QUADE COOPER'S opponent, Barry Dunnett, says the grassroots fighting community wants him to put an end to footballers dabbling in boxing when the pair meet in the ring in Brisbane on February 8.
Dunnett, a 32-year-old Thai boxing veteran with a pair of pro boxing fights on his record, didn't mince words when he made his first media appearance with the Reds rugby star at Kangaroo Point.
While Cooper admitted he found his first public face-off slightly awkward and even confronting, Dunnett said nothing could ruffle his feathers, and he was planning on taking Cooper out on behalf of pugilists all around Australia.
Awkward glances … Barry Dunnett goes toe-to-toe with Quade Cooper in Brisbane on Friday. Photo: Scott Beveridge
''I think all the fighting community gets a bit annoyed at athletes trying to switch codes and calling themselves a triple-pro,'' Dunnett said. ''It's frustrating. It takes money away from guys who have been doing it all their life.
''Everyone in the boxing community is behind me. They want to put an end to the footballer-turned-fighter. I've been doing this for a long time. It's nothing new to me. It's a bit new to Quade. I think he might find himself struggling a bit on the day.''
Dunnett is an insurance assessor by day, inspecting car crashes and counting the cost of the damage. He plans to put a few dings in Cooper, saying the Wallabies playmaker will get lonely very quickly in the squared circle.
''There's nothing easy about it. There's no one to pass the ball to in the ring,'' Dunnett said. ''I've seen a couple of tapes of him hitting pads. I think the footwork might be a bit of an issue for him. He's going to find he doubts himself and will struggle to get around the ring. Not me.
''[The] body-on-body impact of rugby is a lot different to getting punched in the face. He'll find himself doubting a whole lot more when they are coming thick and hard at you. I'm not there to cook eggs, I'm there to fight.''
While Cooper might be one of the highest-profile rugby players in Australia, he hasn't featured a great deal in Dunnett's barbecue discussions. Dunnett is a league man. He played under-18s at Souths in Brisbane, and knows little of Cooper's reputation.
''Just dribs and drabs of what you hear around. Barely knew of him,'' he said.
Dunnett hasn't fought for nine months but his last bout was for a Queensland light-heavyweight Thai boxing crown, one of 15 Muay Thai appearances on his CV. He is reputed to be nuggety, tough and rates his left rip to the body and left hook as his best weapons.
It was all fresh for Cooper, who took the stand-off with Dunnett in his stride but admitted the nerves had gone up a notch since his opponent was unveiled.
''When you finally see someone and think, 'That's the guy I'm going to go toe-to-toe in the ring against in front of a big crowd,' it's quite confronting. I'm very excited. It's a whole new experience,'' Cooper said. ''It's a bit awkward, standing that close and looking another male directly in the eyes like that. It's something I've never done before, so I found it a bit awkward and confronting. Hopefully it's not like that on the night.''
Cooper has taken significant strides in his training, and said he was continuing to focus on footwork and defence. He's even done some rope-a-dope rounds in the gym, throwing no punches and getting used to taking a barrage of shots.
''Punching is something that comes natural to most people, but boxing you've got to learn to move, cover and also when someone is in your face throwing punches, try not to get rattled,'' he said.
''I went through a lot of sparring sessions not throwing punches but just getting hit, getting used to people being in your face throwing punches and moving towards you.''
Cooper knows there will be plenty of punters hoping he ends up on the canvas but hopes his work in the gym pays off in the fight, which will be held at 86 kilograms, a decent enough fit for both fighters.
''Everything I do I want to be successful at,'' Cooper said. ''Success to me, I look at it from a winning point of view. I want to walk out of the ring a winner, move on to our Super Rugby season and hopefully become a winner there as well.''
Online bookmaker Sportsbet has Cooper as the $1.25 favourite, with Dunnett at $3.50. In the main event, Sonny Bill Williams is at $1.55 in his heavyweight bout with South African veteran Francois Botha ($2.33).