Paul Gallen’s call out of UFC star Robert Whittaker came as a surprise to most after the NRL great outpointed MMA legend Mark Hunt at Bankwest stadium. Fight fans knew the obligatory shout out was coming but hearing Whittaker’s name raised a few eyebrows.
Not because such a bout is out of Gallen’s reach – the former NRL star has proven he can take a punch – but more so the glaring difference in weight and the contractual quagmire that comes with being a UFC contracted fighter.
The former Cronulla Sharks star revealed he’d been fired up by Whittaker’s reaction when a possible bout was first mentioned a year ago. The dislike he has for Whittaker seems to come from a genuine place and it’s a fight that wouldn’t be hard to sell within Australia’s sporting and media landscape.
Highlights: Gallen v Hunt
While Gallen and Whittaker have expressed interest in getting in the squared circle – their biggest hurdle is convincing UFC boss Dana White.
After a year of having to do business without gate revenue and bearing the cost of “Fight Island”, White has plenty on his plate. Persuading the MMA boss about the virtues of a fight that will only sell big Down Under may be a tall task.
White was long hesitant in allowing Conor McGregor to get in the boxing ring with fight legend Floyd Mayweather in 2017. The UFC ended up co-promoting it and it was one of the biggest grossing fights of all time.
Mayweather-McGregor produced the second-biggest numbers in the history of the sport, with 4.3 million PPV buys and over $72 million (AUD) at the gate. Total revenue topped $AUD655 million. It was only second to Mayweather-Pacquiao which generated $AUD786 million in revenue.
For their troubles Mayweather reportedly walked away with over $360 million and McGregor’s cut of over $100 million came from the UFC, which paid the Irishman just over half its share, according to reports.
“We all know you can’t cross-promote especially with the UFC they usually have things tied up pretty secure,” UFC Featherweight champion Alex Volkanovski told Wide World of Sports.
“For anything to happen the UFC has to be involved. We obviously had Conor McGregor do it with Mayweather but that’s because the UFC was heavily invested that’s why that happened.”
Another concern for a potential cross-over match up is how the UFC reacted to Whittaker’s plans to compete in wrestling at the Commonwealth Games in 2018.
Whittaker won Australia’s national freestyle championship at the 97kg weight division to make Australia’s national team. But the former middleweight champion stood to be stripped of his belt if he was injured during the Games and was unable to make his first title defence against Cuban Yoel Romero.
“It was a super-tough call. I’m actually gutted to not get in there and compete for the Commonwealth Games and compete for Australia,” Whittaker told AAP at the time.
“I’m always up for the challenge and the opportunity to represent Australia but (UFC) pays the bills.
“If I would have got injured during the Games, I would have been stripped of my belt and the implications and consequences of that are quite drastic.
“UFC have made it clear that they don’t really want me to compete. It is what it is.”
While the UFC stood to gain nothing financially from Whittaker competing at the Comm Games and everything to lose, the Gallen fight would put some money in their coffers. Whether the amount would be enticing enough for a company that generated around $US 600 million a year before the pandemic, Volkanovski isn’t sure.
“We’re in our UFC careers it’s not easy to just cross-promote and make things like that happen,” he said.
“It could maybe happen at the end of Robert’s career. It would be a big fight in Australia but whether the UFC would want to invest into something like that we don’t know.
“Nobody expected him (Gallen) to say Robert Whittaker. I think he’s pretty clever with his call outs it will get people talking but whether it happens I don’t know.”