MIXED MARTIAL ARTS
As he takes the first steps towards a career in the brutal world of mixed martial arts, Dragons great Matt Cooper insists he's no retired footballer just looking for a hobby.
He opened his gym DragonFit Fight Club on Saturday, Cooper's new business venture with former Dragons teammate Josh Miller and Brett Harriott, the man overseeing Cooper's transition from NRL hard man to cage warrior.
He knows there'll be sceptics wary of another NRL player entering the fight game but says he has too much respect for the sport to turn it into a gimmick.
"I think some footballers have given the sport a bit of a bad name just jumping straight into the ring against opponents who probably weren't up to the challenge," Cooper said.
"I don't want to just step into the cage without being at the level I should be. I want to give the sport a bit of respect, put in some good training hours and fight someone that's got some great skill as well.
"That's why I've put off my first fight to February-March next year but when it comes to being ready, that'll be Brett's [Harriott] call. He'll let me know when I'm ready to step into the cage."
Cooper's model good looks don't tell the story of a 243-game career in which you could count the number of times an opposing centre put it over him on one gloved hand.
He won't be a complete novice, having trained in boxing and muay thai for the best part of seven years as injuries kept him off the rugby league training paddock.
He said the years putting the clamp on some of the NRL's most dangerous outside backs would help in his transition to the ring.
"Obviously rugby league prepares you for the collisions. I know how to cop a hit and we've done a lot of wrestling over the years," Cooper said.
"The difference between what I was doing and what my plans are is that I'm on my own in the cage ... I've obviously got to change my mental approach because it's all me, I'm out there in the cage on my own."
A life-long fan of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Cooper admits a slot on a card in the sport's premier organisation is the ultimate dream.
"[A UFC fight] would be the ultimate dream but time will tell if I'm up to that," he said.
"The goal was originally to have one fight just to prove to myself that I could actually do it but I've got a bit of a dream now and it's something I'm chasing."