When you’re top UK lightweight Saul Rogers and you have a reputation as one of the toughest fighters outside of the UFC, one thing’s for certain: there aren’t a whole lot of people itching to step inside of a cage with you. “The Hangman” has learned that lesson the hard way following his dominant could-have-been, should-have-been run toward The Ultimate Fighter season 22 crown.
A handful of lightweights have agreed to face off with the charismatic Rogers since he signed on with global #2 promotion ACB in late 2016. But getting those fighters to actually show up for the bout has been quite a different story.
Rogers’ first ACB fight came last October against Dutch journeyman Michell Adalena, an opponent who represented a huge step down from the four foes that Rogers beat up in the TUF house. But he wasn’t the promotion’s first choice for the Manchester native – nor was he anywhere close to first choice.
“I got offered the contenders at first because what I want is to be fighting for the title. Unfortunately all of the contenders pulled out for injury.”
“The Adalena fight was not the fight I set out to take, but I had 6 or 7 opponent changes. I took that fight with Adalena because he took it and other people didn’t. But again, that isn’t the fight I wanted.”
Following Rogers’ first round submission of Adalena at ACB 47, he was quickly booked to face top Fight Club Berkut representative Musa Khamanaev at ACB 50. But once again that fight fell through, as Khamanaev was instead rebooked to take on former WSOF star Luis Palomino at ACB 51 in California. So Saul again played the waiting game, and was rewarded with a scheduled fight against well-known veteran Pat Healy at ACB 54 this coming Saturday.
The potential fight with Healy represented exactly the sort of challenge that Rogers wants to take on at this point in his career.
“You know that’s the level that I’m at anyway. I am UFC calibre and not a low-level UFC calibre, I think I’m higher in the ranks.”
Unfortunately for Rogers, the chance to take on the former UFC top 10 lightweight at ACB 54 fizzled much like his other recent big name bouts. But that couldn’t have come as much of a surprise to Rogers, given his opponents’ recent track record of not making it to fight night.
“You know what, before the Healy fight I was offered a few different opponents for whatever reasons. And I think Healy was the 2nd or 3rd guy I was scheduled to fight (at ACB 54).”
Luckily for Rogers’ host of dedicated fans, the U.K. star will still be on his upcoming hometown card thanks to late-notice replacement Aurel Pirtea of Romania. With a record of 11-8-1 the 28 year old welterweight may not have the big name credentials that Rogers would prefer, but “The Hangman” still plans on treating his new opponent the same as all the rest.
“I want to fight, I’m aiming for that belt, so I took it…I have had a lot of success, and the way I am feeling about it is that I will destroy anyone put in front of me. I’m just going to go in there and do what I always do and win.”
Saul obviously plans on a win this weekend against the scrappy Pirtea, and then he has his sights set on bigger goals within the rapidly-expanding ACB promotion.
“You know when I got the offer from ACB I knew they were on the rise, and that they were going to expand globally, and branch out to new areas. And I think ACB has got some high level lightweight fighters to test my skills against.”
“I think ACB is where I need to be if I’m not fighting with the UFC. With ACB I’m still fighting a high caliber of talent.”
The ACB lightweight ranks are replete with strong grapplers, particularly among the Russian organization’s domestic fighters. Most bring a well-respected combat sambo base to the sport. But Rogers, who has dominated most of his opponents with his power grappling game, isn’t worried about how well his wrestling matches up against the Dagestani contingent:
“You know what, I’m on my 13th professional fight, 10 amateur, and I am always going to dominate on the ground. I have fought some good wrestlers like John Maguire of the UFC, who was always known for his wrestling ability. I beat Marcin Wrzosek in TUF – another good, good wrestler. But I wrestled them with ease.”
“I don’t get dominated in fights, I’m the one dominating. So even with these Russians, I’m not worried about other peoples’ wrestling. I’m confident in my ability.”
Once Rogers takes out Pirtea as a huge favorite this Saturday, he still sees a future with ACB as the organization continues to expand its global presence. And that future path leads directly to one thing: the shiny, gold ACB lightweight title.
“My fight is (reigning ACB champ Abdul-Aziz) Abdulvakhabov. I don’t see myself down at contender level really. I’ve proven my worth to fight for the belt. I’ve been there and done that so I want to get it done in this next fight and after that it should be the title. I think it will be a great fight.”
“I want the top, I want these contenders and I will be champ.”
Once Rogers has achieved his goal of rising to the top in the ACB lightweight division, the only logical next step for him is a return to the UFC. After being on the cusp of the big leagues, he was thwarted by a work visa issue that kept him out of the TUF 22 final opposite Artem Lobov – a man who he defeated by decision back in 2011. According to Saul, the current issue preventing him from working for UFC stems more from the ongoing visa problems than any issue with the promotion itself.
“No, it isn’t a problem with the company, it’s a problem getting the work visa.”
“I hope to have the visa situation sorted by the middle of this year.”
Once Rogers makes the seemingly-inevitable jump back up to the UFC ranks, there’s one opponent who is firmly planted in the middle of his radar. And Saul’s dream opponent is one that not many rising athletes have on the tip of their tongue: undefeated wrestling demigod Khabib Nurmagomedov.
“I don’t think a fight with Khabib is a ridiculous dream. You know, I am at that level. And it will happen in the not too distant future.”
Seeing the fear that Khabib inspires in most potential opponents, the fact that Rogers actually welcomes the challenge makes that potential future fight that much more likely. A matchup between two of the most successful (and intimidating) lightweight grapplers to come out of Eurasia would qualify as nothing less than a dream bout for UK fight fans. And the scary thing about Saul is that we may now only be seeing him scratch the surface of his potential as he finally transitions to training full time.
“Moving from part time to full time, I am able to focus on the mental aspect and the nutritional aspect of my game. Yeah, I’ve been training more but that’s only one part of the big picture. I have been focusing on better training, better nutrition, better home life, and improving my overall fight IQ.”
While it may not come against the type of opponent that Rogers really wants, this Saturday at ACB 54 fans will get to see all of the SBG Manchester star’s improvements in action. Don’t expect him to do anything less than his finest work against the dangerous Romanian, who has finished each of his last seven professional victories. And by the end of the night Rogers hopes that it’s clear to everyone that he is the top lightweight in ACB and the man who should be vying for Abdulvakhabov’s title next.
“This weekend is going to be a performance to see. I don’t want to just go in and get the win, I want to make a statement.”
This Saturday at 10:00 AM EST watch top lightweight Saul Rogers take on Aurel Pirtea, plus the big main event between Luke Barnatt and Mamed Khalidov and plenty of other top Russian and European fighters in action at ACB 54. The show streams live and free on YouTube and will be available to watch right here @CombatDocket!