Boxing contests between fierce domestic rivals can capture the attention like few others because of the unique ways each camp can get under the skin of the other in the build-up.
Anyone wondering how the preliminaries to the heavyweight scrap between Joseph Parker v Junior Fa (understood to be slated for December 11 at a New Zealand venue yet to be confirmed) will play out need only turn their attention to what happened before the recent fight between Australians Jeff Horn and Tim Tszyu in Queensland, where metaphorical punches were thrown at the weigh-in over the judges and continued until minutes before the fight as neither camp could agree about which man should walk to the ring last.
Fortunately, in the end, Tszyu, the holder of the IBF Australasian super welter title and WBO global super welter belt, offered to walk out first and he put on such a dominant display against his older and more experienced opponent that Horn's corner called it off after the eighth round. Horn is a former stablemate of Parker's, and, after reaching the heights of a remarkable victory over Manny Pacquiao in Brisbane in 2017, now must be considering the end of his career.
The first shots in the war between Parker and Fa were fired years ago and one, in particular, stands out as significant as the clock ticks down on what is likely to be a controversial couple of months featuring storylines as diverse as drug testing, glove type and… who has the right to walk to the ring last. Rest assured, no stone will be left unturned in the hunt for a mental advantage or media coverage, for that matter.
Back in December 2018, when Parker was preparing to bounce back from two straight losses to Brits Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte in the United Kingdom with a fight against little-known Mexican-American Alexander Flores in Christchurch, his long-time trainer Kevin Barry attempted to throw a little gunpowder on the fire when stating that Fa, who was fighting on the undercard, had refused to make the main event an all-Kiwi affair.
"We were originally hoping to make this an all-New Zealand fight," Barry said at the time. "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 tactics then raised the eyebrows of both Fa and his manager Mark Keddell, the latter saying: "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]."
There are few secrets in boxing, a world full of gloriously garrulous characters who help make the sport what it is. And that applies in particular to the small and tight-knit New Zealand scene.
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Drama is coming – whether it is a war of words between Parker's trainer Barry, an intense technician of the sport who likes to be in control, and Fa's trainer Eugene Bareman, the zen-like mastermind behind the success of Auckland's City Kickboxing gym which, thanks to Israel Adesanya's success, has shot to worldwide prominence – or the fighters' managers Keddell and David Higgins.
Some of it will be delivered with a forensic precision. Some of it will be humorous. It will all be self-serving and mostly a welcome diversion to current realities of the wider world.
Will it be good for the sport? On the whole, probably yes, because it will draw in New Zealanders not usually accustomed to watching boxing, just like the David Tua v Shane Cameron fight did 11 years ago.
That fight came at the end of a long-running soap opera at the latter stages of which, in a live face-off against his opponent on TVNZ, Tua delivered the immortal line: "Respectfully, I believe this will be Shane's last fight. I'm really gonna hurt you and I just appreciate you for allowing me that opportunity. I really do."
Tua stopped Cameron in the second round of a fight which still holds the New Zealand record for pay per views. The promoter was of course one David Higgins, the risk-taker who helped plot Parker's path to a heavyweight world title win and who, before the pay per view money began pouring in on that early October night in 2009, was effectively bankrupt.