‘O’ will have to go.” Fights of this nature are inherently intriguing and that goes double when the combatants are heavyweights.

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“One Night in Miami”: Film Review by Thomas Hauser

Thomas Hauser

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On February 25, 1964, Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. defeated Charles “Sonny” Liston in Miami Beach over the course of six remarkable rounds to claim the heavyweight championship of the world. Late that night, the new champion found himself in a room at Hampton House (a black hotel in segregated Miami) with Malcolm X, several other followers of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, and football great Jim Brown. Soul singer Sam Cooke (a friend of Clay’s) had been at the fight, but there’s no historical record of his being in the hotel room with the others at that time.

One Night in Miami is built around imagining what transpired in that room amongst Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke. Directed by Regina King from a screenplay by Kemp Powers, it’s available on Amazon Prime.

The film fits into the genre known as historical fiction. Dramatic license was taken. Viewers should understand that, at times, it’s allegorical rather than an accurate factual recounting. The larger question is whether the film is impressionistically honest. The answer is “yes.”

One Night in Miami begins with the 1963 fight between Clay and Henry Cooper in London. It then segues to Cooke being treated rudely by an all-white audience at the Copacabana, followed by Jim Brown (the greatest running back in National Football League history) being reminded by a patronizing southern gentleman that he’s just a “n—–.” Next, we see Malcolm as the Nation of Islam’s most charismatic spokesman, after which the scene shifts to Liston-Clay I.

Thirty-four minutes into the film, the drama moves to Hampton House.

Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke were prominent in different ways. Each was young, black, and famous. But Malcolm was a social and religious figure of considerable intellect while the other three were known as entertainers.

The dialogue between the four men is light at first and then turns serious.

Malcolm is played by Kingsley Ben-Adir. On what should have been one of the greatest nights of his life, his world is slipping away. His deadly rupture with Elijah Muhammad is almost complete. Soon, Clay will abandon him. Ben-Adir comes across as a bit weaker and more tentative than one might expect, although Malcolm’s intellect is evident in his performance.

It’s hard to imagine anyone playing Cassius Clay well except the young Muhammad Ali. But Eli Goree bears a resemblance to Clay and is pretty good in the role.

Jim Brown was an intimidating physical presence. Aldis Hodge lacks this physicality but his performance is solid.

Leslie Odom Jr, who plays Sam Cooke, has star quality. He’s the only one of the four major actors who has the charisma and presence of the man he’s portraying. But as a result, Cooke has a stronger on-screen persona than Malcolm. That’s a problem as tensions between the two men boil over.

Toward the end of the film, Malcolm reveals that he intends to leave the Nation of Islam because of differences with Elijah Muhammad and will found a new organization.

“Who’s gonna be in this new organization?” Clay asks.

“I think lots of people will follow me over,” Malcolm answers. “Especially if you come with me.”

Clay, of course, didn’t follow Malcolm. He sided with Elijah Muhammad. One year later, he and Jim Brown were the only participants from the hotel room gathering as portrayed in the film who were still alive. Sam Cooke was shot to death in a California motel on December 11, 1964. On February 21, 1965, Malcolm was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem.

One Night in Miami cautions us that our icons are flesh and blood human beings with strengths and flaws. In its best moments, the film is a powerful reminder that the issues of self-respect, black empowerment, and racial equality are timeless.

Pictured left to right: Aldis Hodge (Jim Brown), Kingsley Ben-Adir (Malcolm X) Leslie Odom Jr (Sam Cooke) Eli Goree (Cassius Clay)

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Staredown: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, he was selected for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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Crossover star Holly Holm Adds New Dimensions to Claressa Shields

Kelsey McCarson

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She laughs about it now, but back then it wasn’t all that funny.

Boxing champion Holly Holm was competing in her first professional MMA fight, and all her years of training inside the ropes as a world champion boxer had just taken over her entire body.

Holm had kicked her opponent down to the ground, so she did what any well-schooled boxer would do. She pivoted away from her fallen prey and headed over to the neutral corner.

All of that was wrong.

“What are you doing?” her coach yelled from cageside. “Finish her!”

It was Holm’s first big mistake in moving over from boxing to MMA, but she was lucky that night. It turned out that Holm’s opponent was finished whether she had run over there or not, so it was a lesson she could learn without much consequence.

But the instruction of that moment stands true today, so it’s just one of the many things Holm has shared with 25-year-old boxing champion Claressa Shields as the two-time Olympic gold medalist attempts to follow in her footsteps.

“I was thinking yeah, that will definitely happen to me!” Shields said.

After Shields signed a three-year promotional deal in December with the Professional Fighters League (PFL), the first thing Shields needed to do was look for the right gym.

Shields found that place at Jackson Wink MMA Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico, one of the most famous MMA gyms in the country, and the one most recognized among the masses as the home gym of former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Holm and pound-for-pound king Jon Jones.

Holm remains the only fighter (male or female) to have won legit world championships in both boxing and MMA, and Shields said Holm welcomed her to Jackson Wink with open arms.

“She’s been super great and very nice to me. We both come from the same background…and she actually turned out to be a world champion [in MMA], actually turned out to be really good,” Shields said.

But Holm’s funny story about her first MMA fight is something that points to just how large a hill Shields has decided to climb.

Whereas pop culture has just recently started to realize the power of habits through the work of writers such as Charles Duhigg and James Clear, it’s something professional fighters have known for a long time now.

“Oh, you’re going to have a habit of this because you used to box.”

That’s something Holm tells Shields almost every time they work together, and there are just so many examples.

In fact, just watching the 25-year-old boxing champion trying to learn to do all these new things in a different way is exhausting.

That Shields practically lives inside the gym for weeks at a time so she can train four or five times a day for all the kinds of things she never had to worry about before as a professional boxer is a testament to her seriousness and her courage.

But perhaps the most amazing part of the entire story is that Shields still plans on boxing.

While Holm won world championships in both sports, she achieved those things separately. Meanwhile, Shields said she wants to do the same thing Holm did but at the same time.

So, while I’m standing there with her inside an MMA cage in New Mexico, Shields is plotting fights in both sports. On one hand, she’s talking to me about a title unification bout in boxing against Marie-Eve Dicaire. On the other, she’s talking about future superfights in MMA against the likes of UFC champ Amanda Nunes.

“I’m trying to separate the two,” Shields said specifically about her training that day but she might as well have been talking about her whole life right about now.

It’s arguably the most amazing storyline right now in combat sports.

Shields started boxing when she was just 11 years old. She earned her first gold medal at the Olympics at 17 and her second four years later.

Today, Shields is a three-division world champion, and she says she’s not nearly finished adding to her growing number of boxing belts.

But all those years and all those successes have built so many habits. Ducking and slipping is great for boxing, but both become considerable detriments to defense when you suddenly have to worry about things like knees and kicks.

And what about wrestling and jiu-jitsu?

But all that stuff together is exactly what makes Shields’ epic decision to dare to be great at both sports at the same time so amazing in the first place.

Look, Shields might never accomplish the same amazing feat Holm did when she shocked Ronda Rousey in 2015 for the UFC women’s bantamweight championship.

But she’s aiming to eclipse that incredible mark anyway, and with Holm and many others offering Shields ideas about what she needs to think about as she climbs up the steepest hill she can find, she’ll definitely have her best chance at doing it.

Kelsey McCarson covers combat sports for Bleacher Report and Heavy.

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