JOSEPH PARKER and Junior Fa only knew their clash, widely considered the biggest fight in New Zealand’s history, was definitely going ahead just five days before the first bell.
New Zealand has been hailed for its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and much of the world has looked on with envy as their people returned to something approaching normal far more quickly than everyone else.
However, Auckland, where Saturday’s clash is set to take place, was placed into a snap lockdown after three members of a family in the south of the city tested positive in what was the first sign of the virus in the country for nearly a month.
Had Auckland stayed under those restrictions, heavyweight duo Parker and Fa would not have been able to meet this weekend and this would have been the latest fight to fall at the hands of the worldwide pandemic.
But, on Monday, it was announced that the city would drop down to ‘level one’ restrictions, meaning gatherings like the one at the Spark Arena would be allowed. And so, New Zealand will get their biggest fight ever.
They have been waiting for it long enough. This showdown between the country’s two premier heavyweights was supposed to take place on December 12 before abnormalities were found in some of Fa’s blood tests a few weeks out. It meant the Otahuhu resident needed minor surgery and then a month-long break before he could start training again in January.
But now everybody in Team Fa is adamant their man is back to full fitness and ready to prove himself as the best in his country against a man who he beat twice in their four bouts as amateurs.
It is also a clash with real ramifications at world level, too, with former WBO champion Parker desperate to return to the upper echelons of the division. The 31-year-old Fa, meanwhile, knows this is a fight in which he needs to perform if he is to ever eat at the division’s top table.
Fa, 19-0 (10), has not boxed since November 2019 when he outpointed Devin Vargas in Salt Lake City. He has never mixed with anyone close to Parker’s calibre as a professional but knows him well from their unpaid days. The bookmakers, however, do not seem to care much for their vested history with some pricing Fa as wide as 7/1.
The WBO currently have both men inside their top five and whoever wins will be in line for a crack at the belt before too long. Anthony Joshua is the current holder of it and he looks set to put it on the line, along with his IBF and WBA straps, against WBC king Tyson Fury at some point this year. In the meantime Oleksandr Usyk and Joe Joyce, No.1 and 2 in the rankings respectively, will fight for the right to face the winner.
However, the next step on the route will surely be whoever comes out on top between Parker and Fa. The latter, two years Parker’s senior, says he will be driven by the memory of his late cousin Vaikalafi Lutui who died after contracting Covid aged just 33. The last time they saw each other was at Fa’s victory over Vargas.
“I know this time is very rough for my family,” Fa said in an interview with the New Zealand Herald. “They’re all struggling right now so it would be good to give them something to cheer on and be happy about.”
Parker, who suffered back-to-back defeats in 2018 when he was beaten by Joshua and then Dillian Whyte, has not boxed since stopping Shawndell Winters 12 months ago and knows that a third career defeat would be hard to come back from, especially in a fight he is expected to win.
Should he prevail, it is likely that Parker will be back on a plane to England for a money-spinning fight with Dereck Chisora, which could land on a Matchroom pay-per-view card which is understood to be in the works for late April. Defeat, of course, would put a line through that. Eddie Hearn has said Parker needs to ‘demolish’ Fa.
Parker’s other promoter, David Higgins, meanwhile, has claimed his man wants to do some ‘proper damage’ in a fight he has labelled ‘critical’ in the career of the former world champion. Higgins, often a master of hyperbole, is not overstating it this time. How can Parker bid to be king of the world again when he isn’t even king of New Zealand?
The odds-makers seem to have got this one about right and despite being level-pegging as amateurs, Parker should be a couple of levels above his fellow countryman here. Victory in the second half of the fight seems like a good bet but if there is any hangover from Fa’s recent surgery, it could come quicker.
Before that, there is an eight-fight undercard with a couple of highlights. Parker’s 5-0 light-heavyweight brother John Parker is in action while the highly touted David Nyika makes his professional debut. The man from Hamilton won gold as a light-heavyweight at the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and then as a heavyweight in 2018, aged just 22. Now three years on, the 6ft 6in Nyika will make his pro debut as a cruiserweight but will still compete at the Olympics later this year.
The show will be broadcast by DAZN and can be seen in the UK.
The Verdict A must-win for Parker against his countryman.