Joseph Parker appears to be in near career-best physical shape ahead of his comeback fight against Alexander Flores but just as significant as the heavyweight's excellent condition was his trainer's comments about Kiwi rival Junior Fa today.
After Parker weighed in at a very trim yet muscular 109.25kg – he has a clear physical advantage over the 107.95kg Flores – trainer Kevin Barry took the opportunity on stage to say Fa, who has famously beaten Parker twice as an amateur, declined to make the fight at Christchurch's Horncastle Arena an all-New Zealand affair.
It struck an odd tone given Parker's focus as he attempts to bounce back from losses to Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte has apparently been all on the Mexican-American Flores. However, it could have been an attempt to put pressure on Fa, who is fighting in the main undercard fight, and stoke the embers of a growing rivalry between the pair.
"We were originally hoping to make this an all-New Zealand fight," Barry said. "We put the offer out there to Junior Fa but his team weren't quite ready just yet. But Alexander Flores stepped up and all credit to him and his team."
Barry's statement in front of a well-attended weigh-in raised the eyebrows of both Fa and his manager Mark Keddell, the latter saying that it suggested the Parker camp were a little annoyed at the attention which is building for Fa, now ranked 10th by the WBO.
Parker is the former WBO world champion but is no longer ranked in the top 15 by the organisation, although he is ranked No5 by the WBC.
"David Higgins [Parker's promoter] asked us if we'd fight and we said 'yes, absolutely, half a million dollars'," Keddell told the Herald afterwards. "We said the fight needs two years to cook, not that we're not ready, but if you want to have the fight now then you have to pay now.
"The only reason why you would say Junior didn't want to fight is to make Junior look bad, so I think we must have got under their skins somehow – maybe because every time Junior goes on the scales they talk about the fact that Junior beat Joseph [as an amateur].
"I guess that's the fun part of going up the hill rather than being on the other side of the hill. Joe has been at the top and he's come down a bit and trying to go back up again. I understand they probably want to fight a guy who is ahead of them on the world rankings."
Parker told the Herald: "For them, it didn't make sense – maybe they didn't like the offer, I'm not sure. If we both take care of the fights we have in front of us then maybe it's an option for next year.
"If we both keep progressing and keep getting the victories and look good getting them, it will be a big fight at some stage."
But Fa, who also appears in top physical and mental shape after sparring recently with WBC world champion Deontay Wilder, said Parker should take the fight sooner rather than later.
"If the fight makes sense then it will happen," Fa, who looked very good for his 115.50kg, told the Herald. "The demand at the moment isn't really there. It is a wise thing that they did ask for the fight early because that's the time to beat me. As time goes on and I get better it will get very hard for them."
Barry's provocation, and it has to be seen as such, adds a fascinating subplot ahead of Parker's fight against Flores and Fa's against Argentine Rogelio Omar Rossi, who tipped the scales at 101.45g.
Parker needs a devastating finish to show he needs to be considered among the world's elite, and so does Fa, who promises much but hasn't delivered in his last couple of fights.
Good performances will pit them against quality international competition before a possible domestic clash which could rival the David Tua v Shane Cameron bust-up of nearly 10 years ago.
Tale of the tape: Parker v Flores
Born: Auckland, NZ
Record: 24 wins, 2 losses
Born: California, USA
Record: 17 wins, 1 loss, 1 draw