Wednesday 18 October 2017

'I was going to be a world class drinker or a world class boxer. I couldn't do both'

Dennis Hogan of Ireland looks dejected after the WBA World Championship Light Middleweight title fight at Inselparkhalle on December 5, 2015 in Hamburg, Germany. (Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Dennis Hogan of Ireland looks dejected after the WBA World Championship Light Middleweight title fight at Inselparkhalle on December 5, 2015 in Hamburg, Germany. (Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Jack O'Toole

Kildare native Dennis Hogan will be defending his WBO Super Welterweight championship at the 3 Arena. The date has not been booked yet and the opponent has yet to be confirmed, but at least that's what the dream looks like.

Hogan is currently the World Boxing Organisation's (WBO) sixth ranked Super Welterweight and should he defeat Japanese Super Welterweight champion Yuki Nonaka in Brisbane next month, he'll be in line to face the winner of Liam Smith's rematch with the division's other top contender Liam Williams.

With current WBO champion Miguel Cotto set to retire at the end of the year, Hogan (25-1-1) is one to two fights away from living out a dream he's had since he was an eight-year-old at his grandfather Paddy Bourke's boxing club in Naas.

Becoming a world champion is a goal that Hogan has had since he first laced up gloves as a child in St David's Boxing Club and it's a dream that he's carried with him in shows across the world.

For Hogan, the road to a world championship fight in the 3 Arena may have started in Kilcullen but it took him through the amateur ranks in Ireland and then on a 16,701km detour to Brisbane, Australia, where he now resides.

"Originally I was only meant to come here for a year or so," said Hogan, along with virtually any Irish person that has ever made the move to Australia.

"There was a recession in Ireland and there was no real professional boxing going on, and if there was, it was very few and far between. I just said I'd do it and see what happened.

"I think in my mind I thought at that point I could swing by America on the way back and if I made a base there it would be easy to touch home whenever I wanted to.

But when I got here, I got on a roll and made some great connections. I got sponsors on board that are like family now and it just all escalated and I just loved it.

"But my parents thought I was only going for a year so at the time it was just that. But to soften the blow, when I decided to stay they were happy I found something that I really loved and a place I really liked to be.

"They'd come and visit me and see the setup I have and they were happy for me."

For anyone who has emigrated abroad, the one year mark is the first big milestone. It's the proverbial tipping point where you weigh up your time in your adopted country and determine if it's worth staying there longer or if you're better off returning home.

Hogan decided to stay and his decision was spurred on by the connections he had made in his short time in Brisbane, but it was also inspired by his decision to give up alcohol after admittedly partying too much earlier on in his career.

"I had made some big life changes," added Hogan.

"I had finally decided to give up drinking. I'm six years sober now and I have no interest in ever drinking again. The environment here with the beautiful weather and lots of stuff to do just seemed to suit me. If I wasn't going to be drinking this was going to be a good lifestyle for me.

"That toppled with the progress I had already made and the connections I had made. I've met some of the nicest people in the world over here but if I had to go back and live in Ireland tomorrow I'd love it.

"But I know to get where I'm trying to go you need to be 100% focused. I have an addictive personality and I was trying to drink well and I was trying to box well, and eventually I came to the conclusion that I was only going to be able to do only one of those things at a world class level.

"After quitting drinking, I dropped down two weight classes in a couple of months and my fitness went through the roof. I just really focused in on what I had to do and just went hell for leather at boxing."

The Stretton Boxing Club where Hogan trains is far more leather than hell. Based in trainer Glenn Rushton's plush $10 million mansion, the club is a training base for Hogan and WBO welterweight champion Jeff Horn, who during the summer defeated 11-time world champion Manny Pacquiao.

Hogan has been Horn's primary sparring partner during his time at the gym and he was seven rows back from ringside when the former school teacher defeated Pacquiao in front of more than 51,000 fans at Suncorp Stadium.

An event of that magnitude was unprecedented for Australian boxing but the turnout also gave Hogan an insight into what was possible. While he was disappointed not to fight on the undercard alongside compatriot and Olympic bronze medalist Michael Conlan, it did provide him with an opportunity to reflect on his own progress as he watched his longtime teammate upset one of the very best fighters of his generation.

It was a magical day. When I woke up that morning I had a feeling he could win. I just fully believed that he could do it. We went along and sat in the seventh row and when it started off I just felt Jeff was ahead. I felt he won it by two rounds and at the end it was just phenomenal.

"I met Conlan as well that day and he was a very nice guy and I'm sure he's going to do very well, but if I'm honest, I was very frustrated on the day. I hadn't fought since November and I would have liked to have been apart of it but I knew that at that time I couldn't.

"But if anything it gave me more motivation. There's something about being in an outdoor stadium, that feeling was just epic.

"With Jeff boxing down in our gym, it just gives you a feeling that it can be done. I said to myself 'you know what, I can do that, I can emulate that'.

Jeff Horn of Australia and Manny Pacquiao during the WBO World Welterweight Title Fight at Suncorp Stadium on July 2, 2017 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)
Jeff Horn of Australia and Manny Pacquiao during the WBO World Welterweight Title Fight at Suncorp Stadium on July 2, 2017 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

"I've got a great feeling coming into this next fight and I'm going to go out there and make a statement. I want the likes of Liam Smith and Miguel Cotto to fight me, or at least push myself into a position to negotiate fights with these guys.

"I have a dream to bring a world title here but I'll go to America or England if I have to, but eventually I have a dream of going back to Ireland and defending a title in the 3 Arena, and I'll be working tirelessly to get there."

Should he defeat Nonaka next month, Hogan will feasibly be able to negotiate fights against the likes of Cotto and Smith, which is a long way away from where he was only a few years ago when he had to literally knock on the doors of potential sponsors to try and negotiate deals.

The process was both new and foreign to him as he was unfamiliar with the business side of boxing where he had to sell himself to companies and give them a reason as to why they should invest in his career.

The exercise was daunting at first but it helped build his confidence outside of the ring.

Repeatedly selling 'Dennis Hogan the boxer' and the brand to sponsors was challenging for him, but he was eventually able to turn the experience into a public speaking role where he is now paid to speak to companies around Brisbane about his experiences in both life and boxing.

"A lot of boxers say it, but none more so than me, sometimes boxing is the easy part.

"Paul Keegan (Managing Director of DDP Sports Management) and I laugh about it, we'd call ourselves Dominos Boxing because at the weigh-in, or even sometimes on the day of the fight, we could be dropping off tickets to somewhere or to someone.

"We just did what we had to, but now with DDP Sports Management coming along we finally have a great platform that it doesn't have to be like that.

"Yes, we will still push tickets and we will keep getting ourselves out there but it's not to the point where we're knocking on people's doors anymore."

Instead of knocking on their door, companies now knock on his door, for both fights and public appearances. Hogan has been boxing since he was eight-years-old and at 32 he is very much comfortable at the prospect of hopping into a boxing ring and trading punches with opponents.

Public speaking however was different. The thought of talking to a room full of strangers made him more uncomfortable than fighting in a room full of strangers.

A lot of people would prefer the former over the latter if they had to choose between the two, but Hogan grew into the unfamiliar role by leaning on his own hardships, which gave encouragement to others, but it also helped him develop a character trait that Irish athletes and people have struggled with for decades, if not centuries; confidence.

"I just used to speak about how I boxed in Ireland for 10 years without winning an All-Ireland championship. That was always my goal and then when I finally knuckled down and believed that I would, I went into the intermediates with 15 guys in my division and at that point I really believed I could do it and I won, and I knew there was something to it then about belief.

"I speak about that stuff and having to sell tickets and give up drink and people seem very interested in it. When I first came over to Australia I wasn't the sort of guy that goes out and talks but going professional and having to sell all the tickets made me.

"I used to knock on people's doors and sell myself as a brand and tell them why they needed to spend their hard earned cash on coming to see me box.

"I had to do that, and I got a bit better at talking, but my first time public speaking I had an A4 piece of paper in front of me and when I was reading it my heart was thumping through my chest.

"I could see my pulse banging through my eyes, that's how nervous I was, but I got up and did it and fast forward three years later and now you can't get me off the stage.

"I go along now and have fun and I could go an hour over what I'm supposed to but I enjoy it so I don't care."

The confidence Hogan has gained from public speaking has helped him create business opportunities away from the ring, but he also points to different sources - both inside and outside of boxing - that help him rationalise his own confidence.

I know it's a different sport, but you've got to look at guys like Conor McGregor. He's really narrowed his focus over the last few years and drilled in his belief with his confidence, and I've seen what it's done for me and others.

"I know lots of great amateurs who were going out to European championships and you talk to them and you'd say 'do you see who you've got tonight, you could win a medal here'.

"And they'd say 'oh but the competition out there is tough'. There was no one turning around and saying, and I don't mean this in a bad way, but saying 'yeah I'll beat him and I'll win that medal', except for one guy.

"I was up in Drimnagh one morning sparring with Jimmy Sweeney and this kid called [Joe] Ward came along and he was only 17 at the time.

"He had won a world youth championship and he'd been in the finals of a junior Olympics, and he's sitting there telling me when the drawing is done that 'the Russians don't want to fight me and the Cubans don't want to fight me because they know I'll beat them'.

"I thought to myself well that's very confident, this guy could be a little bit arrogant. But I got into the ring to do a little sparring with him and this guy's not messing, he's really good.

"And now there he is again in his third world championship final and he's still only 23 with two European gold medals.

"When I've met people with that level of confidence, their success is always matched with that. That's something that has stuck with me."

Hogan is more confident, assured in his own abilities and lives a better lifestyle than he did when he first went to Australia but he still longs for a return home to Ireland.

He just wants to win a world championship first and bring a title home with him.

His fight with Yuki Nonaka at the Brisbane Exhibition Centre on October 14th brings him one step closer to that goal but it is just another detour on a road that started in Kilcullen and ends in the 3 Arena. It's a journey to follow. To Australia and back.

Online Editors

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