Paul Lewis: Joseph Parker a chance to be world champion

By Paul Lewis

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

It was three years ago, almost to the day, when I realised Joseph Parker might actually have the goods.

Some of we media types had been taken to California to see a 21-year-old Parker fight an expatriate Kiwi called Brice Ritani, a man who couldn't go home because of a minor drugs charge hanging over his head and who was working as a bouncer.

It seemed a little Michael Rodent but Ritani had sparred with Hasim Rahman. If that name doesn't ring a bell, he was the only man ever to knock out Lennox Lewis, a superb defensive fighter, to take his world title in 2001.

Lewis won the rematch, Rahman's life stuttered after that but he remained a boxer who lived up to the name "The Rock".

Ritani was more block than rock but he went six rounds with Parker, always pressing forward. What struck me was two things (what struck Ritani was eleventy-nine combinations, although he never went down): Parker showed hand speed and combinations - two major qualities of a world-class boxer (the others include power, the ability to take a shot and movement).

Parker will need the latter in his fight against French-Cameroonian Carlos Takam on Saturday. Takam has durability and aggression and will stalk his opponent. He has proven knockout power and Parker's ability to hit and move will be tested, as it will need to be if he is to take Anthony Joshua's IBF world title.

That is an amazing opportunity for the 24-year-old South Aucklander. Get past Takam, no easy task, and he is mandatory challenger for Joshua's title.

Joshua has to fight the mandatory some time between November 20 and January 20.

The only likely delay is a unification bout, involving either Tyson Fury (who has the WBA, WBO and IBO titles) and/or American Deontay Wilder, who has the WBC belt.

Anticipating that, Parker's connections are pursuing two more fights against class opposition to keep him active and in the quality zone until any unification bouts
are settled.

The money men are salivating over a Fury-Joshua bout. The purse and TV dosh would be enormous. But, at the end of all that, someone with the IBF title has to fight Parker (assuming he beats Takam).

If there's been a unification bout, Parker could be heading for that rare chance to be the "undisputed" world champion, the one with all the belts.

Kiwis should be hoping Joshua is still standing. He is the champion who hasn't really fought anyone yet. He is Parker's main chance.

Joshua is built like a god and has an undoubtedly powerful right hand. But his victory to take the IBF crown from "Prince" Charles Martin in March also underlined his rookiness.

Martin, who won his title in January, is now the owner of the second-shortest world heavyweight title reign ever (Tony Tucker was champion for only 64 days but has the excuse he lost to Mike Tyson and had a broken right hand).

Martin is the worst heavyweight champion in the brief history of the IBF; his "defence" was shameful. He was there for the cheque, that bit of paper with a 5 on it followed by six zeroes and with a US dollar prefix.

Martin wore a ludicrous purple crown that could have been commissioned by Idi Amin, although even the murderous Ugandan dictator (who once said: "We have freedom of speech but I can't guarantee freedom after speech") might have rejected it on the grounds of poor taste.

Joshua looked completely prepared, muscular, with a stomach you could bounce rocks off. Martin looked like he'd trained for Masterchef. You felt the trainer's commands when calling Martin's shots to the trainer's punch mitts might have been: "Jab, jab, left hook, right cross, refrigerator... "

Martin was clearly wary of Joshua but stood in front of him - no head movement, no shoulder roll, no bob or weave; a target Joshua's big right hand eventually found.

The second knockdown spelled it out. Martin sat on his haunches while the referee counted to 10. When it was too late, Martin got up, protesting he hadn't been counted out at all. It was a farce. You can bet he counted the US$5 million (NZ$7.3 million) without a hitch.

It was a world championship without any champions. Neither Martin nor Joshua had fought any serious or talented opponents and there's an argument to say they still haven't, yet the British hype has Joshua all over the newspapers like a diabetic puppy.

So let's go back to California, 2013. I am standing on a chair at the back of the room; 100 tables in the room, all full.

It's black tie, each table of 10 has paid US$30,000. Standing on my chair, I realise I am looking at a boxer of real potential. It is nearly time for that potential to become achievement.

Afterwards, Parker was no longer the bristling aggressor of the ring. He was obliging, respectful, humble. It reminded me of the Muhammad Ali quote from years ago: "At home, I'm a nice guy - but I don't want the world to know. Humble people, I've found, don't get very far."

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter


© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf03 at 25 Oct 2016 08:41:15 Processing Time: 585ms