Paul Gallen’s boxing career reaches its apex tonight when he steps into the ring with Australia’s hottest prospect Justis Huni.
There has always been a lot of cynicism around Gallen’s fistic journey, but no-one can deny Huni is the best available opponent inside Australia.
Gallen has graduated from fighting fellow footballers, mixed martial artists and fading heavyweights, and now tests his boxing craft against the current Australian champion.
Huni enters the fight a substantial favourite and with Gallen attracting mainstream sporting eyeballs, it looms as the perfect coming out party for the 22-year-old to introduce himself to the Australian public.
Who is Paul Gallen?
Paul Gallen is a retired rugby league star, having played 19 seasons in the NRL.
His career was highlighted by captaining New South Wales in 2014 to its first State of Origin series victory in nine years and skippering Cronulla to its maiden premiership in 2016.
He fought his first professional bout in December 2014, scoring a stoppage win over another footballer, Anthony Watts.
His most recent fight was against his best-credentialed opponent yet, former heavyweight belt holder Lucas Browne, and he recorded a shock first-round knockout win.
Gallen’s boxing record now stands at 11 wins, six by knockout, with one draw.
Who is Justis Huni?
Huni won the Australian title on professional debut, becoming the youngest national heavyweight champion in more than a century.
He started boxing at just six years old and dropped out of school at 15 to focus on the fight game.
He has a deep amateur pedigree and is considered a medal chance in the super heavyweight division at the Tokyo Olympics next month.
Huni is now 4-0 as a pro and was last in the ring just three weeks ago, recording a decision victory over Christian Tsoye in what appeared to be a glorified sparring session.
He is trained by father Rocki out of the family’s home gym in Sunnybank Hills, 20 kilometres from Brisbane’s CBD.
Why are they fighting?
While the Australian title is on the line, the fight represents much more than a belt.
For Gallen, it is the next step up in class against a highly touted opponent. For Huni, it will be the biggest audience he will have fought in front of to date.
Gallen could make similar money putting on shows with other footballers or mixed martial artists in which he has a greater chance of winning.
But his drive to test himself against the next level of competition has landed him here, which is most admirable.
As Huni’s promoter Dean Lonergan stated two days out from the fight, Gallen is the biggest name Huni could fight, outside of world champions Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua.
Gallen’s profile gives Huni a much-needed boost and the chance to become a household name overnight.
Should he knock out Gallen, it will catapult his stardom among mainstream sporting fans.
Surely Gallen can’t win?
Huni is quite rightfully a substantial betting favourite.
He has boxed his whole life and his muscle memory is entirely in one sport. He is also coming into his physical prime, while Gallen is approaching his 40th birthday.
Since he first stepped into the ring in 2014, Gallen’s detractors have been waiting to see him lose and so far they have been kept waiting.
It is inconceivable to see Gallen out-pointing the pure boxer, which limits his mode of victory to a stoppage.
Footage emerged of Huni being knocked out in sparring earlier this year, which may show some vulnerability in Huni’s chin. But the challenge will be for Gallen to get himself in a position to land such a devastating punch.
The fight is incredibly important for Huni to not just win, but to look good doing it.
A classical boxing exhibition over 10 rounds is not going to capture the public’s imagination, as much as a YouTube-worthy knockout.
Huni (106.35 kilograms) weighed in almost seven kilograms heavier than Gallen (99.4kg).
When is the fight and how do I watch it?
The fight will take place at the ICC Exhibition Centre in Sydney’s Darling Harbour and will be telecast on Fox Sports’ Main Event channel for paying viewers.
If you do not have access to the fight, you can also follow along with our live blog.
The undercard starts at 7:00pm AEST and features four support bouts, with the main event (Gallen-Huni) to begin at approximately 9:30pm.
The semi-main event pits the charismatic Isaac Hardman (10-0) against Emmanuel Carlos (12-1).
Dubbed “The Headsplitter”, Hardman is 10-0 and will be defending his Australian middleweight title, along with two regional alphabet straps.
Unbeaten pair Andrei Mikhailovich (15-0) and Alex Hanan (13-0) will fight in what has become a grudge match following a sequence of expletive-laden barbs in the lead up.
Who said what in the lead-up?
Lonergan referred to his client Huni as champion racehorse Winx and Gallen as fictional Winnie-the-Pooh character, Eeyore.
He said Gallen had no hope of winning the fight.
“When he played against Queensland State of Origin as captain, he faced them eight times (in series) and he won once,” Lonergan said.
Gallen responded: “They’re overlooking me, without a doubt.
“I’ve read all their comments. Their number one concern is the Olympics. I’m here to tell all of you — Justis you’re included in your team — I’m going to do everything I can to make sure you don’t go to the Olympics.
“Whether it’s break 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.
“That dream since you’ve been seven-year-old is going to be f***ed.”
Gallen cited Huni’s withdrawal from the 2019 AIBA world championships in Russia, which was due to illness, as a weakness he could exploit.
“He’s quit before,” Gallen said.
“He has walked off before, he’s quit before. That’s a fact … you (Huni) had the chance to fight in a final and you dogged it.
“That’s always going to be in you mate, somewhere that’s always going to be in you. Whether I find it or not, someone will find it one day and I’m determined to find it.
“He has quit before and at some stage he will quit again.”