(Props to Around the Cage.)
After a pair of injuries delayed his debut on the national stage, Roger Bowling will finally get his chance Friday at Strikeforce: Challengers 8 in Portland, Ore. The undefeated Cincinnati-based fighter will face Bobby Voelker (21-7) on the main card which will air on Showtime.
“This is my coming out party,” Bowling said. “I am really focused for this fight.”
A powerhouse with quick hands, Bowling (7-0) has beaten six of seven opponents in the first round, but the 28-year-old’s career has stalled on the launching pad twice before. Injuries forced him out of two fights with War Machine and limited his fighting opportunities in the last 11 months.
“He’d probably be 8-0 or 9-0 by now if not for those injuries,” manager and former training partner Jason Appleton said. “No one has been able to stop him or even challenge him.”
Bowling needed just nine seconds to knock out Seth Baczynski in March 2009. The victory ran Bowling’s record to 5-0. Baczynski went on to become a cast member of “The Ultimate Fighter 11.”
“Seth deserves it,” Bowling said. “He is an awesome guy. That was just my night and my fight.”
The victory set up a fight with War Machine at the MMA Big Show. But a freak lathe accident at work broke Bowling’s left forearm in half. The break was severe, but clean.
“I didn’t have to wear a cast,” Bowling said. “The doctors put in a metal plate so I went right back to training.”
The bout with War Machine was rescheduled for September – this time for the XFC on HDNet. But first, Bowling scheduled a tune-up fight with Devon Plaisance in July. It took Bowling 41 seconds to secure a Pyrrhic victory.
“I broke my right hand on the first punch,” Bowling said. “I felt it break. I took him down and finished him pretty quickly. My hand was numb and when the adrenaline is going, you don’t really feel it.”
But the injury forced him to back out of the fight with War Machine – yet again. Despite the two false starts and some expletive-filled smack talk from War Machine, Bowling no longer covets a fight against the former TUF cast member and porn star.
“At this point, I feel like I am above him,” Bowling said. “Before, when I was coming up, I felt it would be a good name to put on my resume. I don’t think that is the case anymore. He is always getting in trouble. I think he is a bad representative of the sport. That’s just my opinion.”
Bowling has only fought once since Plaisance, a second-round TKO of Jerrod Appenzeller in February. On Friday, Voelker will represent a step up in competition. He is easily the most experienced fighter Bowling has faced.
“Bobby is a tough fighter and is very seasoned,” Bowling said. “I think I am cleaner. He swings a little wider and my punches are a little more crisp. But this will be a tough fight for sure.”
Bowling is no stranger to tough fights. Economic and transportation issues prevented Bowling from participating in sports as a youth, but he grew up in a family where fighting was a matter of course.
“I thought it was a normal thing and that everybody did it,” he said. “Obviously that’s not the case. But I think you have to be born with something in you that really makes you love fighting.”
He took up amateur boxing as a 16-year-old and then discovered jiu-jitsu four years later. The dream of turning pro remained in the back of Bowling’s mind – firmly.
“When you first start training, you are getting beat up all the time by guys better than you,” he said. “But it was always an idea that I could do it someday.”
Bowling excelled almost immediately in the amateur ranks.
“I won six or seven amateur boxing matches, all in the first round,” he said.
At first MMA wasn’t much harder. He won his first two amateur matches easily. In his third, however, Bowling was choked out. The classic fighting cliché of learning more from a loss than a win proved true. Bowling dropped a weight class and adjusted his training methods. No opponent has been close to beating him since.
“I don’t want to lose anymore,” Bowling said. “I don’t really like that.”