New Zealand's Joseph Parker announced his arrival in the ranks of respected heavyweights last night with a second round knockout which pitched durable South African heavyweight Francois Botha into retirement.
After the fight, Botha acknowledged that his 62-fight, 23-year career was over - though he is not quite done with boxing yet.
He has exhibition fights planned with former world champions Evander Holyfield (in Tanzania) and Mike Tyson (in the Congo) to raise money for children's charity and said last night that the Parker fight would be his last competitive effort.
"He [Parker] proved it tonight," said Botha when asked if Parker was a better boxer than Sonny Bill Williams, who defeated Botha in controversial circumstances in their fight recently. "He is much, much better and he has a really good future. You know, if I was going to keep boxing, I had to beat Sonny Bill and I had to beat Baby Joseph - but he retired me instead."
Perhaps the most intriguing thing about Parker was his ice-cold calm when he arrived in the ring last night. There were no obvious signs of nerves or stress, unusual in a 21-year-old and Parker put it down to Team Parker and his mates picking on an unusual way to prepare for a fight: "We just put some music on and did some dancing. It's a really good way to prepare for a fight and I found it made me relaxed and happy. I was a bit nervous about not being nervous but it was a good result."
Trainer Kevin Barry, delighted with the outcome, said: "He was so calm and composed and in the dressing room, he was listening to me and focusing and staying cool and staying with the game plan and, when you see that in a 21-year-old, you know you are seeing maturity beyond his years. I thought it was a tremendous performance."
Most had picked Parker to win, courtesy of his long reach and handspeed, but that prediction came with the caveat that he would be unlikely to knock out the tough Botha, who has footed it with some of the world's great heavyweights in a long career.
That's how it looked after a largely quiet first round where Parker was still finding his range and the wily Botha was slipping punches, leaning back, with clever head movement.
That all changed in the second round. Botha came on strongly for a time but one flashing combination showed Parker's danger and speed. When he caught Botha with a right hand, the 44-year-old wobbled and Parker launched a blistering attack which ended only when the referee called matters off.
It was a fine, if brief, display by Parker which demonstrated all the potential he has, beginning a professional career which is beginning to flower just as New Zealand's best known heavyweight, David Tua, is on the comeback trail.
Tua would love to have the speed of Parker's punches and Parker has definitely put down a marker. The next boxers approached to take him on will look at him carefully.
The night had started well for the Botha family, with Francois' son Marcel, 23, making his professional debut against Jeremy Sebastian, brother of Australian singer Guy, in their welterweight clash over four rounds. Sebastian probably won the first round but Botha started to find his range in the second and third rounds and won a unanimous points decision, egged on by father Francois from the sidelines.
Celebrities from the world of sport and media were among the crowd of about 2000 at the black tie dinner at Trusts Arena. On the guest list were former Warriors stalwarts Monty Betham and Wairangi Koopu, Millie Holmes, former All Black and Blues captain Ali Williams, team-mate Anthony Boric, Australian underworld celebrity Mick Gatto, Teulia Blakely, TV's Shortland Street actors Benjamin Mitchell and Pua Magasiva, Laura McGoldrick and Gretchen Hawkesby. There was also a large representation from radio, there to see the The Rock v Mai FM clash between Bryce Casey and Nickson Clark.
Gatto, a former top-line boxer, was acquitted by a Supreme Court jury of the 2004 murder of a Melbourne hitman. Last year, he survived a A$10 million tax bill to sit ringside with some of Melbourne gangland's biggest names at Shane Cameron's bout against Danny Green.
He also drew criticism last month after it was revealed he had won a boxing licence allowing him to stage bouts in Victoria. Victorian premier, Dr Denis Napthine, said he didn't want Gatto running boxing events in his state.
Fight For Life promoters - Duco Events, who staged last night's bout - had been hopeful of persuading Gatto into the ring at some stage and maybe that prospect was a little closer with the appearance of Gatto last night, though the word is that Gatto's 57-year-old knees may preclude a comeback, even for Fight For Life.
On the undercard, Australian late call-up Arlene Blencowe surprised by beating 40-year-old former world champion Daniella Smith for the vacant women's WIBA light welterweight world crown. The surprise extended to Blencowe herself who made a tearful speech of thanks at the bout's end, only her third fight.
On the undercard, the bouts were decided as follows:
- Marcel Botha (South Africa) defeated Jeremy Sebastian (Australia) - welterweight, unanimous decision.
- Sam Rapira (NZ) defeated Viliami Taofi (Tonga) - light heavyweight, referee stopped contest, rd 1.
- Daniella Smith (NZ) lost to Arlene Blencoe (Australia) - women's WIBA light welterweight world title, unanimous decision.
- Bryce Casey (The Rock) defeated Nickson Clark (Mai FM), unanimous decision.
- Jordan Tuigamala (NZ) defeated Joey Allen (NZ) - super middleweight, unanimous decision.
- Colin Lane lost to Matthew Wood (dwarf boxing) - unanimous decision