“There’s definitely holes there and if I come in on fight night as good as I can – which I will – it’s going to be great night.” Dennis Hogan
Junior middleweight contender Dennis ‘Hurricane’ Hogan 28-3-1 (7) will be in a unique situation when he takes on rising star Tim Tszyu 17-0 (13) in his first fight under new coach Wayne McCullough at the Newcastle Entertainment Centre in Newcastle, Australia on Wednesday night.
That’s because McCullough will not only be missing from his corner on fight night, he hasn’t even been in camp with Hogan.
The 36-year-old Hogan made the decision to leave his trainer Glenn Rushton following his seventh-round stoppage loss to WBC middleweight champion Jermall Charlo 31-0 (22) in Brooklyn in December 2019. The primary reason behind the move was that the Brisbane-based Irishman felt the repeated long-haul flights across the Pacific Ocean were hampering his performance stateside. He sought out a new coach in America and found one in fellow Irish expat and former WBC bantamweight champion McCullough, who trains boxers out of Las Vegas.
Hogan quickly secured a fight against former unified junior middleweight champion Julian ‘J-Rock’ Williams 27-2-1 (16) set down for December 26. He went straight into camp with McCullough and the pair immediately developed a strong rapport. But three weeks before the fight Williams tested positive for Covid-19 and the fight was postponed before being eventually cancelled. Hogan returned to Australia while McCullough remained in Las Vegas.
At the same time Sydneysider Tszyu, 26, was coming off a first-round blowout of world-rated New Zealander Bowyn Morgan 21-2 (11). Team Tszyu 2.0 were hoping to move their fighter directly into a world title fight and the odds seemed to be in their favour. WBO 154-pound champion Patrick Teixeira 31-2 (22) was having difficulty securing a visa to the US from his native Brazil for his long-overdue mandatory title defence against Argentinean Brian Castano 17-0-1 (12). A last-minute reprieve saw Teixeira allowed into America to face Castano in Indio, California on February 13, although he probably wished he stayed home. He was belted from pillar to post and lost a wide unanimous decision to Castano.
But every cloud has a silver lining. The Hogan and Tszyu teams commenced negotiations and both sides quickly agreed to terms.
The only downside for Hogan was that he couldn’t get his new coach into Australia due to travel restrictions put in place to manage the spread of the coronavirus. Instead, longtime cutman Stephen Edwards was co-opted to manage the camp and be the main man in the corner on fight night.
McCullough remains the driving force and key decisionmaker in Hogan’s camp. Sparring session are streamed to McCullough and the team sits down afterwards to discuss tactics.
“It’s actually been a real treat,” Hogan said in an exclusive interview with Maxboxing.com. “We all really gel together. We sit down and have conversations about what works and what doesn’t. Wayne tells us what he’s seeing and how that fits in and then we’re doing it in our training on the pads and on the bags, doing all the work and then executing it in the spars.
“This is the age of technology and we’ve used it really well. The fact that Wayne can’t be here is a pity, but it isn’t the end of the world in terms of getting the win and moving forward. He’ll be with us for the next one.”
One of Australia’s busiest cutmen, Edwards spoke about the expanded role in an exclusive interview with podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/the-unofficial-scorecard-podcast/id1417204298#episodeGuid=fae565ad-dca7-4c31-add4-b7289bd9c8aa earlier this month.
“It wasn’t something that was just thrown at me two weeks ago,” Edwards said at the time.
“We knew from the very start that this was the contingency if McCullough was unable to get out to Australia.
“I do all of that role in sparring – and obviously fights are much different to sparring – but also bear in mind that over the last few years when Dennis has been the sparring partner to other boys that are in preparation for a fight at Stretton [Boxing Club] and also last year and this prep, I will have by fight night done Dennis’ corner for probably over 350 rounds of sparring.
“I have also been in his corner in his last five fights, admittedly not in that head seat, but in the corner. I do know Dennis as a fighter. I do know Dennis as a person. So that would be much easier than if a boy walked off the street and just said ‘Hey, would you be my trainer?’
“I’m not the head trainer, I’m assisting Wayne. It’s just on the night I’ll need to be giving him the instructions.”
The camp for the Williams fight was a valuable learning experience for Hogan, who said McCullough didn’t try to change his style but rather aimed to add some more strings to his bow.
“Obviously with a new head coach in Wayne McCullough, we worked on a lot of things when I was in Vegas for my last fight against Williams before that fell through after he caught Covid-19,” Hogan said. “We added some extra stuff there, so I’m really looking forward to that. I won’t really talk about it much I suppose until the day of the fight or maybe the press conference, but it’s all there, it’s all ready to go and we’re going to use every last little thing we have to get this win. And I do believe that will be enough.”
A scare went through the Hogan camp in mid-February when he suffered a nose injury in sparring that threatened to derail the fight, but after medical treatment he was cleared to proceed with the 10-round bout on the original date.
The disruption appeared to have minimal effect on Hogan, who still managed to get in 100 rounds of sparring against a variety of quality boxers.
“We have had some good sparring partners,” Hogan said. “We have had Ethan Law here, we have had ‘The Viking’ Steven Spark, we’ve had Benny Mahoney. I even had Joel Camilleri in for a few rounds.
“As far as replicating Tim’s style, Steven Spark is just an absolute animal out of the blocks, so we were able to get that high-tempo work with him. It was great to be able to get rounds with him even though he is lighter because lighter people throw more punches, so that was good.
“With Ethan, he’s got those real fast, explosive punches, which was good, so I got lots of rounds there. But I just feel Benny was probably all-round the best for Tim’s style. He did a few things that were sort of like him. I got about 100 rounds of sparring for this camp so I’m happy enough there that we’ve got everything done.
“Everyone brings their own difficulties. It’s about problem solving on your feet for 12 rounds and that will happen again on fight night. I’m pretty happy and confident we are where we need to be at this point to get a good win on the night.”
Tszyu, who normally exudes quiet confidence, has been far more vocal in the lead up to his recent fights. The change in demeanor hasn’t escaped Hogan, who believes it shows a chink in his armor.
“You know it’s a funny one, because he used to be quiet and humble,” Hogan said. “And in the last while he’s been making a lot of noise and everything else. One thing I’ve learnt in boxing is that life humbles your soul. If you don’t humble yourself, life will humble you. I think this might be the perfect example of that here. I think this is why this has happened and he is going to get a big shock.
“The thing he spoke about in the press conference was how he was going to take my soul. How everything in the past and the future was going to melt away and everything you know falls to pieces. He was projecting his own insecurities. He was literally talking about how he was going to feel when he is in there with me midway through the fight.”
Hogan, who has been out of the ring since his loss to Charlo 15 months ago, says that despite Tszyu’s 76% knockout ratio he has faced far bigger punchers in his career like then-WBO junior middleweight champion Jaime Munguia 36-0 (29) who he lost a disputed majority decision to in Mexico two years ago.
“Munguia is a phenomenally larger puncher than Tim Tszyu. Look at Munguia’s fights and look at Tim’s,” Hogan explained. “Tim has had nowhere near the success in terms of knockouts as Munguia has had. Back in Munguia’s early career if he didn’t knock you out, he’d go back and forth with you until he knocked you out. He has knocked out everyone else since he fought me as well.
“But I just have that style that works well against punchers and seems to suit me. If Tim fancies himself as a big puncher, I say bring it on.”
Hogan who will head to Newcastle on Sunday morning ahead of an open workout for the media and public. More than anything else though, he can’t wait to get back in the ring and put all of McCullough’s teaching to work.
“There’s things we see in Tszyu that we can definitely exploit,” said Hogan. “We’ve got a great gameplan and I’m feeling very, very confident that we can execute that gameplan and land those shots we’re looking to land.
“There’s definitely holes there and if I come in on fight night as good as I can – which I will – it’s going to be great night.”