Whenever there’s talk about NRL players having a boxing match – which is becoming increasingly common – one man’s name gets mentioned in the comments more than any other.
That player is Wests Tigers forward Josh Aloiai.
While plenty of other footy players have taken up the challenge and laced on a pair of gloves, those in the know say 24-year-old Aloiai legitimately has what it takes to make a career out of boxing.
The Samoan Test representative has had one amateur fight in Australia so far, scoring a dominant second-round knockout victory in 2017 before a string of injuries delayed any thought of advancing his boxing career.
Fully fit and healthy for the first time in a few years after off-season surgery, Aloiai has been honing his craft in the boxing gym.
He isn’t one to blow his own trumpet, but there are plenty of coaches and training partners who want the 1.9m tall Tiger to have a crack in the ring.
“The boys have been pushing him, because he’s not really a shit-talker,” Aloiai’s boxing coach Hassan El-Achrafi told Sporting News.
“We’ve been telling him he doesn’t have to be the bad guy on social media, but we’ve gotta get his name out there. That smack talk, it just doesn’t suit him.”
It’s a fair assessment of Aloiai’s natural ability that ‘Huss’ didn’t even realise he wasn’t a full-time boxer when they first met.
“I’ve been training him for about four years now, but for the first few weeks of training I didn’t even realise he was a footy player,” he said.
“I hadn’t heard of him at that time and was just training him like all the rest of the boys.”
Asked what sets the Tigers enforcer apart from some of the others, Huss points out the technical details of the sweet science.
“We talk a lot of boxing and he’s watched all the old fights. The other day we broke down Ali vs Frazier from a technical aspect,” he said.
“He understands boxing – not just punching. He studies it and understands the historical and technical things. Why things are supposed to be done certain ways and times.
“So, he really respects the sport as well, which is why he won’t jump on social media and start calling people out.”
Talented amateur super-heavyweight Deepak Basrai, who has won a string of state and national titles, has sparred and trained alongside Aloiai on several occasions.
He says it’s the simple things Aloiai does well that make him a quality boxer.
“He does the basic things really, really well,” Basrai told Sporting News.
“He has an amazing jab and amazing footwork. He was actually hard to hit in sparring.
“These are the things that you notice when you get an elite level. You can have power, but if you can’t do the simple things, you’ll get touched up.
“But he was doing all the little things really well.”
Jackson Murray, another rising amateur heavyweight state and national champion, backed up Basrai’s claims.
“We started off sparring and he actually caught me straight away – he was really quick,” said Murray, who has also sparred with the likes of Lucas Browne and Demsey McKean.
“After a couple of rounds I was really having to be on my toes. In the heavyweights, it can be quite hard to get real quality sparring, but that’s what he gave me. I always tell him to get down to the gym whenever he can.”
Although Aloiai’s only had one amateur fight, Murray believes he’s already one of the best heavyweights in Australia.
“I’m not even talking the code-crossers either – the footy guys coming over – I’m saying he’d be up there with some of the best in Australia after a few of the more well-known guys,” he said.
“If he did it consistently, he’d be one of the best in Australia.
“From what I’ve seen – and I’m mates with Paul Gallen – but I’d back Josh. In the heavyweights, it only takes one hit, but in terms of skillset, Josh for sure.”
It’s safe to say fighting runs in the Aloiai family. His dad is a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and he has two brothers who both box.
As a teenager, he competed in league and boxing for as long as he could, before taking up a contract in the NRL.
“He was always devoted to both, but fighting is in his blood,” said childhood friend and MMA fighter James Vake, who trains at City Kickboxing in Auckland alongside UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya.
“He was always just so talented at both, and I’ve told him that if he’d have devoted his time to boxing he’d have made it as a professional by now.
“He’s a natural, but he was just too good at league to pass it up.”
As for the man himself, he’s just biding his time, mindful of respecting the sport of boxing and its athletes.
“I grew up in a boxing gym,” Aloiai told Sporting News.
“I’ve mixed it with some of the best in Australia and New Zealand in combat sports and I’ve never felt out of my depth.
“I’ve stayed boxing all through my NRL career and I could comfortably beat any of the crossover boxers – any of them.
“But, I’m not going to sacrifice my integrity to get noticed.
“When timing around football and injuries line up, I’ll fight. And when I do, they’ll realise.
“Until then, why not do some research…”