NSW great Paul Gallen used to be public enemy No.1 in Queensland.
But now the state is helping ‘Gal’ out as he prepares for the daunting task of fighting MMA legend Mark Hunt in Sydney on December 16.
Gallen believes that loyalty to Hunt among Sydney fighters has meant they are reluctant to spar with him.
And so the 39-year-old jetted to Brisbane on Thursday for a six-round session with former world heavyweight contender Alex Leapai and Toowoomba product Herman Ene-Purcell.
The irony wasn’t lost on Leapai, a proud Queenslander and cousin of Maroons star Josh Papalii.
“I said to him: it’s funny, you said a few things about our Queensland team and now the NSW fighters down there are not willing to help you out but now you’ve come up here to Queensland,” Leapai told Wide World of Sports after going toe-to-toe with the retired NRL star.
“You come up here to Queensland to get the real fighters to help you.
“So I’ve told him ‘we’re happy to help you out’ because that’s the way the Queensland community, the people up here, we help everybody.
“And that’s what he needs on this night, he needs that Queensland spirit.”
Leapai, who lost a title fight against Wladimir Klitschko in 2014, described Gallen as “fit, hungry and really determined to get the victory in this fight.”
Despite his impressive performances to date, this is a massive step up for Gallen, who will start as the clear underdog against the power punching ‘Super Samoan.’
Will his guard and defence be up to the task?
“Should be,” Leapai said.
“Don’t get me wrong, we landed a few today so he’s tough this Paul Gallen.
“But you’re not fighting with 16 ounce gloves and you definitely don’t have the headgear.
“So it’s a different story again – the gloves are 10 or eight ounce, pretty much nothing there.”
Leapai rated Gallen’s biggest assets as work ethic and fitness.
“He just never stops.
“He landed a few but it’s the Lionheart mate, he can’t hurt the Lionheart.
“He’s going out there doing a lot of headshots but he’s just got to do what he’s got to do to win.
“But it was different today, sparring, because normally he’s the one who comes in front of everybody’s face.
“Not this time – I’m a pressure fighter.
“So I was in his face every time we sparred and made it hard for him.
“He said it was just different.”
Asked if Gallen had a genuine chance of winning, Leapai quipped: “You never know, Mark Hunt might pull a muscle.
“You never write anybody off, you know.
“It’s the heavyweight division – it only takes one punch and it changes the whole fight game.
“He’s doing really good and all I can do is wish him the best against the Super Samoan Mark Hunt.
“There’s not many out there willing to take the step.
“Hats off to him, poor guy, he’s played football pretty much all his life and now jumping in the ring to fight one of the best mixed martial artists, a legend in the game.
“Man, hats off to Paul Gallen.
“Win or loss, there’s no shame, like I said to him.
“But you’ve worked so hard, so go and get it.’
“Go and prove all your critics wrong.”