Cooper to hold his own, but Williams is in strife
Barry Dunnett shapes up to boxing opponent Quade Cooper at Kangaroo Point. Photo: Scott Beveridge
There's a bit to like about Barry Dunnett. He seems like a straight-up guy, fits fighting around his job with insurer NRMA and couldn't wait to put his hand up when word passed around the traps that Quade Cooper needed an opponent.
We can't confirm his official nickname is 'Who' but it probably will be after his bout with Cooper on February 8. It won't have quite as much of a ring to it if he manages to win.
Like many journeyman fighters who slug it out in RSLs around the nation for our occasional entertainment, Dunnett hasn't been impressed with people like Cooper breezing into the sport, stuffing the wallet and driving the Lexus back to the football club to resume the day job.
The 32-year-old wants to be the man to deliver the message that part-time foot-pugs aren't welcome in the fight game any longer. The logic does a few loop-the-loops, given the only reason Dunnett is in this story is because of his date with Cooper, but the resentment among the sport's tradesmen is understandable and real.
In any case, Cooper has been working diligently on his boxing skills and from all reports has some genuine talent in the ring. By his own admission, his footwork is rusty and the only way his chin can be really tested is in a fight scenario. But the framework is there.
He should be commended for taking on someone like Dunnett, who has a modest enough record but isn't a comedy opponent or a country backrower taking up boxing for the evening. Anyone who's ever been to the fights knows the guy wearing the ruggers and joggers probably isn't the next Roberto Duran.
Dunnett talked a good fight yesterday after taking the morning off work for his first press conference. He didn't look fazed in the slightest - apart from wearing a long shirt and slacks in the searing heat - and he thinks Cooper is going to bug out when confronted with a flurry of fists.
Cooper is a rank rookie as a boxer but is taller than Dunnett and has a cardio and conditioning base that is exceptional. I'd expect him to move and jab and move and jab, getting the better of Dunnett before eventually claiming a maiden victory.
Cooper's trainers used to work with Dunnett and rate him a testing start to any potential boxing career. Even so, Cooper's boxing advisors think he will start in the affirmative, as do oddsmakers, who have him a $1.20 favourite to be one from one in his new hobby.
There's less confidence about the other footballer on the card, Sonny Bill Williams. He takes on Frans Botha, a portly 44-year-old South African on a three-fight losing streak.
The "White Buffalo" has fought some impressive names over the years ... Mike Tyson, Wladimir Klitchsko, Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, Michael Moorer ... and managed to lose to them all.
Still, there's been some substantial investments on Botha to upset Williams, as well as a degree of nerves from those close to the fight, who are wondering whether Williams has bitten off more than he can chew.
A quick YouTube search of Botha would suggest he's going to struggle to keep up with the insanely chiselled figure of Williams, who would be well advised to utilise every molecule of his youth and athleticism to drain the energy from Botha's robust frame.
Yet Botha can still unleash a punch, something Williams is yet to really endure in his seedling of a boxing career. If Williams is tempted to stand and deliver and he endures more than he bargained for, he could suffer some wobbly knees.
Like Cooper, he understands there's going to be more than a few happy fans if he bites the dust, most of them wearing Canterbury Bulldogs jerseys. Khoder Nasser's recruits thrive on such disdain and it only adds to the polarised fascination with these sort of hybrid football fight nights, decried as sideshows by most pros but still a source of fascination for media consumers.
Compared with the Anthony Mundine-Daniel Geale fight at the end of January, the Williams-Cooper card is a sidebar. Both men are taking exploratory steps into potential new careers, while Geale is at the height of his powers and Mundine is desperate to remain a threat.
But Nasser knows how to pick them. With Mundine out of the stable, he could scarcely have found two athletes that split opinion like Cooper and Williams. It's a proven recipe to make a dollar and sadly for a purist like Barry Dunnett, I doubt either of them are going to be departing the sport in a hurry.