Kris Shannon: Boxing bout KO'ed by rugby in New Zealand

Boxing hyperbole would have us believe a Joseph Parker heavyweight boxing title fight will be  the biggest sporting event  held in New Zealand. Photo / Photosport
Boxing hyperbole would have us believe a Joseph Parker heavyweight boxing title fight will be the biggest sporting event held in New Zealand. Photo / Photosport

It's a claim as inevitable as Joseph Parker connecting with his fearsome left jab.

Sometime during the next seven weeks, as the young Kiwi prepares to fight for the world heavyweight boxing title in Auckland, we will surely hear the bout billed as the biggest sporting event held in New Zealand.

Now, hyperbole is hardly uncommon in a boxing promotion and, outside the ring, "big" can be hard to quantify.

But just like Parker as he eyes the world prize against Andy Ruiz, this assertion has a real shot.

First, the contenders for the crown.

The undisputed favourite must be the 2011 Rugby World Cup final.

A culmination in a 24-year quest, the scenes in Auckland before, during and after that game against France are difficult for any event to replicate.

To which football fans will reply, what about Wellington in 2009?

And, indeed, with sky-high stakes, the atmosphere inside the Cake Tin as the All Whites played off for a place at the 2010 World Cup was unique in New Zealand. But, please, the opposition were Bahrain. We'll revisit if Leo Messi and Argentina visit next year with a spot at Russia 2018 on the line.

Speaking of Messi, a couple of genuine sporting gods have already graced these shores.

Tiger Woods, in his pre-dirtbag prime, once played a few rounds at Paraparaumu, while next year women's tennis ace Serena Williams will compete at the ASB Classic and bring in her racquet bag a convincing case as the greatest female athlete to walk the earth.

But to Woods, New Zealand represented a mere exhibition. To Williams, little more than a warm-up.

Some old-timers might make the case for George Best leading Manchester United on a two-match tour the year before the Red Devils won the European Cup. Or, of a similar vintage, there's a couple of Commonwealth Games to consider. But if a sporting event took place in a time before tweeting, did it in fact make a sound?

So, really, with the lightweights knocked aside, this scrap boils down to one magical night at Eden Park and potentially another at the same venue five years later.

Standing in the corner of Parker-Ruiz: an audience in the United States that simply didn't exist for rugby. But considering the heavyweight division has lost its lustre in the absence of an American star, events in Auckland will barely register in the mainstream sporting consciousness Stateside.

There may be more luck in Latin America for a boxer born in Mexico, and in England for a division currently revolving around Her Majesty's Kingdom.

But, as with rugby, this will be an event that struggles with casuals and largely captures fans of the sport in question.

As for its standing in that sport, this should be a knockout. Parker will be just the second Kiwi to chase one of the most sought-after prizes in sporting history, while the All Blacks were gunning for a trophy attractive only to a handful of nations.

But not all heavyweight titles are created equal, and Parker is fighting for one of four belts in a fractured division.

Overall, this judge's scorecard is clear: the Rugby World Cup final scores a unanimous victory.

After all, even if Parker takes centre stage at an event unlike any this country has seen, even if 50,000 fans cram into Eden Park to watch an open-air fight, no one can yet pretend the sporting public possess an affinity for Parker like that for the All Blacks.

The streets of central Auckland will remain open after this fight; punters overflowing from Ponsonby Rd bars won't be partying into the early hours should Parker be crowned.

The All Blacks are the current champs in terms of biggest events. But, if Parker one day brings back home a title defence, it could be a different result in the rematch.

- NZ Herald

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