It’s novel, controversial – some boxing purists would even say farcical. Rugby league great turned bona fide pro boxer Paul Gallen is set to wind up his ring career by fighting TWO men – fellow NRL hardmen Justin Hodges and Ben Hannant – on the same night.
Gallen is clearly the better credentialled boxer of the three, but will this test of endurance leave the 41-year-old NSW Origin icon vulnerable? Are the Queensland duo any chance of rattling ‘Gal’s’ cage? The build-up has been fiery and Gallen has declared himself a certainty to knock both Hodges and Hannant out.
Here’s why he’ll back up his trash talk with a double KO.
Gallen is the real deal
It took several years for Paul Gallen to be taken seriously in boxing circles. Debuting in 2014, he took on inexperienced plodders and NRL rivals (Anthony Watts, Bodene Thompson, Junior Paulo, John Hopoate) the build a 9-0 record, before fighting out a six-round draw with AFL enforcer Barry Hall in 2019.
But then the Cronulla Sharks legend stepped it up a notch. He claimed a unanimous decision over UFC star Mark Hunt then stopped former Australian heavyweight champ Lucas Browne in less than two minutes. Arguably Gallen’s most impressive performance came in a 2021 loss, lasting almost the full 10 rounds against classy young powerhouse Justis Huni before losing by TKO.
Since then, Gallen has accounted for fellow footy slugger Darcy Lussick via Round 3 TKO, before losing a 10-round decision to Kris Terzievski in May.
While outboxed comprehensively by Terzievski, Gallen’s toughness and genuine pugilistic ability can’t be questioned. If this is to be his last foray with the gloves, he’ll hang them with the respect (however begrudging it eventually came) of the boxing fraternity.
Seven of Gallen’s 12 wins from 15 fights came via KO/TKO – and he’s hellbent on adding to that tally on Thursday night. He apparently won’t know which former Origin adversary he’s facing first. It’s unlikely to matter. Meanwhile, he’ll have at least an hour between bouts to recover from what will likely a swift initial fight.
Hodges’ record is unimpressive…
Justin Hodges will tick off a personal milestone this week: fighting someone not on debut.
Back in 2019 Hodges entered the pro boxing ranks with quick knockout wins over furniture removalist Rob Baron and Kiwi Troy McMahon, neither of whom looked like they had much ring experience. Then he got unceremoniously knocked out in 33 seconds by Lussick, who was making his first pro appearance but was also the first fighter Hodges had taken on that could hold his gloves up and throw a decent punch.
Hodges boosted his confidence with a super-tight decision over ex-Newcastle winger Nathan Ross in 2021, before getting fairly comfortable decisions over Hannant and podcaster Jordan Simi in recent months.
Hardly a resumé that suggests Brisbane’s 2015 grand final skipper is equipped to avoid a pummelling from a fired-up Gallen, let alone challenge him.
Hodges is the $7 outsider – and maybe he has a slim chance of going the distance if he’s up second and Hannant somehow lasts long enough to wear Gallen out a bit. But the $1.72 about a Gallen KO/TKO of Hodges is the best value on offer.
…and Hannant’s is worse
Ben Hannant is as honest a front-row toiler as they come, winning two premierships, playing 12 Origins for the Maroons and representing the Kangaroos in six Tests during a 12-season career at the top level.
The ‘Polar Bear’ made his first gentle waves in boxing by featuring in a charity event against Jamie Trindall, prompting him to get in the ring with long-time clubmate Hodges in June.
The burly Hannant gave it a good crack and took a fair bit of punishment from the sharper Hodges. His conditioning left a bit to be desired, though, and it has to be a major concern coming up against Gallen, who packs a far more powerful, wider array of punches.
It’s no surprise to Gallen as a $1.02 favourite to beat $11 underdog Hannant – or that he’s a skinny $1.26 to win by KO/TKO. Hannant will do well to last a round, especially if he’s in Gallen’s firing line first up.
‘Gal’s’ winning the mind games
As he did throughout his playing days, Gallen has proven a world-class sledger in the ever-posturing, motor-mouthed world of boxing. He plays the game so convincingly that you’d swear he means every word – and there’s probably a strong element of truth to it – but reeling in more pay-per-view purchases is surely part of his motivation
Hodges also built quite the reputation as one of the NRL’s prickliest characters – never short of a word and always keen to push it to the nth degree.
Inevitably, the war of words between the pair has been especially spicy. Gallen has admitted he took it too far at Tuesday’s presser with his “make sure you kiss your kids goodnight…you might not wake up” barb – but it’s had the desired effect.
Hodges’ tempers bubbled over then and again at the weigh-in.
Gallen has remained comparatively calm and, like all quality fighters, will take the emotion out of it when he steps between the ropes and focus on the job at hand. Whether Hodges is capable of doing the same remains to be seen.
Justin Hodges proved he doesn’t back down “from anything” as he put his hand on Paul Gallen’s THROAT at the weigh-ins 🤯
— MAIN EVENT (@MainEventTV) September 14, 2022
State vs State, Hate vs Hate
Hodges’ main piece of psychological warfare has centred around Gallen’s poor record as NSW captain.
Gallen debuted for the Blues in 2006 – the start of Queensland’s record run of eight straight series wins – and presided over four series defeats as skipper before ending his rep career in 2016. Hodges featured in eight series wins over NSW teams that included Gallen. Hannant turned out for the Maroons in four of those.
But Gallen was also captain and Wally Lewis Medal winner as the Blues ended the drought in 2014 (against a Maroons line-up featuring Hodges) and ranks alongside the greatest forwards in Origin history. Gun centre Hodges was a piece in a star-studded puzzle – Gallen was a one-man band.
Gallen, a 24-game Origin veteran, is the most hated Blues player of all time…but he hates the Maroons with just as much vitriolic passion. He’s been waiting for a chance to legitimately punch on with a Queenslander since battering Nate Myles back in 2013 – and he’ll be relishing the opportunity to get two (heads) for the price of one.