For many, the Covid-19 pandemic ruined any plans they might have had for 2020. For others, it has brought unexpected opportunity.
Rising heavyweight Junior Fa finds himself as one of the few in the latter category, with a bout against former WBO heavyweight champion Joseph Parker confirmed on December 11.
The two will square off at Spark Arena in Auckland in a fight sponsored by Stonewood Homes and one that seemed likely to one day be put together. However, with the environment created by the pandemic, Fa's coach Eugene Bareman said it has come together much sooner than expected.
"It is what it is. It's come around a little earlier than both camps expected, but I think we've all just got to get behind it now," Bareman told the Herald.
"I think the fight was in the making, but if both camps are honest, it was probably another year or a year and a half away in the minds of both camps; after we got Junior a little more experience and, for the Parker camp, after Junior established himself a bit more amongst the top echelon of fighters."
Fa trains with Bareman and Doug Viney at Auckland's City Kickboxing, alongside a host of the country's top combat sports athletes including UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya. Teammate and heavyweight boxer Hemi Ahio will be one of Fa's main sparring partners in the lead up to the bout, while the City Kickboxing team is looking at bringing the likes of 2014 Commonwealth Games silver medallist David Light, among others, in to help with the camp.
But while Fa has plenty of high calibre athletes around him on a daily basis, he has also been a sparring partner of reigning WBA (Super), IBF, WBO, and IBO heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua and former WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder, while he's fought against highly-ranked Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk and Parker at the amateur level.
However, despite his 19-0 professional record, Fa is yet to step into the ring with an elite level of opponents akin to Parker's and many are wary of how he will manage the steep jump in competition.
"We will be coming in as the underdog and, to be fair, on paper we are the underdog," Bareman admitted. "The only problem with that bit of paper is you don't take it into the fight. We, as a team and a group of coaches, we know Junior's potential, and we know he can compete against the top echelon in the world.
"What he hasn't had a chance to do because his career is a lot young than Joseph's is that he hasn't had the time or the chance to prove it. That's why there's that trepidation towards Junior from the public, because they just haven't seen him in those top competitions because he just hasn't been around as long.
"For what it's worth, you just have to take my word for it, Junior has a real good chance in this fight. He's a world rated fighter; he just hasn't had the chance to prove it. But this is it – this is his chance to prove it. That's the gamble we're taking; we're going to throw the dice and introduce Junior to the rest of the world through this fight."
In the announcement of Fa's meeting with Parker, the fact the two traded two wins and two losses in four amateur encounters was made a prominent fact and while they have had plenty of time since then to develop and hone their skills, Bareman said you can still read into their amateur careers.
"You definitely can," Bareman said when asked if you can read too much into the fighters' amateur days. "When both these guys' amateur careers are way behind them now and they're completely different fighters to their amateur careers and records, that doesn't have any reflection on them as a fighter now, but if you're putting stats down on paper, that's one you can look at.
"If you compare their amateur pedigrees, that's where Junior has a much deeper and higher level of pedigree compared to Joseph Parker."
The heavyweight bout marks the return of large-scale marquee events, with 9,000 expected to fill-out Spark Arena to witness the fight, with tickets starting from $69.
The bout will be pay-per-view through Spark Sport, with a tiered model price range. Super early bird pricing of $39.99 available from today increasing to an early bird price of $49.99 on 27th October and then reverting to the final pay-per-view cost of $59.99 for viewers who purchase the day before or the same day as the fight.