Faced with a career crossroads, Joseph Parker has ensured he will tread the path that leads to a potential world title eliminator.
The importance of Parker's dominant points win in his risky rematch with Derek Chisora cannot be understated.
A loss following his controversial split-decision victory in the first Chisora fight seven months ago would have almost certainly ended Parker's hopes of a second world title shot.
While the scorecards (115-110, 115-111 and 114-112) from Sunday's compelling unanimous decision did not reflect Parker's dominance, the three knockdowns – two standing counts – he inflicted on Chisora cut to the heart of his improvement.
The benefits of Parker's second camp – this time a full two-month training block - under new trainer Andy Lee were evident in the second dig at Chisora.
Parker walked the talk of regaining the aggressor role, rather than fighting off the back foot. His accuracy, output, power, footwork and combinations were all vastly improved.
Sure, not delivering the definitive knockout blow Parker widely predicted leaves lingering frustrations, but this was the best the 29-year-old Kiwi heavyweight has looked in at least three years.
"He was one tough guy," Parker said of Chisora. "I felt like it was a continuation from the first fight. He never stopped coming until the end. We practised and practised that jab uppercut in the gym – I didn't finish it with the hook, but what a Christmas present."
Tipping the scales at a career-high 114kg – 5kg heavier than the first fight in May – helped Parker rock Chisora in rounds four, seven and eight. He could not finish the job but there was a sense few other opponents could have survived such sustained punishment. Chisora possesses the heart of a lion and has only been stopped three times in 44 pro bouts by Tyson Fury (2014), David Haye (2012) and Dillian Whyte (2018).
"I felt a lot stronger than the first fight and it was important to start strong and not be negative from the beginning," Parker said. "I followed the game plan as best I can but, as you can see, there's still a lot of improvements to be made. I'll continue working hard with Andy after this."
Asked whether he let Chisora off the hook by not finishing off the curable 37-year-old British veteran, Parker said: "I just rushed it and didn't sit down on my punches properly. I got too excited. There's a lot of practice to be done after this for the next camp.
"He's a credit to the sport of boxing. The crowd went mental when he walked out. I'm grateful to be here in the UK. We'll be spending Christmas and New Year here before going back to New Zealand."
Two fights in and the Parker-Lee combination remains in its infancy. If the Irishman, a former middleweight world champion, can extract more from Parker by further improving his defensive flaws, fitness and power, charting the path to another title shot cannot be dismissed.
Having challenged Parker in the corner to push through dark places during the middle and latter stages of the fight, Lee was satisfied with the way his charge responded.
"It's the perfect measure," Lee said. "You can see a lot of improvements from the last fight. I thought he fought a great fight. He managed the fight perfectly.
"There are always mistakes but that's a good thing because we can work on them. I'm so proud of him. He's dedicated himself like he's never done before and you can see that in his performance."
Parker is now a free agent, with his latest one-fight Matchroom deal coming to a close. After enhancing his reputation with the British boxing public and improving his record to 30-2, Parker will have no worries signing another deal after clearly impressing Matchroom boss Eddie Hearn.
"It was a brilliant fight," Hearn said. "Congratulations to Joseph Parker. He needed to box as well as he did tonight to win that fight because Derek Chisora is not human. How that fight went 12 rounds I'll never know. He deserves massive credit because there was zero quit in him and this is the toughest sport in the world."
Hearn projected Parker's next fight could be an IBF title eliminator against Croatia's Filip Hrgovic (14-0). Challenging fellow Brit Joe Joyce (13-0) in a potential WBO eliminator is another enticing avenue.
Parker can enjoy the festive season knowing he now has options only this sort of performance could guarantee.
"Joseph Parker wants another shot at the world heavyweight title," Hearn said. "There is a queue, but he's positioned himself really well. Maybe a final eliminator against Filip Hrgovic in the IBF is a great fight, probably a good rest as well, but the career is alive and kicking for Joseph Parker.
"He continues to chase a second world title. It was a brilliant way to end 2021."