Damien Rooney: “I asked for Duquesnoy as soon as he dropped to 135”

rooney vs duquesnoy

Irish MMA fans haven’t seen Damien ‘The Rage’ Rooney in action since his November 2014 flyweight bout with Shaj Haque, but the former national bantamweight champ will return his old stomping ground at 135 lbs when he meets surging French prospect Tom ‘Fire Kid’ Duquesnoy on February 27 at BAMMA 24.

Rooney was set to meet Portuguese flyweight Manel Kape at BAMMA’s first Dublin show back in September. However, after just making weight, Rooney was forced off the card as Kape withdrew from the fight at the eleventh hour.

“I was devastated,” remembers Rooney. “I literally had just made weight up in my room. It was an hour before the weigh in. About five minutes before I finished up doing my baths I could hear my phone going. I asked my teammate who was calling, and he told me it was Ian Dean.

“I was wondering what he would be calling me for? When I made weight, I phoned him back and as the phone was ringing it dawned on me that he could have bad news for me. I was hoping he was just ringing to see if I was on weight or whatever, but as soon as he answered he told me that my opponent had pulled out.”

While 15 months might be a long lay off for some, it’s nothing that Rooney isn’t used to. Thirteen months after he lost to Paddy ‘The Hooligan’ Holohan, ‘The Rage’ returned to claim the 135 lbs strap against Alan Philpott at Cage Contender 17.

This time, the gap between his fights has not been out of choice, Rooney explains:

“It’s not been my choice to take this long off. Between pullouts and whatever else, it’s just been a bad year. I had three or four fights cancelled this year. Marcin Lasota agreed to fight me on BAMMA, contracts were sent out and all, but all of sudden he backed out and took a fight on another promotion. It really just edged on.

“Other promotions were promising me fights too. They were telling me they would definitely get me a fight and telling me not to sign with anybody else, but they just couldn’t make it happen. It was just a bad period of time. Getting the fight in September, making weight and then being told that my opponent had pulled out was the icing on the cake, really.

“I’ve had them long gaps before in my career from other times I’ve been messed around by fighters and promoters, so I guess I’ve learned to get over it. I know he’s fought more recently than me, but I can’t wait to get in there and do it. I feel great for this one.”

And Rooney knows this isn’t just any opponent. For a long time, Duquesnoy was has been considered one of the hottest properties outside of the UFC. The French prospect is rumoured to be considering a drop to bantamweight as that is the division he wants to ply his trade at under the Zuffa banner, and Rooney has no problem in rising to meet the 22-year-old’s challenge.

“I couldn’t ask for a better name,” the Team Torres fighter tells me. “A few people have approached me and said, ‘do you know how good Duquesnoy is?’ I always tell them, “of course I do – I asked for him!’

“I asked for this fight because he’s so dangerous. I wanted a fight that would get me excited, get me going and motivate me in training. I didn’t want an easy matchup.

“The minute I heard that Duquesnoy was dropping to bantamweight I text Ashley (Bothwell), the director of BAMMA, and told him to give me that fight. He phoned me straight away and he asked me about the fight. I told him if it was on the table, I would definitely take it. I told him I had no problem moving back up to 135 if he was dropping down. They went away, eventually they came back, and they offered it to me.”

“The attention he’s getting from UFC is not something that’s constantly on my mind. As everyone is saying, there is a very good chance the UFC will have their eyes on this one. He trains at Jackson’s and you’re guaranteed that Sean Shelby knows who this guy is.

“From what’s being said, they’ve been watching Tom for a very long time. Because of the event in London people are talking about them coming over ‘Looking For A Fight’, but that’s probably Chinese whispers. I’m just thinking about beating Duquesnoy. Going in and taking his momentum is just a bonus.”

Rooney sees Duquesnoy as the perfect motivation to move back up to bantamweight. According to the Newry man, he was waiting for the right reason to ascend to his old weight class again, and Duquesnoy certainly gave him that.

“My coaches have been encouraging me to move back up for a long time. While I can physically make flyweight, I’ve always felt bigger and stronger at bantamweight. As I’m getting older, I’m getting physically bigger and it’s tougher and tougher to make the weight.

“When this opportunity presented itself everything worked out perfectly. It just fell into my lap really. Duquesnoy gave me that incentive to move back up. It’s such a big fight.

“Not having to go through that cut takes a big weight off your shoulders. It’s great to not have that hanging over you. It’s an awful lot to do in the last two weeks before a fight. I’m going to be comfortable.”

Rooney is expecting a crowd-pleasing co-main event in his BAMMA 24 clash with Duquesnoy. Anticipating his opponent to come out aggressively, ‘The Rage’ is adamant that he will have no problem in standing with the highly touted youngster.

“From what I’ve seen, I think me and him make for a cracking stylistic matchup. I expect him to come in aggressive and push the pace on the feet. I’m not going to back up. I’m not going to run. I’m going to stand right there with him.

“I really think we make for an exciting fight. I carry more power than he does and I think as soon as I catch him he’ll try to take the fight to the ground. That’s how it’s going to go. I think it’s going to be a real crowd-pleaser.”

@PetesyCarroll

Peter Carroll is Severe MMA's lead feature writer. He has been featured in many top publications and some rubbish ones too. He also writes for the Irish Daily Mirror and Vice's Fightland.