Rock desperate to roll over Finnegan
Jim Rock expects to make boxing history in the National Stadium tomorrow night.
Rock, the Pink Panther, is determined to become the first boxer to win Irish titles at four different weights. To achieve this goal, he needs to defeat John Joe Finnegan, from Staffordshire, and claim the Irish light-heavyweight belt that's been vacated by Jason McKay.
Finnegan, whose family comes from Co Galway, has had 17 fights. His record mightn't look overly impressive, 11 wins, three losses and three draws. But he's eight years younger than Rock, who at 36 is having his first fight since he stopped Szabolcs Rimovszky in two rounds in March last year.
Is Rock being realistic in taking this fight? Would he not be wiser to leave his gloves on the hook at his age?
"I'm fit and strong," says Jim. "But there's no doubt that as you get older you pick up injuries that you can't shake off. Also your reflexes slow down a bit and that can cause you to get hit with shots you wouldn't have got hit with before.
"In boxing, it's alright coming out with a black eye," he adds. "Black eyes are no bother. It's what's been done inside that's the worry.
"Luckily, we get MRI scans every year and they are checked against the very first MRI scan you got. Not just the last one. The Boxing Union of Ireland medicals are very thorough and strict. They monitor us."
Jim has been taking this bout very seriously, training in John Breen's gym in Belfast. "I've been sparring with Paul McCloskey, Stephen Haughian and Jason McKay who'll all be fighting next weekend in Limerick so they're working hard on their fitness," he reveals.
"They're young, hungry and fast and it's great sparring for me. Jason is tall and awkward which is ideal for me for the type of fellow I'm fighting. He's taller than me."
Has Jim been studying videos of his opponent in action? "I've never seen him," he admits. "But I've never studied videos of fighters ever.
"Some fighters do. But if you look at any fighter they do different things in fights depending on who they're fighting. I'll let Finnegan worry about me. I'll fathom him out in the first round and then decide what I'm going to do. I'm long enough in the game. I've been boxing since I was six years of age. I have 30 years experience."
Is it possible that Finnegan might have a surprise in store for Rock?
A bit like Kiko Martinez did when he met Bernard Dunne.
"What surprise can he have?" asks Jim belligerently. "Has he three fists? He won't have got the sparring that I've had. He'll have an advantage in that he's eight years younger than me.
"That will count for something but I'm experienced. I'm in great shape. He's coming to Dublin to fight me in my home town. If this fella thinks he's going to win then he's going to have a hard job on his hands. I would rather die than get beaten in my home town."
These days the general public know Jim Rock as the TV analyst who works alonside Mick Dowling on RTé television's Fight Nights. Many people don't realise that he's a boxer.
"I love doing commentary work," says Jim who explains how he's constantly recognised by people as a TV talking head.
"A woman asked me recently, 'How did you get into the commentary work? Did you ever box?'
"She said she watched Bernard Dunne boxing on television. I said, 'Did you ever see the fella who boxed before him? The fella who wore the pink shorts?'
"'Ah The Pink Panther', she said. "'Well', I said. 'I'm him with clothes on'."
Rock had his first pro bout in 1995. And he brings all the experience he gained in 28 wins in 32 fights to the ring tomorrow night. He's had many memorable bouts. But some stand out more than others.
"Winning the IBC World title and beating Alan Jones, who had got a decision over me two years earlier that I felt he shouldn't have got, that was poetic justice," says Jim.
"A fight I had in America against Tommy Attardo in Boston was a cracking fight," he recalls. "I don't have a tape of it. But it was great. A pure war. I remember Meat Loaf was playing in the Arena behind us and all the police were at the back of the hall for my fight and when it was over they all came up because it was such a battle. They stood all around the ring." Even his four defeats had some saving graces.
"The (Mehrdud) Takaloo fight (2003) was amazing, even though I lost," insists Jim. "It was my first and only time to get knocked out. I was raging that it happened because I thought I had a world title in the bag. But that's life. You live and learn. People talk about Bernard Dunne getting knocked out in 86 seconds but I say I wish I'd been knocked out in the first round because I wouldn't have had to work so hard for nine rounds."
The one defeat that still rankles is the fight he lost to Ensley Bingham in the Nynex in Manchester in 1998.
"When I fought Ensley I only had eight fights," he says. "He had just fought Winky Wright for the world title. He was British and Inter-Continental champion at the time.
"People thought I was mad to fight him. All the commentators on Sky said there was no way the fight should have been stopped. Even Ensley Bingham said it. I'd won five of the first six rounds and they stopped the fight. I never got a count or I never went down. But they stopped the fight and the only reason I was beaten that night was that they couldn't have the British champion beaten by an eight-fight Paddy novice in his home town.
"Your first defeat is your worst. It was bad for me at the time but looking back it's much better to have your first defeat after eight bouts because you get used to it."
He has no intention of adding to his four defeats tomorrow.
"This is probably like chickenfeed to boxers like Bernard Dunne, Andy Lee and John Duddy," says Jim. "But to me it's a big deal. I'm the first man ever to get three titles. Just to get the fourth fuels the legacy a little bit. It's a bit of history and it's a chance to fight in my home town. I don't intend to lose. They'll have to carry me out first."
3PRO BOX LIVE, TOMORROW, RTE2, 9.30PM