Ex-NRL star befriends Dana, calls out Gallen

By Melanie Dinjaski and Sacha Mirzabegian

Former NRL star Matt Cooper has challenged retired Sharks captain Paul Gallen to a blockbuster MMA fight and says he’s got support from no less than UFC president Dana White to make it happen.

Cooper played nearly 250 NRL games for the St George Illawarra Dragons and had representative caps for the NSW Blues and Kangaroos in his illustrious rugby league career before retiring after the 2013 season.

Now 42, Cooper has spent his post-footy career training in mixed martial arts, sharing the gym with fellow Illawarra local, UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski, and for several years he has been desperate to fight Gallen, but the league star-turned boxer keeps “brushing him” for a date in the cage.

Gallen’s family urges NRL legend to quit boxing

Cooper said Gallen only wants to fight in the boxing ring, however the former centre said that’s not want the people want.

“I feel like footy players boxing each other is pretty dead. I don’t think it’s what everyone wants to see,” Cooper told Wide World of Sports.

“I think people want to see a change. Most people love the UFC and that’s where it’s going.

“I’m keen to fight him. I’ve said before in the media. Everyone wants to see it. I want to be his first MMA fight. I texted him a couple of years ago and he’s said he would if the money’s right.”

Cooper wasn’t just voicing an opinion either. He said UFC boss White even gave the green light to a potential showdown between the pair years ago.

“I’ve been friends with Dana White for a while, since about 2014 when Rhonda Rousey came out here,” Cooper explained.

“I asked Dana, I said, ‘Look I’d love to fight in the UFC’. He was a bit hesitant at the start but when I said if me and Gallen were fighting in Australia it would get mainstream media… because when UFC comes to Australia they usually don’t get mainstream media. And his eyes lit up. And he was like, ‘Yeah I’d let you fight’.

“He was pretty keen to get me on an actual UFC card but since COVID-19 has hit they haven’t been to Australia in a while. It doesn’t look they’ll be in Australia in a while, but that doesn’t mean me and Gallen can’t fight.”

Cooper claimed Gallen’s manager proposed a boxing match, which wasn’t well received.

“I think he’s trying to make his name in boxing,” Cooper said.

“His manager asked me If I would just box him – I said no one wants to see that. People want to see us in the cage.”

Cooper conceded with a UFC champion like Volkanovski in his corner and eight years of MMA training under his sleeve, it would be unfair to expect Gallen to fight him in a cage immediately, so he is willing to give it time.

“I’d probably have to give him until next year,” Cooper said.

“He’s done wrestling before. I think he’s got an MMA coach so it probably wouldn’t take him too long but I’d be willing to wait till probably just before the season starts next year – [that] would be an ideal time.

“I think the hype between me and him would be huge. I get stopped on the street all the time and asked, ‘When are you going to fight Gallen?’

“I’ve called him out before. I feel like he’s ducking me. I’ve called him out a couple of times and he’s brushed it off.”

As for whether the combat sports-loving public would want to see a 39-year-old and 42-year-old former footy player duo fight, Cooper was adamant they could put on a show, before issuing a warning to Gallen.

“There’s been UFC world champs in their forties. I don’t think age matters in this sport. It’s not like footy where you have to play every week,” Cooper said.

“He’s a tough bloke. He’s played footy and boxed at a high level. To me I feel like he’s a brawler. He’s fit and can take a punch.

“But if he wants to step into the cage he’s going to have to deal with a lot more. I reckon I’ve got more advantages over him than in the cage.

“If he wants it I’m ready to go and I’ll give him time to get ready.”

Despite revealing family had suggested he quit boxing for his health after being defeated by a 10th round TKO to Justis Huni last month, Gallen said earlier this week that he will fight again.

“Over 400 games of football and 15 fights, I’ve been hurt once,” he told Wide World of Sports Radio.

“I have nothing to prove, but I want to make a dollar.

“The offers that have come to me over the past three weeks have been unbelievable from that [Huni] fight.

“It’s like my stocks have gone up. I can’t imagine what would have happened had I won that fight.”

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