Rugby Why Code War is a necessary circus for Australian boxing

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Nov 14, 2019

  • Rugby

    Sam BruceESPN Associate Editor

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      Sam was brought up on long drives and the dusty fields of north-west New South Wales, where he developed his love of rugby from an early age. He joined ESPNscrum after a five-year stint heading up Fox Sports Australia’s digital rugby coverage.

It’s a professional fight being fought over two-minute rounds. By two former footballers. In a 7,500-seat arena across town from Marvel Stadium where, only a month ago, the UFC packed in 57,000 people for one of the biggest fights of the year.

This is the current state of Australian boxing.

On Friday night in Melbourne, former Australian Rules hardman Barry Hall [0-0] and veteran rugby league enforcer Paul Gallen [9-0, 5 KOs] will throw down on the Code War card in a bout that has pitted Australia’s two leading winter sports against each other. Sort of, anyway.

Both Hall and Gallen have boxing pedigree, something they both showed in their respective footballing careers, largely infamously, but at 42 and 38 years of age respectively, they are hardly in their athletic prime.

And neither is Australian boxing.

It’s a fact not lost on veteran Australian boxing journalist Paul Upham who understands why the wider Australian sporting community might thumb its nose at the Code War showdown — and those outside Australia might well ask ‘WTF?’ — but one he tempers with the belief that this bout will actually offer some decent “entertainment”.

“The initial public reaction is that they’re not real boxers and I appreciate that,” Upham told ESPN. “I think Paul Gallen is a little bit different in that he really has dedicated himself to improving his boxing skills and I have seen a noticeable difference and improvement over the last two years with Paul. His dedication to fitness was one of his trademarks in the NRL and, along with his fitness in boxing, I think his improvement in his skills shows that he really wants to be the best football convert into professional boxer.

“For Barry Hall, there’s always been this legendary reputation that he [was a] great boxer as a younger man before he became an AFL star, and I know [legendary Australian boxing trainer] Johnny Lewis, when he was the Sydney Swans’ boxing and conditioning coach, raved about the skills that Barry Hall had. So I think it’s actually a very interesting matchup, I think it should provide a lot of entertainment for the boxing fan.”

Hall, for starters, is eight years retired from Australia’s premier Aussie Rules competition, the Australian Football League [AFL] where he played 289 games for the St Kilda, Sydney Swans and Western Bulldogs clubs.

As well as lifting the 2005 AFL premiership with the Swans, Hall is best remembered for an off-the-ball punch that knocked West Coast Eagles d

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