After four years of hard graft in the professional boxing ranks, Joseph Parker will finally fight for the heavyweight championship of the world - just 25 minutes from his family home.
When Joseph Parker crushed Alexander Dimitrenko with a bodyshot halfway through the third round of their October 10 fight this year, a new side to the normally relaxed and composed athlete was revealed.
After slapping the towering German about the ring, dropping him time after time, only to have his foe shaking his head in some sort of mock bemused disbelief, Parker had enough. Spinning Dimitrenko in the clinch, he fired a slapping right hand to the body as Dimitrenko took a knee, then walked away with a soured expression, leaving the big man writhing on the floor.
His fourth fight inside a year was for all the marbles. Dimitrenko was a live dog, no doubt, but also a parameter for how Parker might fare against the bigger, rangier men of the heavyweight division. Men like Wladimir Klitschko, or, more likely, Anthony Joshua, who Parker was slated to fight after dispatching Dimitrenko.
But the politics of boxing, and the temperaments of its stars, have a way of bodypunching even the most carefully laid plans. Stay with me:
When Tyson Fury, the controversial and rambunctious ‘Gypsy King’, dethroned heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko in Germany last year, the alphabet soup of boxing titles was thrown across the room and sprayed all over the walls. Because the contract for Klitschko vs Fury included a rematch clause in the event that Klitschko lost, Fury was legally unable to defend his IBF title against mandatory challenger Vyacheslav Glazkov, and was thus stripped by the IBF. Instead, Glazkov fought Charles Martin for the vacant IBF title, losing the fight by injury in the third round. Martin went on to be starched by British superstar Anthony Joshua inside two rounds in early 2016, placing himself squarely in the path of Parker and trainer Kevin Barry.
Because while the world heavyweight championship belts were bouncing around the Northern Hemisphere, Joseph Parker was racking up wins in the Pacific, taking out Kali Meehan, Daniel Martz and Jason Bergman before facing France’s Carlos Takam in May for the IBF number one contender spot. After 12 gruelling rounds, Parker got the nod, and a fight with Joshua was tentatively pencilled in for November this year.
Meanwhile, the scheduled rematch between Fury and Klitschko fell off the rails as Fury’s depression and drug problems forced his hiatus from the sport. Fury was stripped of his remaining belts, leaving the WBO title he took from Klitschko up for grabs and Klitschko without an opponent. A potential fight with Joshua looked to be in the works until Klitschko injured himself and was sidelined until 2017, and so American Eric Molina stepped up to face Joshua for the IBF strap.
(Klitschko and Fury)
The WBO title remained vacant, and two obvious challengers emerged; Joseph Parker, IBF number one, and Mexico’s Andy Ruiz Jr. It seemed a long shot, but with the weight of Ruiz Jr’s promoter Bob Arum behind it, a heavyweight title fight looked set to take place in New Zealand for the first time. Almost immediately, the proposed bout between Parker and Ruiz Jr became a political football, with more opinions filling the media than you could shake a Paul Henry at.
Where would the fight take place? Would it be Eden Park, Mt Smart, or even Parker’s home turf at the Vodafone Events Centre? And, much more importantly, who would pay for it? It was the latter question that truly threatened to derail the fight, particularly with a new mayor looking over the Supercity and listening very closely to his constituency.
However, after investment from the Samoan government was secured, Parker’s promoters Duco dropped their application for local government assistance and the fight was locked in for December 10 at Vector arena. This Saturday night.