Sonny Bill Williams celebrates beating Barry Hall, a 45-year-old former AFL player.
David Long is a sports reporter for Stuff.
OPINION: In some sports players retire gracefully when their time is up. They move into coaching, work in the media or set up a business.
Some are lucky enough to play in sports where there is a veteran series for them to join, like golfers, or tennis players can switch to only playing doubles to extend their career for a few more years.
But for some league and rugby players, they seem to think they can have a second sporting career and become professional boxers, even though the chances of them winning anything other than novelty fights is zero.
Paul Gallen is taking on Kris Terzievski for the Australasian heavyweight title on May 11, having last year fought and beat a washed up 42-year-old in Lucas Browne, former league player Darcy Lussick (who fought former Bronco Justin Hodges in the past. But Gallen was pummeled when he went into the ring against a ‘proper’ boxer in Justis Huni.
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Sonny Bill Williams dabbled with boxing during his rugby career and even though he’s now hung up the boots, the boxing gloves are back out the kitbag.
In March he fought 45-year-old former AFL player Barry Hall, who had a draw with Gallen in 2019.
Williams is talking up a fight against YouTube star turned boxer Jake Paul.
“Jake Paul, his people have reached out to mine and they’re talking so who knows. The main thing is I’m very excited and very grateful to be back in the ring, on Stan, boxing.” Williams said, remembering to plug the people who pay him a lot of money.
Now Williams can fight who he wants and it’s up to the public whether they want to pay to watch third rate boxing, between fighters who are kidding themselves that they’re actually any good, but a fight between Williams and Paul would have more in common with Keeping up with the Kardashians than it would with When We Were Kings.
Other rugby and league players who’ve taken up boxing include John Hopoate, Manu Vatuvei, Bodene Thompson, Quade Cooper, while Keven Mealamu says he hopes to one day be remembered as a genuine boxer as he prepares to take on Wairangi Koopu in July’s Fight forLife.
Former England and Highlanders player James Haskell attempted to become an MMA fighter before picking up a back injury. Even Jonah Lomu trained to take part in Fight for Life after his kidney transplant.
Under the guise of Fight for Life, Liam Messam, Wendell Sailor, Ben Tameifuna, Carlos Spencer and many other footy players stepped into the ring.
So why do they all do it? They’ve been successful enough in one sport, made plenty of money yet they haven’t been able to shake that competitive urge.
Maybe it’s because their lives have been so regimented by training sessions and match days that they don’t know what to do without it.
While their egos might lead them to think they could be really good at boxing, they’re usually not dumb enough to take on anyone who could really hurt them.
Exceptions to all this are Anthony Mundine, who however obnoxious he might be now, was a quality boxer, but that’s because he retired from the league at the age of 24.
Also, Monty Betham retired from the league at the age of 29 and did make a genuine effort at being a professional boxer, even getting in the ring with Shane Cameron.
Even though it was only in a Fight for Life contest, Betham had a boxing heritage through his dad.
But for most footy players who go into the ring, it’s all pretty sad and next time you’re tempted to fork out $40 to watch Williams, Gallen or any other league or rugby player who wants to live off their past glories, you might want to think again.