In a remarkable late twist, Joseph Parker's promoters have been hit with a damaging blow to their hopes of hosting the Kiwi heavyweight's world title fight in Auckland next month.
Just as they appeared set to announce Parker would fight Andy Ruiz Jr for the WBO title in the city on December 10, Auckland council's events arm Ateed have withdrawn their support for the event, leaving it in a state of limbo.
Ateed Chief Executive Brett O'Riley confirmed last night: "Ateed will not be providing financial sponsorship to Duco to stage the Parker/Ruiz fight."
Ateed had been in discussions with Duco since news of the bout first emerged, O'Riley said.
"While there is clear potential to generate international exposure if the fight is held in Auckland, we are unable to make a robust assessment of the potential of this event until the fight is confirmed to take place here and domestic and international television rights are secured."
O'Riley said it was not clear if staging the fight in Auckland would have "the desired outcomes of Auckland's Major Events Strategy" so the decision was made "not provide financial sponsorship for the fight."
It is understood Ateed's contribution was going to be "hundreds of thousands of dollars".
The decision by Ateed, which has provided previous support for Duco's boxing events and Auckland's NRL Nines tournament, has left Duco's Dean Lonergan and David Higgins stunned.
In particular, the pair are "astounded" as to why the chance for 24-year-old south Aucklander Parker to make history in this country has been turned into a "political hot potato", with Lonergan setting his sights on councillor Dick Quax for his comments in yesterday's Herald about the value of the fight to ratepayers.
"Unfortunately on Thursday night at 5 o'clock, after weeks of negotiations and getting to the point where contracts were going to be granted, Ateed pulled out of their commitment to the event," Lonergan said.
"With Ateed's support, the event was here. With Ateed now pulling out we're back to where we were a week ago."
When asked if he thought it was still feasible the fight could be hosted by Auckland, Longergan said:
"It makes it really difficult. David and myself have some big decisions to make over the weekend.
"Is it a mortal blow? Probably not, but it's a bloody significant one."
Lonergan was also critical of Auckland councillor Dick Quax who has questioned the potential financial benefits of the City of Sails hosting the world title fight.
"Dick Quax decided to weigh into the argument, stating that he didn't think many people, after the famous Rumble in the Jungle between Ali and Foreman, visited Zaire and Kinshasa," he said.
"Firstly, I'm astounded that he compares Auckland city to Kinshasa, which was under the rule of a dictator at the time, and secondly I'm assuming Mr Quax has never heard of that little tourist town called Las Vegas, which is without doubt one of the meccas of the tourist world on the west coast of the USA. Just in case he needs clarification, it's in the state of Nevada, where boxing has been a staple of their tourism policy for 25-plus years, and boxing promoters, unlike a lot of organisations, control the TV content and distribution.
"What that means Mr Quax, is that you get to insert exactly the message you want into the content-time of the programme, which is by far and away the most valuable time, broadcasting the values and messages of the chosen subject, which in this case would have been Auckland.
"How many times have I watched on TV a fight from Las Vegas where the broadcast goes from the ring to a blimp 1000 feet in the air showing the fantastic vista of Las Vegas with the bright lights on? What better advertisement can you get?"
"I'm astounded that people who don't know what they're talking about feel free to weigh into the argument. I feel sorry for the people of Ateed who do the best job they can and are supposed to be set up outside the influences of political bodies and make independent decisions based on what is good for Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development, as their name stands for."
Ruiz Jr's promoter Bob Arum let it slip on Thursday morning that the fight was going to be in Auckland, a statement which made headlines around the country, but Duco refused to confirm that was the case.
"The reason why we were silent all this week was because we were working towards signing all the contracts that would allow us to do the event on a commercially viable basis, and up until 5 o'clock on Thursday, it was a done deal," Lonergan said.
"Unfortunately now that's not the case."
When the Parker fight was confirmed and Auckland mooted as a possible venue city, Ateed boss Brett O'Riley told the Herald his organisation "definitely intend to be a major partner". On Thursday he told the Herald that Ateed "continues to be a part of discussions around this opportunity".
Duco say about half of those who attend Parker's fights in Auckland come from outside the city. The company own the TV rights for his fight against Ruiz Jr, which will be broadcast to 100 countries around the world.