And fighting out of Dubai…
Not words that you often hear before professional boxing fights.
But that is changing thanks to Dubai-based welterweight Rohan Date.
A stunning amateur career. Olympic heartbreak. And a complete break with boxing. Date’s path to these shores has been anything but straight forward.
And on May 3 he will fight Wanphihit Siriphana of Thailand at Five Palm Jumeirah, one more step on the way towards the ultimate dream of a world title fight.
The event, by Badou Jack Promotions, will also include Saudi’s Abdulfatah Julaidan, the UAE’s only professional Majid Al Naqbi and “UAE Boxer of The Year” Mo Ali Bayat.
Boxing’s popularity is rising in the Middle East, and Date now considers himself part of the scene.
Not bad for a boy from Waterford, Ireland who fell in love with boxing at the age of seven.
“I was boxing with The Irish National team, for eight years I was with the development programme,” he recalls his early days. “They work on a four-year cycle for the Olympics. At the time we had just come off the back of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 was the one I thought I might be able to get into the London Olympics.”
His Olympic dream did not materialise, but he nonetheless went on to have a hugely successful amateur career, winning 162 out of 179 fights, and collecting several belts at local, European and International level.
“Becoming a professional wasn’t really an option at the time,” says Date. “Not many Irish boxers were going professional, there were no doors opening, no industry really in Ireland.”
In 2013, Date went to Washington DC for the World Golden Gloves Championship, in his own words, not really knowing what he “wanted to do”.
What he did do was win. With that box ticked, he decided to walk away from boxing to finish university.
Then, at the end of that year, came the opportunity to move to Dubai. It would prove major turning point in his life.
“Luckily I’d been to the UAE before,” he’s says. “My sister lived in the UAE, and I made a decision to come here to make a career and maybe make something happen out here. And I’ve been out here for five, six years.”
Date admits that after his move to the UAE, he would often question wisdom of his decision to not pursue another Olympic participation in 2016.
“It was always my dream to make the Olympics, and when 2012 happened in London, I didn’t make it,” Date says. “Having hindsight is amazing, but I was only 17 and I didn’t want to wait around till 2016 in Rio even though many of the guys from the team did. I wish maybe someone had guided me in that direction. But I’m definitely not disappointed in the years I spent here in Dubai instead.”
His time in Dubai has seen many ups and downs, a business venture, and a number of different jobs, many related to boxing.
“My passion was to get back into boxing, as the years went on I started seeing guys that I trained with for seven or eight years [thriving],” he adds. “One guy, Michael Conlan, had just sold out Madison Square Garden, and all started going their own route into the professional game and it started becoming an option again for me.”
His first two professional fights in Dubai ended in wins, and he since gone on to have an unbeaten record of seven wins and one draw. That put him in position to head back to Ireland or even have a shot at glory in the ultra-competitive UK boxing scene, one of the biggest in the world.
“There are 10 amazing welterweights, and at every weight really, but very few of them ever get out of British level,” says Date. “I’m very fortunate to obviously be in Dubai, and I’m free to try out the Irish route or the Dubai route and build myself up to world level rather than fight it out with the top 10 British guys.
Like most successful fighters, Date is clearly not short on confidence, simply pragmatic having been in the game long enough.
“I definitely think I can beat them, but I believe it will be a tougher route than having the backing of companies like Badou Jack Promotions, who are hosting the fight at Five Palm, that can catapult me into world title contention.”
In Dubai too, he found a welcoming environment that has given him a platform to follow his ambitions again.
“I was very fortunate that I met some really great people out here and they supported me and sponsored me to fly back to Ireland, have fights and come back.”
Real Boxing Only Gym, founded by Michelle Kuehn and exclusively dedicated to the sport, are now sponsoring Date. The partnerships allows him the freedom to train in Dubai as well as set up training camps which involve high-level sparring in the UK, where he has another sponsor in the FLI Group, a diversified group of companies that provides environmental solutions, services and technologies.
Other local outlets are starting to show their support. For his upcoming bout he’s also been heavily backed by Chaps & Co barbershop.
This has proved timely, and heartening, for Date, since turning professional in 2016 did not lead to immediate success via the “Ireland route”.
“Unfortunately the scene in Ireland was a bit hit and miss, there were a lot of cancelled events and it tarnished the game there,” he says. “I flew home for five fights but only competed in two. With the cost of flying, and not working while that’s happening, it started to become a burden and I didn’t think it was going to happen.
In Dubai, Date divides his time between training for his fights and acting as boxing instructor at Real Boxing Only. Above all he is now, in fighting shape as his professional career continues to take off.
“I had to make a decision to uproot [from Dubai] for the last nine months and go to London,” says Date. “I’ve had back to back fights for the last night months, five fights in nine months and the trajectory of my career is on the way up at the moment, which has led me to this point with a Dubai fight coming up. With having a fan base and friends here, it’s special moment.”
Today, date says he’s “put his heart” into boxing; no more jobs outside of the sport.
He also sees the nascent boxing scene in Dubai growing in the coming years and attracting other fighters set up camp in a city not short on world class training facilities.
“I’m hoping it shows people that there are opportunities out here,” says Date. “I waited in this community for these opportunities to open up. I had to step away for a year and then come back and now there are a host of pro shows happening.”
Beyond the upcoming fight, Date has only one goal in mind. And it’s been lifelong one.
“To get a title shot, definitely,” he says. “I was in America (in March), and my next fight after the Dubai is in the US as well. Maybe two more fights in the US with the hopes of being able to bring back a major title to Dubai, either a Middle East and North Africa or an Intercontinental title, but one of the major belts, the WBC, IBF or WBO, which might give me the landscape to move into a world title potential.”
For now, all focus will be on the next fight, and not letting his “hometown” crowd down at Badou Jack Promotions Knockout Night 2019.
“Being a home fighter, that will be a first. Obviously I’m not Emirati, but I feel ingrained in the culture here.
“Fighting out of Dubai that’s definitely how I’m pushing it,” Date adds. “I’ve got my family, I’ve got my friends, everything here in Dubai at the moment, and I think I’ll be here for the foreseeable future.”
Fighting out of Dubai…Rohan Date.
Has a good ring to it.