Sunday Star-Times

A Parker win would be a milestone in Kiwi sport

The Kiwi heavyweigh­t is about to enter the lion’s den when he takes on the respected Anthony Joshua.

- January 21, 2018

Joseph Parker should stay training as long as he can in Las Vegas before he fights Anthony Joshua in Cardiff on March 31. The longer Parker’s in Britain, the more unbearable the pressure will become.

It was a big occasion, by New Zealand standards, when Parker beat Andy Ruiz at the Vector Arena in December, 2016, to win the WBO world heavyweigh­t title.

But the jump from fighting in front of 10,000 people in Auckland to 80,000 people in Cardiff, from a fight really only of interest here, to facing Joshua, one of the two or three biggest sporting stars in a nation of 56 million people, is almost beyond comprehens­ion.

Think Brendon Hartley going into Formula One from a Te Atatu go kart track, or Mark Todd making his debut at Badminton straight from a gymkhana in Cambridge.

Think too about Parker fighting in a country where every morning every corner shop (we’d call them dairies) has seven, eight or nine national daily papers on display.

So it’s time for Parker to drop the half baked steroid jokes, for his camp to stay straight, and on point, because if there’s one thing the British media love more than a local hero, it’s an offshore villain.

If English hacks can make ‘‘McCaw’s a cheat’’ a meme, think what they can do with the Parker camp.

And Joshua is a local hero. He fulfils all the criteria. Lovely boy, local boy, Londoner. Know wot I mean?

Tyson Fury was just too weird to be embraced by Brexiters in particular. Travellers, as most of Fury’s family are, don’t sit well with the legions in Britain who admire politician­s like Nigel Farage, the odious race baiting detritus on the sole of Donald Trump’s shoe.

Lennox Lewis retired in 2003 as one of the greatest heavyweigh­t champions of all time, but, despite being born in London, he was never embraced like Joshua.

Strike one. He grew up from the age of 12 in Canada, and won Olympic gold as a Canadian.

Strike two. He was never prepared to take a punch to land one. Joshua lives to knock people out. Lewis was quite prepared to win a bout on points, if that was the sensible option, while most boxing fans want blood and thunder, not skill.

Lewis, and good on him, was playing the long game. I’d be surprised if he ends up with the brain damage that haunts so many former boxers.

At a ringside press seat in 2000 at the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas I saw how the intelligen­ce and control Lewis had displayed at pre-fight press conference­s emerged in the ring as he jabbed David Tua to bits.

Tua, a full head shorter than Lewis, sported a huge pompadour to add inches to his height, but there was nothing he could do to gain reach. He needed a brawl, and a chance to land his left hook, genuinely a deadly weapon. But Lewis was far too smart, and Tua was never within shouting distance of a knockout.

Lewis coolly summed up the night: ‘‘If you come to war, you have to bring your whole arsenal. Not just a left hook and a haircut.’’

The Tua challenge was a sell out, but there were only 12,500 people there, and the crowd largely cheered for a Tua upset.

What looms for Parker, on the other hand, is a massive, partisan local crowd in Cardiff at a time when Joshua’s elevation in the wake of Tyson Fury has catapulted boxing in Britain to a status it hasn’t enjoyed since trainer Angelo Dundee, in a 1963 fight at Wembley Stadium, had to tear open the stitching on Muhammad Ali’s glove in the corner after Englishman Henry Cooper had dumped Ali on his butt with a left hook. Ali (then Cassius Clay) recovered in the extra time afforded by the glove being replaced to stop Cooper in the next, fifth, round.

The scale of Parker’s title clash supersedes Tua in 2000, and is the biggest for a Kiwi since Tom Heeney, a tough former plumber from Gisborne, fought Gene Tunney at Yankee Stadium in New York for the world title in 1928, Tunney winning by a TKO in the 11th. How big was that bout? Heeney’s biographer Lydia Monin suggests it would have been the most followed sporting event of ‘28 in the States, as it was the only world heavyweigh­t fight that year, during a golden era for boxing. There were 45,000 people in the stadium, and Heeney was paid $US100,000 (the equivalent of about $US1.4 million today).

If Joseph Parker wins in March it would not only be an extraordin­ary achievemen­t, but also a milestone in New Zealand sport, up there with Dame Valerie Adams, Sir Peter Snell and Sir John Walker in athletics, Team New Zealand in yachting, and the All Blacks at world cups.

 ?? PHOTOSPORT ?? David Tua tries to catch Lennox Lewis during their title fight in 2000.
PHOTOSPORT David Tua tries to catch Lennox Lewis during their title fight in 2000.
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