First title defence marks start of next chapter for Parker

UPDATE:  Joseph Parker's May 6 title defense against Hughie Fury has been cancelled after Fury withdraw from the fight with an injury. The fight was cancelled two days after this article was published.

His WBO heavyweight title belt was a nice gift to present to his mother, Sala, but realising his lifelong dream hasn’t exactly been a life-changing experience for Joseph Parker.

The 25-year-old Aucklander made history when he defeated Andy Ruiz Jr on December 10 last year, becoming the first New Zealand-born fighter to claim a world heavyweight title. It would be easy to see that gritty points victory as the end of a journey that began at the Papatoetoe Boxing Club more than 15 years ago. But, for Parker, raising his hands in triumph at Vector Arena felt more like the start of something.

We’ve accomplished the goal to be champion of the world and we’ve got this WBO belt but I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished everything that I can,” Parker told Newsroom from Las Vegas on the eve of his return to New Zealand after a 13-week training camp.

“I feel like it is just the beginning, just the beginning of my career. I feel like this is a fresh start. Now that we have this belt, there is so much more that we can do. I still have a lot to learn, a lot to improve on, a lot to give and a lot to show people.

“The next goal is to unify the belts, fight these big fights against tough opponents to really test myself. There are a lot of great fights out there that we can make – it’s about making them.”

First things first – the not so small task of defending his belt against 198cm mandatory challenger Hughie Fury on May 6. Undefeated Englishman Fury has padded his 20-0 record against opponents of dubious quality, however Parker isn’t about to take his eye off the ball against an opponent who may be untested, but is also an unknown quantity.

“You can’t look ahead,” he says. “A lot of people have been asking me about other fights in the future and I’ve said: ‘Just be patient, let me get this one out of the way’. The fight that you don’t really focus on, the fight that you look past, is the fight that might get you. I’ve learned the importance of just focusing on what is in front of you.”

Exactly what will be in front of Parker come May 6 is hard to judge. Fury is three years Parker’s junior, however the pair debuted in the pro ranks just six months apart and have similar records – well, sort of similar. While Parker (22-0) knocked off an assortment of grizzled former contenders (Kali Meehan, Franz Botha) and regional champs (Yakup Saglam, Irineu Beato Costa Junior) with decent records to ascend the rankings, Fury (20-0) has mainly fought losers.

Seven of Fury’s 20 opponents have lost more fights than they have won. Czech Tomas Mrazek, who Fury beat on points over six rounds in 2013, has chalked up 40 defeats and just seven wins. As recently as 2015 – just three fights ago – Fury tuned up with a first round K.O. of the 'War Machine', aka 39-year-old Hackney resident Larry Olubamiwo, a fighter boasting an 11-19 record.

All-up, Fury’s victims boast a combined record of 275-240-23, for a winning percentage of just 0.51.

Parker’s 22 opponents have a 494-54-14 record – a winning percentage of 0.88. Just three of his opponents have lost more fights than they have won. The last of those was the 0-1 Dontay Pati, who Parker faced in 2013 in just his fourth pro fight.

“People always look at records but I don’t think you should,” says Parker. “People say I’ve fought better opposition. That doesn’t matter. Once you get an opportunity to fight for a world title you’ll take it. The way I see it is that he has a great team behind him.”

Parker has a point. At just 22, it is no surprise Fury has been handled carefully. And his father and trainer, Peter, has form when it comes to plotting a trouble-free path to a big money world title shot, before engineering a massive shock.

Hughie’s cousin Tyson fought Dereck Chisora twice and that was about it before dethroning Wladimir Klitschko to claim the WBO, IBF and WBA titles in 2015.

“Tyson Fury is a perfect example of somebody coming in and causing a lot of trouble, surprising everyone,” says Parker. “Everyone thought Klitschko was going to walk all over him. He proved everyone wrong.”

With Tyson sporting a 25-0 record, it’s worth noting that both of Peter Fury’s charges are yet to suffer a professional defeat. And both fight an awkward, “gypsy” style that can be difficult to counter.

“Peter Fury is a very good coach, very thorough,” says Parker. “They are going to come into this fight with a good game plan. I’m looking forward to what they’ll bring.

“We are not sure what he is going to come with but we don’t actually care. I want him to come at me with his best. I want to fight the best Hughie Fury there is. That will bring out the best Joseph Parker. We’ve done everything we can to prepare the best we can. It doesn’t matter what the result is, as long as we are prepared and ready.”

Parker is due to arrive home in New Zealand this weekend ahead of what will be a whirlwind two weeks of promotional activity. It’s a side of the fight game he fully embraces, not the least because it means he is back home, with his family, preparing to perform in front of his people.

“I can’t wait. I’ve been away for a while. It will be great to get back to see family and friends, see my daughter – she is growing and is healthy and strong. It has been a long camp but I have been able to give it everything I have. These are the sacrifices you have to make to become a champion – and then to become the unified champion.”

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