Maybe it’s cabin fever setting in with professional sport on an enforced hiatus due to COVID-19, but boxing has been thrust into the NRL spotlight after Melbourne Storm giant Nelson Asofa-Solomona called out former Parramatta Eels and Manly Sea Eagles firebrand Darcy Lussick.
The pair have traded barbs in the media in recent weeks and a professional bout between Asofa-Solomona and Lussick seems a mere formality – after COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed, of course.
Meanwhile, a clash between Cronulla legend Paul Gallen and UFC stalwart Mark ‘The Super Samoan’ Hunt remains on the cards, despite a coronavirus-related delay.
NRL odds are currently suspended ahead of the premiership’s scheduled 28 May restart. However, Sportsbet are offering boxing odds and markets on the proposed fights, allowing punters to get involved in the ever-increasing crossover between footy and the ‘sweet science’.
Pugilistic posturing: NAS and Lussick get feisty on social
Rangy former Brisbane Broncos centre Justin Hodges made a hard-hitting start in his foray into pro boxing last year, needing fewer than 100 seconds combined to knock out Rob Baron and Troy McMahon in his first two fights.
But his progress was halted in brutal fashion by debutant Darcy Lussick, who stopped Hodges in just 39 seconds on the undercard for December’s Paul Gallen–Barry Hall bout.
A veteran of 117 NRL games with the Sea Eagles and Eels, Lussick currently carts the ball up for the Toronto Wolfpack in the relative backblocks of Super League.
The comprehensive beat-down of Hodges piqued the interest of a fellow front-rower and one of the NRL’s most feared players, however.
Melbourne Storm and New Zealand forward Nelson Asofa-Solomona – a 2m, 115kg wrecking ball – posted a photo on his Instagram story last month of Lussick after his fight with Hodges, accompanied by the caption: “When you fight a retired back … Darcy Lussick if you want a real fight, I’d happily jab your face off for easy money.”
Them’s fighting words – and Lussick is more than happy to oblige the 24-year-old Asofa-Solomona.
“He was into me about fighting a retired back, so he’s the biggest person in the NRL, so I’ll take him and then he can’t say anything about that can he?” Lussick said in a Fox Sports interview.
Nelson Asofa-Solomona is ready to debut rugby league’s most brutal uppercut in boxing, challenging @TOwolfpack prop Darcy Lussick.
— Telegraph Sport (@telegraph_sport) April 22, 2020
‘NAS’ looks the part but doesn’t have any notable experience in the ring. However, he’s only a few months removed from an ugly brawl in Bali, with video footage leaving little doubt about the damage the premiership-winning giant can do.
But experience counts for plenty, and the 30-year-old Lussick – not exactly diminutive himself at 193cm and 114kg – was installed, at the time of writing, as the initial $1.75 favourite against Asofa-Solomona, the slight $2 underdog.
Hunt becomes the Shark hunter
One of the rugby league’s most outspoken and forthright figures during a 19-season NRL career that encompassed 348 games for the Cronulla Sharks, 24 Origins for NSW and 32 Tests for Australia, Paul Gallen is ideally suited to the trash-talking world of boxing.
Gallen, who hung up the footy boots at the end of 2019, is 10 fights deep into his pro boxing career, recording nine wins (five by knockout) and one draw – a six-rounder against ex-AFL hardman Barry Hall in Melbourne last November, in which Gallen was the $1.67 favourite.
Perhaps best known for battering Queensland enforcer Nate Myles in an infamous 2013 Origin stoush, Gallen has had wins in the ring over rugby league rivals Anthony Watts, Bodene Thompson, Junior Paulo and a horrendously underdone John Hopoate, who was 45 at the time of their early-2019 bout.
But his biggest test looms large, with contracts for a feverishly anticipated fight with UFC heavyweight Mark Hunt drawn up prior to the coronavirus sports shutdown.
Hunt is only two months Hopoate’s junior but represents a quantum leap forward in experience and class. Auckland-born Hunt is a 120kg powerhouse who had an outstanding kickboxing career before linking with the UFC.
Although his UFC record stands at a modest 13–14–1, 10 of his wins were by knockout. There’s no question that Hunt’s punching power and ring smarts exceeds that of any other fighter Gallen has faced.
Consequently, Hunt has been backed into $1.20 favouritism at the time of writing, with Gallen a rank $4.00 outsider to avoid his maiden defeat.
Hunt is also aggressively candid, and his back-and-forth sniping with Gallen on social media is arguably as entertaining as the potential fight promises to be.
— Stuff.co.nz Sport (@NZStuffSport) March 10, 2020
The reality is a bout involving NRL players is unlikely to produce the next ‘Thrilla In Manila’, but the entertainment value is high. Whether you’re backing your footy hero to taste sweet victory in the squared circle, or betting on a rugby league villain to hit the canvas, it’s a market all sports punters will want to be in on.