County Londonderry's new favourite sporting son Darren Dougan was dealt a blow in his punt at European glory this month.
The popular middleweight kickboxer had been due to take on reigning champion Jean-Philipe Mercer from France in a bill-topping tussle at the Millennium Forum in Derry on September 29. Mercer's European belt was on the line and Dougan, who is co-promoting the show with Irish Kickboxing legend Billy Murray, was aiming to add the title to the Celtic nations belt he already holds.
But in a sensational development this week, the Frenchman was stripped of the title by governing body the WKN (World Kickboxing Network) after he said he would be unable to make the event due to unforeseen prior commitments - despite signing a contract and having all arrangements booked. A WKN spokesperson said the reason for the withdrawal was not sufficient and as this was a mandatory defence from which he was withdrawing, the governing body had no option but to take the title from him.
The title is now vacant and the next in line challenger will face Dougan.
The change in opponent hasn't fazed Dougan who fights out of the Loup club in Magherafelt, but it has made him more determined than ever to win in front of home fans.
"Mercer was running scared," he said. "He was looking for an excuse not to fight me. He knows what I can do in the ring and although I'm the top ranking challenger in Europe, he still wanted to find a way of fighting someone else some other time. I take it as compliment and I want to reassure all fans who are heading to the Forum for the event that I am still going to be fighting for the European title and I am doubly determined to win it now. Mercer has just got me mad."
Murray said the fighter change would work in Dougan's favour.
"He's like a wounded beast now," said Murray. "He wanted to take the title from the champ and do it in style in what is his backyard. We'll secure the next opponent by the start of next week. These things happen in the fight game. Mercer may have had champion written beside his name, but he had clay feet. When Dougan is crowned champ, he'll fear no-one."
For further details on the Millennium Forum show, and to see who Dougan will be up against, see www.prokick.com Tickets for the incredible night of action are on sale now. For details contact the Forum box Office on 028 7126 4455. Or log onto www.millenniumforum.co.uk - tickets are also available from www.prokickshop.com