Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Boxing: Promoter shapes up for Parker fight

Boxer Joseph Parker. Photo / Dean Purcell.
Boxer Joseph Parker. Photo / Dean Purcell.

Now that Joseph Parker's promoters have almost certainly negotiated terms for their heavyweight to fight an International Boxing Federation world title elimination bout in Auckland, their next task is to sign contracts and then quickly find ways to pay for what will be the richest fight held in this country.

Duco's David Higgins can take confidence from being partly responsible for putting on the previous richest - the David Tua v Shane Cameron "Fight of the Century" in Hamilton in 2009, which was the first pay per view television event in New Zealand and also, to this day, the most popular.

Higgins, and then business partner John McRae put on the fight - their first - thanks to sponsorship, the aforementioned pay per views (they sold in the region of 85,000, smashing the previous record of 20,000 which was Lennox Lewis v Mike Tyson in 2002), the selling of corporate tables and a fair bit of cheek.

Neither had put on an event of that magnitude before, with Higgins' inspiration coming from Don King's gamble of putting on the Rumble in the Jungle fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in the country known as Zaire in 1974, a promotion immortalised in the 1996 movie When We Were Kings.

The notorious King guaranteed both fighters US$1 million ($1.49 million) each and then set about raising the money to pay for it. And so did McRae and Higgins - except in their case it was $500,000.

"We weren't a big company back then and we were taking a massive risk on it," Higgins told the Herald this week. "We were risking the whole company on a hunch that it could be record-breaking.

"At the time the biggest pay per view in New Zealand history was 20,000 buys and at that rate we would be losing money and going bankrupt."

Higgins had a bit of luck - there was real animosity between Tua and Cameron as fight night approached, and Cameron suffered an injury in the build-up, which delayed the fight and built anticipation further.

The fight came at the perfect time. "It was a rainy night in October with no other sport on," Higgins said.

"Most pay per view buys come in the final 48-24 hours so you can imagine the day before the fight - we were quite a few hundred thousand dollars in the hole, looking at possible bankruptcy and simply hoping. We didn't break even really until the card had started and then we went into profit.

"It was probably the most memorable event of my career, a hell of a journey, and it paved the way for what has come."

Higgins, with Dean Lonergan on board, signed the then 20-year-old Parker in 2012. Now Duco Events have an undefeated fighter of real promise one victory away from a world title bout.

The purse for the fight against Carlos Takam on May 21 at an Auckland venue yet to be confirmed will be more than $1 million - Higgins won't reveal the exact figure, just that it will be more than the Tua v Cameron one, and while it should rate well with New Zealanders, he is wary about saying it will break the 85,000 pay per view mark, even though it will be priced the same at $39.95.

"This event has massive credibility because it's on the world stage. It's sanctioned, it's the highest ranked heavyweight fight in New Zealand and the winner is guaranteed a title shot.

"In boxing there is a lot of hype and bullshit but this fight is the opposite. It doesn't get much more credible than a title eliminator and for New Zealanders to be able to watch Joseph Parker - only 24 and unknown three years ago - to have a title eliminator in their own backyard is unheard of."

The sale of the television rights overseas will be one area where Duco can recoup expenses. Higgins and Lonergan are negotiating with Showtime in the United States and, as Takam is based in France, all French-speaking territories will be targeted.

The most expensive corporate seats at Parker's last fight in New Zealand, the December victory over American Daniel Martz, were $7995 plus GST for 10 seats. Higgins said the most expensive for Parker v Takam would cost significantly more.

"There will be very few zone one ringside options. A package of 10 will probably start at around $14,995.

"Some people think promoters are greedy or whatever, but this is a tough business. Sometimes you make money and sometimes you lose it.

"The New Zealand public want this fight here so when they pay the prices they should feel they are contributing to securing home advantage for Joseph Parker."

- NZ Herald

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