A risky rematch with Derek Chisora could be on the cards for Joseph Parker after his controversial split-decision victory over the rugged British heavyweight veteran in Manchester on Sunday.
Parker survived a flash knockdown eight seconds into the bout after being caught by and overhand right to claim his fifth successive win. New Zealand judge Andrew Bell scored 115-113 in Parker's favour, but most intrigue surrounds how Polish judge Grzegorz Molenda scored the fight 116-111 - a bizarrely wide margin that awarded Chisora three rounds.
Judge Howard Foster scored 115-113 for Chisora, who applied constant pressure through the first five rounds.
Parker initially struggled to combat Chisora's typically aggressive come-forward approach which allowed the 37-year-old to regularly set up camp on the inside and pound the body. Chisora's roughhouse tactics - landing several blows to the back of Parker's head – also went unpunished by referee Steve Gray.
From the sixth round on Chisora progressively tired. Parker's conditioning work paid off in the mid-to-late rounds as he used his jab, hand speed and combinations effectively at times, but he was also guilty of not taking full advantage of an increasingly stagnant and predictable opponent.
It was a tight, difficult fight to score, which makes the 116-111 scorecard all the more controversial.
In his first fight under Irish trainer Andy Lee, the former world middleweight champion, Parker was relieved to emerge victorious to keep his hopes of capturing another world title alive, for now at least.
"It was a tough fight. I got caught right at the beginning and had to dig deep, stay focused and follow the plan we had in place," Parker said. "I swayed off a bit but Dereck is a very tough opponent. He came forward, put pressure on me from the beginning, threw big bombs and landed a lot. He brought the smoke. If you want to feel it jump in the ring with him.
"I feel like my boxing skills [made the difference] from the mid rounds till towards the end, but it was a very close fight. I thought it could go either way and I'm very thankful and blessed to get the win today."
A despondent Chisora claimed Lee told him he should have won the fight, and it seems a rematch could now take place in Parker's next appearance. On the evidence of this contest, however, Chisora remains a very risky prospect for Parker.
"We could do it next fight," Parker said of the Chisora rematch.
Other options include fellow Brits Joe Joyce or a possible rematch with Dillian Whyte, who handed Parker his last lost in 2018.
"I'm beyond getting upset now. It's difficult because I train hard, I fight, I put the pressure on and I bring everything. This is the treatment I get from boxing," Chisora, who slumped to 32-11, said. "They don't like me. I can't get upset because it is horrible. I train hard every day. I give everything in the gym and when I put it all in this is the result I get.
"Joe said he wants to give me a rematch. I'll take that easy. This is unbelievable. Even his coach Andy Lee said I won the fight.
"I was bringing it. I don't know what they were seeing. I was putting in more power punches, inside work, but I can't get upset anymore. What do you do? I won't let them slow me down. I will go again. I'm very upset but I won't let them win. They want to see me retire but, forget that, I'm not retiring yet."
Lee admitted when the fight finished, he did not believe Parker had done enough to convince the judges.
"After the fight Joseph came back and I said 'I'm not sure we've got this'," Lee said. "We're in his country, I thought he should get some fair play. The man is a warrior and we owe him a debt of gratitude for the fights he's give us over the years. And we will give you a rematch straight away."
One of the most disappointing aspects of the fight came in the final round when Parker appeared to rock Chisora, only to then fail to display a killer instinct and let his hands go.
Victory improves Parker's record to 29-2 and despite another frustrating performance he retains hopes of becoming a two-time heavyweight champion after capturing the WBO crown in 2016 and losing it to Anthony Joshua two years later.
"It's very achievable, I just have to go back to training," the 29-year-old said. "There's a lot of things I have to work on. I had a good plan in place and like other fights I swayed away from it but I have to get back with Andy and work on a few things."