Martin Rogan Feature – Part One: "Sam Sexton is an arrogant punk who couldn’t fill a chippy"
By Brendan Galbraith - In the first instalment of this exclusive two-part feature with Martin Rogan, the Belfast man provides a revealing insight into the full background to the injury that impeded his performance and training in both Sexton fights, particularly the rematch. Rogan details the subsequent 3½ hour Discectomy Fusion Operation (bone transfusion) and his, almost complete, recovery process. Unmistakeable in all of this, is Rogan’s steadfast view that Sam Sexton is an unworthy champion and, that a 100% fit Rogan “would destroy Sexton in three rounds”.
An early morning meeting with Rogie
Early last week I met up with former Commonwealth Heavyweight Champion Martin ‘The Entertainer’ Rogan, in a café in a market town on the outskirts of Belfast, to discuss his recuperation from injury and his plans for 2010 and onwards. Greeting Martin Rogan I am immediately struck by his lean physical appearance, he has evidently kept himself in good shape in the interim months.
The coffee house, where we meet, is located in the back of one of those great little Ulster treasures – the home bakery - an inviting setting away from the damp wintry morning.. The next hour is a gripping and candid interview that’s tempered by an array of emotions and opinion, depending on the subject, ranging from robust, forthright viewpoints to warm, affectionate words and hearty laughs. However, the lasting impression of the whole interview was the excited optimism and burning ambition that Rogan has of returning to the squared ring and bringing back all-action entertainment to his adoring legion of fans.
Rogan, a former Belfast taxi driver and a late starter to the pro game, upset the odds to win the Prizefighter – Heavyweights Tournament in 2008 before embarking on a rollercoaster of explosive fights with Audley Harrison, Matt Skelton and Sam Sexton. Along the way, fight fans on both sides of the Irish Sea identified with a modern day Rocky story. Rogie, the charismatic and well-loved underdog - upsetting the odds, to win titles and defeat top domestic contenders.
As the small café fills up, Rogan is intercepted by numerous well-wishers, and quickly acknowledges each one with a warm smile and a friendly word and on one occasion breaking into a bit of friendly banter with a nearby table of housewives and elderly ladies. This is a personal side that I have seen many times before. In the Bunce Live show in the Dockers Club, Belfast last year, Rogan was literally the last person to leave the venue, staying behind to chat with fans and ensure that each request for an autograph and photo was met. The same affection was evident at the Victoria Square Mall in Belfast during the open media workout prior to Rogan-Sexton 2, were Rogan facilitated numerous additional requests by fans and workers long after the allocated media time slot had expired.
Rogan is without question, the biggest ticket seller in the Northern Ireland since the magical days of the Barry McGuigan era. In his last outing, Rogan filled the largest indoor arena in Northern Ireland, The Odyssey, with over 9000 fans. What is most remarkable about this, and which speaks volumes about the appetite for boxing in the North in general, and for Rogan in particular, is that this was achieved on the same night as the McCloskey-Rasilla show in Magherafelt, (just 40 minutes away) and a scheduled ‘Evening with Mike Tyson’ show that was only a stone throw away from the Odyssey. Rogan’s journey in the pro game, accentuated with entertaining, all-action boxing style, easy charisma with the fans across the political divide and Irish Sea, and unexpected string of ring successes – is what propelled the ‘Rocky Story’.
A missing ingredient of that story, of course, is the missing world title shot. In a threadbare heavyweight division that is short on excitement and top quality contenders, can Martin Rogan come back to earn his ultimate goal of securing a world title shot? The answer will become clearer by the end of this year, but one thing is for sure, the Rogan story still has a few more chapters to be written.
In the short term, the good news for fight fans is that Rogan is only a couple of weeks away from resuming full training. Interestingly, the opportunity for promoters is that Rogan is now a free agent and open to negotiations.
The Interview – Part One.
As a starting point, we begin by discussing the lead-up to both Sexton fights and it is soon apparent that Rogan rues the lack of time he had to recover in between gruelling fights with Skelton, Harrison and Sexton.
“I think the impact of the Harrison and Skelton fights had taken its toll on me”.
“To me, I didn’t lose to Sam Sexton (the first fight) I got the Commonwealth belt ripped from me because I should never have been fighting on the 15th May, after having one of the best battles ever to be seen on TV with Matt Skelton – 11 rounds of it. It was a toe-to-toe battle and that was on the 28th February. So what recovery did I get after 11 rounds? I was pretty busted up after that fight. I didn’t get a recovery and to be quite honest – it was bad management”.
“It was great to fill a hall, but obviously it wasn’t in my favour. It didn’t work for me. I didn’t get a four or three month break in between a fight. It works out 75 days. So how do you recover from an 11 round fight with Matt Skelton – one of the toughest heavyweights in the sport, to go out and fight 75 days later?”
“You know the Audley Harrision fight was the 11th December, I had a Christmas and I was straight back to the training – I never got a break there either. So, the Audley Harrision fight, was a tough enough fight. The Matt Skelton fight should have not been until at least March or April and after beating Skelton, the Sexton fight should have not been until at least July or September, but they just landed in my face”.
The Sexton Fights
Rogan confirms that his injury was first detected before the first Sexton fight:
“The injury was detected in March or April 2009. I was already getting treatment for it - that was already happening. I just carried on training, not to focus on it and carry on with the job in hand and I did so. My physio, John Magee, was the first one that found my injury, just working his hands – even before I got it x-rayed and he got it diagnosed as a problem for me”.
“I carried on with that fight (Sexton 1) and the sparring went on ok. And when that fight was over, I remember the next morning after the first Sexton fight, I met my physio to rub the pain out of my neck, because of his aggressive pushing down on my neck – which he was warned more than three times for it - he should have had a point taken off for it”.
“And in the second fight he also did the same. And he also got a 32 second break were he got the warning. And it is the first time that I have ever seen a referee walk somebody from one end of the ring to the other and give a warning four times. I think once is sufficient. I am only aware of this here because of the amount of people that have been talking about it afterwards. People were very aware of what happened in both fights”.
Rogan, explains how the injury curtailed his preparation for the first Sexton fight:
“Normally I would do 100 rounds of sparring before I fight, I done approximately 21 rounds of sparring with Conal Carmichael. He hit me a shot on the chin and my arm dropped, and I couldn’t lift my arm. I tried to box with one arm but I couldn’t. I had to stop. I didn’t do anything else, only run and hit pads. And even without all that there I was still beating him, I was still beating him and that’s a fact”.
Despite the restrictions to his training, Rogan was confident that he would still be able to overcome Sexton:
“I still had enough courage in me to say, you know something I will still beat him. That’s how much I thought of him”.
Rogan explains the extent of the injury that ultimately halted the Sexton-Rogan 2 fight:
“Every time I got hit on the chin with a punch, my arm was going dead, every time. If you see the fight on youtube or watch it over again – you see every time I got a shot on the chin, my arm just drops down”.
“My arm was done by round 6”.
In a subsequent consultation with Dr Niall Eames at the Ulster Independent Clinic, the x-ray depicts the true seriousness of the injury that forced Rogan to retire at the end of round 6. Rogan explains the damage that was evident in the x-ray:
“My disc was protruded out of the back – it is pushed out and lying on top of a nerve in my neck. And every time I took a shot (on the chin) it is hitting the nerves – so that is what was giving me the feeling (pain) in my arm”. After hearing this insight, I enquire if the injury was direct cause of Rogan dropping his arms in the 6th round of the fight?
“Exactly, the disc was slipping out of my arm”.
Rogan, is pragmatic about his decision to halt the fight at the end of the 6th round:
“I had to stop it myself through injury – in case I would never be able to walk or lift my children in my arms again. That meant more to me than anything. Never mind anything. And the fans mean the most. And rather me go out there stupidly and not being able to defend myself and getting knocked out, and let myself down, let my family down and let my friends down and let the fans down. I wasn’t going to do that. I live to fight another day because of that. And champions are made from that. Now, that the injury is done and dusted – thank God for that”.
The road back from injury
“After the fight I had no feeling in my hand and the doctor at ringside came in and done a few tests and said she was not happy and wanted me to go straight to the hospital. It was damaged there and then – there was no feeling in my hand whatsoever. Me being me, I said, right ok. She said, right I am going to phone an ambulance and I said, no, no – I have a car out there. She asked me to promise would I go to the hospital. I did go – but I didn’t go that night. I went a couple of weeks later”.
“The one thing that I did do after both fights (Sexton fights), I went the next morning to the physio, John Magee to get him to try and rub some of the pain out of my neck and arm – because after both fights I had no feeling in it whatsoever. So I tried to get him to do something with it”.
“When that injury happened. Not one person came to my aid, not one person came to help. After the fight, that was it - that was me left. I had to go and see Dr Eames, Ulster Independent Clinic – fantastic man”.
Rogan explains that if he did not want to return to boxing, he could have avoided going through the 3 ½ hour Discectomy Fusion Operation and the expense of £10,000 to have the operation done.
“On the 28th January 2010 I had the operation – it was a Discectomy Fusion operation (a bone transfusion) and just before it I had to sign a form – because the operation was a 70/30 operation – I could end up paralysed after the operation, so I had to take that chance. If I didn’t want to go back to boxing – I could have just left it, but I wanted to go back to boxing that much, I thought it was worth taking the risk of a 70/30 operation. I signed the form and put my trust in the doctor – I just treated him like God, you know I put my trust in God and I put my trust in him”.
Rogan, who watched a video of the operation on youtube the night before he got his done, describes what it entailed:
“They opened me up on the left hand side of my hip and they cut the top of the hip bone off, they cut the shape out and took between C5 and C6 (the vertebrates in your neck) there is a disc and two nerves – one comes out of the one side and the other comes out of the other side of the disc – which had protruded right out (the disc) and had squashed the nerves. So that was why I wasn’t getting any feeling in my fingers and stuff.
“So, they moved the voice box and the Adams Apple to one side, took the disc out of my neck and replaced it with the bone from my hip – they put that inside the centre of C5 and C6 and then they put a titanium plate in and screwed it to the two vertebrates with four screws (two at the top and two at the bottom – above the bit of bone were they screwed in). They had to put in a couple of tubes to get rid of the fluid and stuff. Immediately after waking up from a 3-½ hour operation I found myself moving my head already, the feeling was back in my hand”.
Rogan showed me the scars that he incurred from the operation, both are at least 3 inches long and one is just above his hip, whilst the other is at the front of his neck.
Unfinished Business with Sexton
It is common knowledge that there has been some bad blood between Rogan and Sexton, particularly in the lead-up to the second fight. Matters worsened post-Sexton-Rogan 2, when Sexton appeared to question the legitimacy of Rogan’s retirement through injury, instead, signalling that it was inflicted by his fists.
Rogan argues: “Sam Sexton has to be very realistic about the fact that he has never beat me – no matter what – he has never beat me.”
Rogan isn’t referring to the two ‘L’s on his record. The rationale to that assertion by Rogan - that Sexton has never truly beaten him can be charted back to the origins of the serious injury that Rogan was diagnosed with prior to Rogan-Sexton 1.
And in relation to the first fight, Rogan laments:
“The first fight, how he was able to carry on, with me with an injury and a closed eye, and his simply turning his back and running away – it was enough for the referee to stop the fight. To put the fans right, to put other people who had doubt about what I done right, about the ‘gentleman act’ – yes I was being a gentleman because, unlike Sam Sexton, who is obviously not (a gentleman) with some of the comments that he has made about me, choose to run away from me, when his legs were lucky enough to hold him up”.
“There is a lovely photograph on the internet that shows him mercifully hanging on the ropes with his back to me and I got a warning for that, in which he should have been stopped, he staggered across the ring and spat his gum shield out, and when he was walking across the ring he was saying very clearly “no” that he didn’t want anymore”.
“And this is all with me with an injury and unfortunately, when I stopped and looked at the referee I was giving the referee an indication of what actually was going on and the referee should have been up and on top of it and right beside us, rather than the other side of the ring because that is not the place to be in a heavyweight fight because one punch can end everything. But unfortunately the doctor seen fit to stop the fight with the injury to my eye – a fight that I was winning. The injury to my eye was nothing compared to what was going on inside my neck.”
Rogan is unequivocal in his view that Sexton is not a deserving or worthy champion:
“I was winning on the scorecards (in the second fight). As far as I know I was winning 5 rounds to 1. He only won the 6th round, I won every other round. So, he has to ask himself that. He thinks he is the true champion. He is not the true champion. A true champion has to show himself. Sam Sexton is not a 10 round fighter, he is not a 12 round fighter – he never will be”.
“Fighting Danny Williams is not going to prove himself. Derek Chisora already beat him. I would like to see Derek Chisora fighting Sam Sexton after he wins against Danny Williams. Chisora would destroy him again. Sexton can’t take a shot – it is simple as that. Derek Chisora proved that as well. I proved it as well”.
“Sexton is just too full of himself – that is what his problem is. The funny thing is that Danny Williams has already said on Sky Sports News that this is his last fight no matter what - he wants to take up body guarding. And then Sam Sexton comes on and says that ‘I am finally going to retire Danny Williams’. How can you retire somebody that is retiring himself? That is how stupid he is”.
“On the second fight, he had another lucky escape and on the scorecards. I hope you are reading this Sam! I was winning – I was beating the boxer again. I was out boxing the boxer. So I was beating him on two occasions. The first occasion the doctor stopped it and on the second occasion I had to stop it myself through injury”.
“He sparred, he run, he sprinted, he done everything the first fight. I went in there 50% and was beating him. What would the fight be if I were 100% - it wouldn’t be a fight? He would be destroyed in three rounds”.
So, I asked Rogan if he would like another fight with Sexton?
“I’d like to whoop him”.
“To be quite honest, if it was me or yourself, if anybody that reads this article puts their thoughts into it, how would you feel as a fighter knowing that you never beat the guy that you took the belt off? How would you feel knowing that you reined as champion, but you never beat the guy that you got the belt off?”
“You know everything that went on, you know that he shouldn’t have got the fight too early, you know that the doctor stopped the wrong man, you know you were out on your feet. You know that the second time around that the guy is completely mangled with a disc hanging out of his neck which needs a bone transfusion and a plate at the back of his neck only 9 weeks after the fight had to go through a 3 ½ hour operation with a specialist doctor, Dr Eames”.
“And you have the likes of Sam Sexton coming on and saying ‘there was nothing the matter with him, he was beat up, and that’s what was matter with him’. Dr Eames done the operation Sam – you ring Dr Eames and ask him what the operation was. This is me with an operation and I still got in and fought and was still beating you – sure you couldn’t beat your way out of a paper bag son”.
Rogan’s Post-operation Recovery:
So, how far off is Rogan from a return to full training and the ring?
“I have already passed 9 weeks since the operation and I am still recovering, I have another 4 weeks to go and then I have to go back for my big scan. I have to see if the bone has grown on both sides, because the plate will obviously be in forever”.
“And that is the question that people are going to ask – they are going to go ‘will he fight again’? The answer is yes, because the reason why I got Dr Eames to do it was because he is a specialist in doing these operations and when it is successful – it is successful. Proof of that being - Rory Best, the top rugby player for Ulster and Ireland”.
Rogan, expects to be back in action in June and has already been doing some light training and jogging. In the next three weeks or so he expects resume from training.
Part two of this Martin Rogan Feature will be available tomorrow.
Article posted on 07.04.2010