Sport

New Zealand Listener - - CON­TENTS - by Paul Thomas

The real ex­cite­ment of the Parker vs Joshua clash was pro­vided by a pair of other fight­ers.

The real ex­cite­ment of the Parker vs Joshua clash was pro­vided by a pair of other fight­ers.

In mid-Jan­uary, an ex­pe­ri­enced sports­writer de­clared Joseph Parker’s world heavy­weight ti­tle fight against English­man An­thony Joshua would be “the big­gest mo­ment in New Zealand’s rich sport­ing his­tory”. It was a big state­ment, but not with­out sub­stance. The en­counter was broad­cast in 215 “ter­ri­to­ries”, a clas­si­fi­ca­tion favoured by pro­mot­ers be­cause it means dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple. Still, it’s pretty clear that on Easter Sun­day, the eyes of a fair chunk of the world were on the 26-year-old from Man­gere. And it’s highly un­likely that a Kiwi ath­lete has ever been as well rewarded as Parker: Bri­tish re­ports of his pay­day ranged from $12 mil­lion to $25 mil­lion.

In other re­spects, the claim proved to be ex­trav­a­gant, since Parker’s game de­feat hardly war­rants com­par­i­son with Rugby World Cup or Amer­ica’s Cup vic­to­ries or se­cures his place in our sport­ing pan­theon along­side the likes of Peter Snell, Sarah Ulmer and Va­lerie Adams, to name a few. And notwith­stand­ing the py­rotech­nics and 80,000 spec­ta­tors at Cardiff’s Prin­ci­pal­ity Sta­dium, the event was largely de­void of drama and prompted pre­cious few of the surges of ex­cite­ment we ex­pect from

ma­jor sport­ing con­tests.

The big­ger the hype, the big­ger the let-down. As the UK seeks to sup­plant the US as the home of heavy­weight box­ing, Bri­tish box­ing seems de­ter­mined to show that, when it comes to hype, any­thing the Yanks can do, it can do worse. Joshua’s ab­surdly drawn-out progress from dress­ing room to ring pre­sented him as some kind of su­per-be­ing, a no­tion his phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance ad­mit­tedly en­cour­aged but his grounded post-fight per­sona be­lied. For all this fluff­ing around to cul­mi­nate in ren­di­tions of the full Samoan and New Zealand na­tional an­thems was tak­ing de­layed grat­i­fi­ca­tion to the verge of sadism. Say what you like about God Save the Queen, but it has the con­sid­er­able virtue of brevity.

As for the fight it­self, there was much to ad­mire but lit­tle that would have had all those view­ers leap­ing out of their seats. Joshua showed Parker con­sid­er­able re­spect: de­spite hav­ing won all 20 of his pre­vi­ous pro­fes­sional fights by knock­out, the English­man chose to box rather than fight, adopt­ing a strat­egy based on his reach ad­van­tage and pre­cise foot­work. Parker per­haps was too wary of Joshua, opt­ing, ul­ti­mately, not to fight at a range – with all the risks that would have en­tailed – from which he could launch dam­ag­ing punches. His per­for­mance hard­ened the sus­pi­cion that, coura­geous and durable as he is, he lacks the tools and in­nate fe­roc­ity to go all the way.

The main event was in stark con­trast to the fi­nal fight on the un­der­card, be­tween Eng­land’s David Price, once one of the hottest prospects in the heavy­weight ranks, and Rus­sian Alexan­der Povetkin, once banned in­def­i­nitely for fail­ing drug tests. “In­def­i­nitely” in this case meant nine months.

This was heavy­weight box­ing at its most com­pelling, in that you sensed within sec­onds of the open­ing bell that the fight wouldn’t go the dis­tance, in­deed could end at any mo­ment. It was also

heavy­weight box­ing at its most glad­i­a­to­ri­ally bru­tal: with the English­man out on his feet and un­able to de­fend him­self, Povetkin could have ended it with a tap; in­stead, he lined Price up and felled him with a pul­veris­ing left hook. As an ur­gent scrum of medics and paramedics formed over the pros­trate Price, it was im­pos­si­ble not to be re­minded of the hun­dreds of ring deaths dot­ted through­out box­ing’s his­tory.

Price later took to so­cial me­dia to as­sure fans he was okay and had “loved ev­ery minute” of it. He’d ob­vi­ously for­got­ten the for­get­table min­utes. This fight lasted four and a bit rounds but the win­ner suf­fered more wear and tear than Parker did in 12. To be fair, Parker doubt­less would have assessed risk and re­ward dif­fer­ently if he’d fought Price rather than Joshua.

For the record: in last week’s col­umn, I wrote that Muham­mad

Ali suf­fered a bro­ken jaw in his 1971 loss to Joe Frazier. Ali left the ring with a jaw so swollen that ob­servers as­sumed it was bro­ken, a mis­ap­pre­hen­sion that ob­vi­ously per­sists. X-rays showed other­wise.

This was box­ing at its most com­pelling: you sensed within sec­onds that the fight wouldn’t go the dis­tance.

1. Joseph Parker makes his way to the ring. 2. An­thony Joshua af­ter his unan­i­mous points win. 3. Joshua (right) boxed – rather than fought – his way to vic­tory. 2

Joshua, far left, and Parker on the eve of their ti­tle uni­fi­ca­tion fight.

3

1

Alexan­der Povetkin decks David Price in the fight of the night.

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