By Anthony Cocks
When Dennis Hogan 25-1-1 (7) travelled to Germany in December 2015 he had high hopes of dethroning interim WBA junior middleweight champion ‘Golden’ Jack Culcay, 21-1 (10) at the time.
For the full 12-rounds at the Inselparkhalle in Hamburg ‘Hurricane’ Hogan forced the action, walking forward behind a stiff jab and solid right cross as he applied effective aggression.
The Ecuador-born Culcay – an accomplished amateur who represented Germany at the 2008 Olympics and won gold for them at the 2009 World Amateur Boxing Championships as a welterweight – was content to fight off the back foot, landing some eye-catching shots that caught the judges’ attention and hustling to steal rounds at key moments of the bout.
Experience played a big role in the fight as Hogan went on to lose a decision by scores of 116-112, 117-111 and 119-109.
But the fight wasn’t entirely a lost cause.
“I learned a lot about what happens when you’re the away fighter,” says Hogan, who has won three fights on the trot since Culcay loss. “And what that means is that you can’t leave anything to chance. You have to make sure every little thing is spot on. Even if you’re winning the rounds you can’t relax for a second, you’ve got to stay on for the whole lot and you can’t even give those guys an inch.
“I used to give people an inch and now I’m working on not giving them nothing. The fact that I’ve been there and done that, now I know I can be there and win that.”
Hogan now has the opportunity to make amends. It all starts next weekend when he takes on Japanese veteran Yuki Nonaka 31-8-3 (10) for the WBO number two ranking at junior middleweight at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre on Saturday 14 October.
The winner of the fight will be in the box seat for a shot at the WBO junior middleweight title currently held by Puerto Rican legend Miguel Cotto, who is expected to fight once more in December before retiring.
That would put the winner of Hogan vs Nonaka in line to fight for the vacant title against the winner of the UK grudge match between WBO #4 Liam Smith and WBO #2 Liam Williams on 11 November, a rematch of their close April bout that Smith won on points after the fight ended prematurely in the ninth after a headclash opened a nasty gash on Williams’ right eyelid.
Hogan knows that he not only has to defeat Nonaka but do so impressively if he is to lay his claim to a shot at the WBO world crown.
“In this fight I’m going to make a statement,” Hogan says. “And after this people are going to know we mean business. After this I look forward to gaining more momentum with the crowd and hopefully getting more Queenslanders and Aussies behind me, along with the Irish. I have great support from the Irish community here and just want everyone to come together and support me, together we can make it work. I will be the world champion and with the support of those people, it’s only going to help.”
Hogan has witnessed firsthand what it takes to win a world championship in Australia. He was sitting seven rows back when his teammate Jeff Horn ambushed Filipino superstar Manny Pacquiao at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium in July to claim the future Hall of Famer’s WBO welterweight title in front of more than 50,000 parochial fans.
Watching his gym-mate defy the odds in front of Australia’s largest ever live boxing crowd whetted his appetite for his own world title shot on home soil.
“If we can bring a world title fight here and in some way replicate the atmosphere and the crowd that Jeff Horn had for his fight with Manny Pacquiao, it would just be phenomenal,” says Hogan.
“It would be phenomenal for me, it would be phenomenal for the fans, and it would phenomenal for the country. It would really bring big time boxing back here.
“I know it was a dream of Jeff’s before, a dream of Glenn’s [Rushton, Horn’s trainer], and I want to be a part of that too. That’s another goal of mine too, to make that happen. I’m under no illusion that I have to put in a big performance here if I want to get the support needed to bring a world title fight to Brisbane.”
The Stretton Boxing Club, where he can be found training alongside world champion Horn, amateur standout Joe Goodall and hot pro prospect Liam Paro on any given day, provides Hogan with the right environment to support his world title aspirations.
“We know all the ingredients are there, it’s just about doing everything that we need to do,” says Hogan. “The gym is structured really well, it’s a really good set-up. You manage to get all the stuff done in a good way and it’s actually enjoyable going up there to train, even though it’s tough work.
“You can go years smashing out sessions and you very rarely get to see things changing because of the intense nature of the work. But when you get to see big changes on a regular basis and stuff that really works to your advantage when you’re in the ring, you start to realise this stuff is working. It gives you a lot of confidence and more motivation to come back and do it all again.”
It’s a well-known sporting axiom that success breed success. And being around other successful boxers on a day-to-day basis is only helping Hogan push himself even further in the gym.
“If you believe in yourself and keep pushing yourself to keep going, good things will come to you. I really believe that,” he says.
“There were days when you didn’t know whether you were national level, regional level or world level. It seems like it’s so far away, the goal of being world champion. But I kept saying to myself ‘I’m going to be world champion and I’m going to do whatever it takes to get there’. And I showed up every day and put in the work and here I am. I’m on the cusp of it now, I’ve already had a world title fight, I’m close to having one again and I’m here to put it right.”
Hogan had a successful amateur career but when it came time to turn pro his home country of Ireland was in the middle of a recession brought on by the global financial crisis. It impacted everything including the boxing business, forcing Hogan to consider international options if he wanted to pursue his goal of winning a world championship.
When it came time for Hogan to make his decision he was weighing up options from Boston and Brisbane, a city he was familiar with from his days touring with the Irish amateur team.
“I remembered being here and it was beautiful and I had a cousin living here as well,” says Hogan, who recently welcomed a daughter Aria into the world.
“I thought about the beautiful weather, the beautiful people here, and I just said ‘you know what, I’ll go back there and try that’. I thought it might only be for a year or something, but I just loved it here, I just loved it here and decided to stay. And even when I have had training camps and in Miami and Florida I kept coming back because I love it here.”