Joseph Parker's management team could be set for an overhaul, with rumours rife promoters Duco Events are in the midst of change which could see co-directors David Higgins and Dean Lonergan part ways.
Lonergan, now based in Brisbane as he builds a blockbuster bout between Jeff Horn, a Duco fighter, and Manny Pacquiao at Suncorp Stadium on July 2, was notably absent from the Vodafone Events Centre in Manukau where Parker out-pointed Romanian Razvan Cojanu in the first defence of his WBO heavyweight title.
The Herald understands there has been friction between Higgins and Lonergan for some time, and that the pair may have come to the realisation that they can no longer work together.
Neither returned calls to the Herald but the obvious question is where this apparent impasse leaves 25-year-old Parker, unbeaten in 23 fights as a professional and with possible unification bouts with Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder on the horizon.
Parker has a close relationship with Auckland-based Higgins, and adding to the issue is that trainer Kevin Barry, with whom he lives in Las Vegas, is close to Lonergan.
While his training camp had Parker in good condition physically, he told the Herald yesterday all was not necessarily well in a build-up to a fight in which he couldn't deliver the statement performance he wanted in the wake of Joshua's recent success.
"Leading up to the fight, there were a lot of things happening in the background which were disruptions and distractions and which we kept behind the scenes as a team," Parker said. "There were a lot of things to deal with before the fight."
Parker didn't elaborate, but the issues between Higgins and Lonergan, who have been business partners since 2012, the year Parker turned professional, are likely to have been contributing factors.
Horn's upcoming fight with WBO world champion Pacquiao means the former Brisbane school teacher is a major player in the welterweight division. But Parker remains the jewel in Duco's crown and the heavyweight division is booming, with no end in sight.
There is unlikely to be a custody battle as such, but recent events have left Parker's short-term future in a sort of limbo. It's understood his contract with Duco runs out next year and there will be no shortage of suitors, including probably Top Rank founder Bob Arum, the veteran promoter who entered into a relationship with Duco last year in the lead-up to Parker's WBO heavyweight world title victory over Arum's own Andy Ruiz Jnr.
Duco were beset by problems in the lead-up to Parker's fight against Cojanu, a sparring partner ranked No 14 by the WBO who was called in at late notice after the withdrawal of Hughie Fury.
Several big sponsors have left Duco, including Burger King's estimated $350,000-per-fight commitment, and the bout was moved from Spark Arena in downtown Auckland to the much smaller and cheaper Vodafone Events Centre.
The contract issue with Cojanu the week of the fight was another indication things weren't running smoothly. Cojanu's manager John Arthur claimed he received three different contracts, and said it was disrespectful.
Higgins said at the time: "He's correct; the contract was issued. He signed, but I didn't because I was in the middle of reorganising the event. It's lucky I did [examine the contract] because I would have been stupid to sign it because there were no [rematch] options in it."