By Paul Gallen for AthletesVoice
Fighting fascinates people and I think it’s because everyone thinks they can do it. The funny thing about that is not many people actually can.
I really notice that when I walk outside a boxing event and I see all these guys shadowboxing, saying ‘I would have done this’, or ‘I would have done that’.
I always think, ‘Well, why don’t you jump in the ring for a sparring session and we’ll see how you’d really go’.
This sport isn’t for everyone. It’s two blokes in a ring, trying to knock each other out legally. You can’t do that anywhere else in society. And let me tell you, those 10oz gloves don’t protect too much either.
But still, fighting is something that captivates and entertains people; from kids all the way up to old blokes who’ve been watching boxing all their lives.
I was part of a speaking tour for the State of Origin series this year, going around to places in Sydney, Perth and Brisbane, and the main focus of the questions was all about my fight with Nate Myles back in 2013, when I landed one on his chin.
There we were, trying to talk about Origin and the greatest game of all, played by 34 of the greatest athletes in our game, and people only wanted to ask about a fight. That’s why boxing exists.
But as I said, it’s not for everyone. The people that get in a ring and entertain, they deserve every cent they earn. For what they’re putting on the line in each fight, boxers deserve to be paid well and respected.
The Motivation to Hurt Someone
One thing that Anthony Mundine always said is that boxing is a business. Whether you like him or not, from my time in the sport I’ve learned that Choc was right about that.
When you step into a ring, you’re putting your life on the line. It’s not something you can muck around with. I never have; I’ve always respected the sport in the way I prepare for each and every fight.
I love the challenge and training that comes with doing a fight camp, and the opportunity to improve my skills. But at the end of the day, it’s a business and I’m not about to hop in the ring to fight just anybody, because I’ve got nothing to prove. I’ll only take a fight if it works for me business-wise.
Me and Barry Hall stepping in the ring is something that has been spoken about for many years, and now we get to do it. Now we get to answer the questions about which of us is the better fighter.
I think this all started because of who he is in the AFL, and his reputation.
When I first started boxing, I knew a few top fighters that also knew Barry. They all said to me, “Whatever you do, don’t fight Barry Hall”.
I just thought, ‘Well, that’s a challenge’
Whenever promoters asked if I’d fight Barry, I always said yes. But for whatever reason, the fight never got booked. I don’t know why, but the deals weren’t falling through on my end. Maybe Barry wasn’t happy with what was on the table, until Danny Green stepped in and got him to sign this time around.
The hype around the fight is great but all that matters is that we put on a great show for the fans. It’s not personal between us. I’ll be honest, I don’t even know the guy.
From what I hear, he’s a nice bloke. When I met him the first time, he congratulated me on my career. But on fight night, you set that all aside because when it’s all said and done, I want to be the one getting my hand raised.
Finding the motivation to hurt someone in the ring isn’t hard. Barry is trying to take away a part of me, and I’m not going to let that happen.
He’s trying to take away my health and my perfect boxing record.
I’m undefeated from nine fights, and I don’t think anyone can bag who I’ve fought. I’ve only ever gone up against professional athletes or people with more combat sports experience than myself.
Herman Ene-Purcell is the current Australasian champion and I’ve beaten him twice. Randall Rayment was an experienced MMA fighter with an amateur boxing career. Ryan Carr-Ketu and John Hopoate both had more than a few MMA and boxing fights under their belts. Junior Paulo was a big NRL front-rower with a solid skills base in boxing.
But it’s not about legacy for me. That’s not something I believe in. You’re relevant when you’re in the game and you’re done when you’re done. My motivation is my own competitive nature. And the fact that it’s my health on the line, when I step in that ring.
Better Than Ever Before
I started boxing in 2007, purely for the fitness. That led to a bit of sparring and eventually some opportunities were offered up to me and I made my debut in 2014.
I’ve only really boxed in NRL off-seasons since then. Each time, I get right into the training and then all of a sudden, the fight’s over and I’m not able to do any more of it for 10 months. Then it’s back to square one again.
That cycle has made it hard for me to advance my skills because boxing is like any sport, you’ve got to be training consistently to see improvement.
So that’s where I started this camp, after my last fight back in January against John Hopoate. But right now, I’m feeling fitter for boxing than ever before.
I’ve dropped three kilos from the weight I played footy at, which was just muscle bulk I didn’t need for boxing. That has me feeling lighter and quicker on my feet.
I don’t try to emulate any boxer in particular, because I’m a unique frame for heavyweight, as someone with a height of 5’11’’. I know Mike Tyson was a similar frame, but he had the incredible ability to knock people out with one punch. I don’t have that.
Growing up, Mike was certainly someone that got me interested in boxing, but I just try to be myself in the ring. I’ve made too many tackles over the years, and my elbows and shoulders are no good. When I fight, I have to wear my opponents down.
I’ve just got back from the UK, where I was on a rugby league tour, playing a few games and doing some talks. My fight with Barry Hall was announced just before I left, so I needed to find some training while I was away.
Luckily, my contacts over there sorted me out with a few really good sparring partners – Hughie Fury was one of them. He’s the cousin of Tyson Fury, and a former heavyweight title contender in his own right.
Working with guys like Hughie, who have so much experience, was incredible. Sonny Taylor was another boxer I was training with, an up-and-coming fighter out of Hull.
I was able to get a real appreciation for Hughie’s work-rate and his ability to keep his jab out there, something that tall boxers like him use to their advantage.
Over the years, I’ve been able to spar with top guys in Australia. Fighters like Ben Edwards, Solomon Haumono and Tai Tuivasa. I’ve been lucky, I’ve always found quality sparring partners.
But sparring is sparring. We’re there to help each other out but it’s not a real measure of a man’s boxing ability.