Cooper fighting fit ahead of boxing debut

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 11:17 03/02/2013
Richie McCaw
Getty Images
NO LOVE LOST: Quade Cooper's tussles with Richie McCaw mean there will likely be many New Zealanders hoping he loses his first boxing bout.

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In the midst of his turbulent and controversial ride from outspoken rebel to reformed recruit, boxing was all the certainty Quade Cooper had.

It was a foreign place for the former Tokoroa lad to be.

He learned to use his fists when growing up in the humble timber town, but, before this year, he had never been in the ring.

What began as a distraction from his career uncertainty evolved into a legitimate drive. After 13 weeks of dedicated boxing training, the polarising Wallabies playmaker steps into the relative unknown next Friday, on the undercard of Sonny Bill Williams' clash with Francois Botha in Brisbane.

It's been a meandering path to his maiden professional fight.

Cooper's radical criticism of the "toxic" environment surrounding Robbie Deans' Wallabies put him on the outer with rugby officials last year.

After copping a NZ$50,500 fine from the Australian Rugby Union for his comments, he weighed up interest from rugby league and wealthy French clubs (one offer was understood to be worth [Euro]750,000 [$1.2 million]per year).

Any wonder Cooper was, at one point, resigned to leaving his adopted Queensland home and walking away from Australian rugby.

"The past few months have been interesting. There's been a lot going on. At one stage there I wasn't sure what sport I would be playing, if I'd be playing anything for that matter," Cooper told Ssaid.

Over the last five months he threw his efforts into boxing. He had nothing else at a difficult time - he was leaving a place he felt comfortable and the future was uncertain. "Then, things worked out and it was a relief and a whole load off my shoulders."

After resolving his differences with the ARU, turning down millions in France and committing to a two-year deal at the Reds, Cooper ensured he will remain a focal figure for New Zealand audiences, this year and beyond.

Those attacks on Richie McCaw aren't, and will not, be forgotten. They are sure to attract Kiwis keen to see him "get sorted" - as the All Blacks captain, in his book, predicted would happen - by 32-year-old Muay Thai veteran Barry Dunnett, who has a one-win one-loss boxing record.

"It's not really my place to worry about how it will be perceived," Cooper said of his latest foray. "This is something I'm doing for me, not for anybody else, whether they are supporting me, or against me. This is something I want to achieve. I'm not too worried about other people's opinions.

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"Boxing allows you to let off some steam. It also makes you so much stronger mentally. There's nothing like having to get into the ring in front of a live audience with it being aired to thousands of people around the world and going toe-to-toe with another bloke who is hoping to knock your block off."

And, as with Williams, this may not be a one-off.

Although his debut is scheduled for four rounds, Cooper has been doing up to eight in training.

"As soon as I get the opportunity to do it again I'd love to. Now I've got the bug for the training," he said.

"It gets you in a really good space. You get really disciplined in your training and habits outside of the sport.

"I could easily say this is the best I've been prepared for a rugby season."

Even if he gets laid out, the past few months won't be wasted.

Cooper should be better prepared for the eventual McCaw backlash.

- Sunday News

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