With sixty seconds to save his dream, Martin Rogan pulled off what many believed was mission impossible in Birmingham‘s National Indoor Arena.
When the 37-year-old slumped on his stool at the end of the tenth round on Saturday night he could sense his body was telling him there was little left to give and clearly Matt Skelton was going through the same dark thoughts in the opposite corner.
As the television lights seared down like a wicked desert sun, Rogan sighed to coach John Breen, “I’m knackered.” But the veteran corner man and sidekick Eamonn Magee knew his man had more to give, much more.
“I told him that Martin Rogan doesn’t know the meaning of the word,” said Breen and his charge responded with an 11th round which will live long in the memory.
With the same fury he had shown through rounds one to eight but which had vanished in nine and ten, he manically drove at Skelton who was sent stumbling to the canvas from a series of blows. While he staggered to his feet, another almighty assault of hooks and uppercuts led referee John Keane to step in and call a halt.
“Mike Tyson had Cus D’Amato and I’ve got ‘Cost a Fortune’ John Breen but he’s worth every penny! John and Eamonn have been awesome for me,“ said Rogan.
At 1:21 of the 11th round Rogan, in only his 12th fight, was Commonwealth heavyweight champion and the first Ulsterman to hold the belt in 37 years.
The 4-1 outsider had just beaten the World number six and shocked just about everyone, including promoter Frank Warren.
“It’s the best heavyweight fight at any level I’ve seen for 15 years. I have to be honest I didn’t think he could do it but he gave an incredible performance and it was fought in such a respectful and honest way,” said Warren.
Rogan, now without question the best Irish heavyweight ever, acclaimed his victory with a roar of delight while at ringside wife Fiona could not hold back the tears of joy.
The Birmingham crowd had mainly come to cheer on World amateur champion Frankie Gavin to a successful pro debut but they made sure of hanging around to roar on Rogan. Skelton was alone in his own country.
Two hours after the momentous victory and the hero of the hour was still having pictures taken and signing autographs outside the arena.
A scared nose and welts around both eyes bore testimony to some of the damage done in what was a brutal struggle for supremacy.
The tone was set in the first round as they came together like two mountain bears and pounded each other at close quarters. Skelton had edged the first and Rogan the second, at the end of which he let out a menacing roar into the champion’s face.
The third round was Skelton’s most potent as his weight advantage of around two stones was telling and the Belfast man seemed to be in danger of whiplash such were the jackhammer blows thudding onto his chin.
But he would not waver from his pursuit of the champion and having edged the fourth he staggered Skelton with a right hook which also brought a cut around the Englishman’s left eye.
Smiling as he went back to his corner, in the sixth and seventh he outworked Skelton who was now starting to fade from the relentless aggression of the challenger and it was to his great credit in the eighth that he remained on his feet.
Midway through the round and near the end Skelton was reeling from a blizzard hooks to body and head and at one point referee Keane seemed poised to step in.
But Skelton survived and Rogan had punched himself to standstill. The pendulum swung the other way.
Skelton may have been tiring badly but the fire had gone out of Rogan’s work and the ninth and tenth were the champion’s without him being overly stretched. The Belfast man’s supporters feared his best was behind him.
Instead he demonstrated his incredible conditioning and in a case of mind over body chopped down Skelton, who tumbled like an old oak tree.
So often now his career is understandably compared to the fictional ‘Rocky’ tale but after this latest chapter old Slyvester Stallone may want to change the name of his box-set to ‘Rogan’.