Arms could be broken, Olympic dreams shattered, and egos bruised when rugby league enforcer-turned-prizefighter Paul Gallen steps into the ring with rising star Justis Huni tonight.
Gallen, 39, who to date has crossed paths with fellow footballers with delusions of fight glory, fading mixed martial artists and punch-drunk heavyweights looking for an easy pay cheque, faces the biggest litmus test of his colourful career.
He is the rank outsider and has drifted to as high as $5 with some bookmakers despite being undefeated (11-0-1, 6KO) while his opponent (4-0-0, 3KO’s) is paying $1.23 on the back of a strong amateur pedigree.
As the two boxers made their way to the ring just after 9.40pm, the contrast couldn’t have been greater.
Justis Huni cut a relaxed figure as he made his way to the ring on Wednesday night
Paul Gallen’s entry was low key, but he had a steely determination as he made his way to the ring in Sydney
Paul Gallen (left) and Justis Huni during their bout in Sydney on Wednesday night
Paul Gallen punches Justis Huni (right) during their Australian heavyweight title fight
A determined Gallen was keen to get going, while Huni lapped up the attention, keeping his opponent waiting, walking out to Lenny Kravitz’ iconic track Are You Gonna Go My Way.
Huni quickly stamped his class in the opening round, rocking Gallen with a series of body shots and right hooks.
The heavyweight fighters traded some savage punches in the second round, with Huni’s raw athleticism and brutality on full display.
By round three the fight looked over, with Huni in full control. Ever the warrior, Gallen refused to throw in the towel until the bitter end.
As the fight progressed towards the middle rounds, both fighters wore plenty of punches. Australian boxing great Jeff Fenech repeatedly stated in commentary he ‘couldn’t believe’ Huni wasn’t being more ruthless.
Round six again saw Huni assume control, with Gallen looking beyond fatigued.
It didn’t take long for Huni’s raw athleticism and brutality to be on full display in the bout in Sydney
Both Huni and Gallen started well, with the determination of the two boxers winning plenty of admirers
Huni, 22, who left school in Year 11 to pursue boxing, is the current Australian heavyweight champion and using the bout as a tune-up and profile builder before heading to Tokyo in July for the Olympic Games with dreams of winning gold.
Unless his dreams turn into a nightmare after 10 rounds at Sydney’s ICC Exhibition Centre tonight.
‘Whether it’s your jaw, break your face, break your arm. I don’t care what it is. I’m going to do everything I can to break something in you so you don’t go to the Olympics,’ Gallen threatened at a blistering press conference on Monday.
‘That dream since you’ve been seven-year-old is going to be f***ed.’
Gallen went the distance with a lazy Mark Hunt last December when the former MMA giant failed to land a knockout blow many had anticipated and then demolished a grossly underprepared Lucas Brown in 1min and 55secs in April – but tonight is a significant step up in class.
Huni is a pure boxer who has the tools including speed and combos to see away challengers with ease despite many saying he lacks a knock-out punch but it’s his testicular fortitude that has been most called into question.
The pre-fight build up and traditional war of words have focused on Huni’s mental health and his troubles with extreme anxiety after reports he pulled out of the amateur world championships in Russia in 2019.
‘He has quit before,’ Gallen pointed out on Monday. ‘He has walked off before, he’s quit before.’
The winner of this bout will enter the world rankings with the International Boxing Federation which incredibly could put Gallen – after 19 seasons in the NRL – in line for boxing world title according to The Australian.
Justis Huni (pictured right) has a clear height advantage over footy star turned boxer Paul Gallen
Heavyweight boxers Justis Huni (right) and former NRL player Paul Gallen pose at their weigh in on Tuesday in Sydney
Huni says a burning desire to extinguish a dark family secret is what drives him to wake up 3.45am six mornings a week to train.
His uncle, Maamaloa, who took him for spins in his black Holden Commodore, was jailed in 2013 for 20 years for attempted murder after bashing a man and driving over his head following a love triangle – while his bother Lopeti has also done time.
Huni says he wants to make his surname famous for more positive reasons and fulfill a childhood promise he made to his uncle.
‘This was when Hummers were big. We were driving around and we saw one, and I promised him I’d get him one, one day,’ he told Fox Sports.
Paul Gallen remains unbeaten in 12 career fights – but will be the rank outsider in his bout on Wednesday night in Sydney
‘Still to this day I hold that promise.’
Former Cronulla Sharks premiership-winning captain Gallen could make as much as $1.5 million from this bout and has made no secret that money is his single biggest motivator before throwing in the towel.
‘The money is the end result and the reason I’m here,’ Gallen told the Sydney Morning Herald before adding ‘I don’t have much left, mate’.
‘I’m 40 this year. There’s a part of me that really enjoys this, but there’s a part of me that knows my age will catch up with me eventually.’