THE February 27 battle between heavyweights Joseph Parker and Junior Fa was billed as the most anticipated fight in New Zealand boxing history and took place just hours before Auckland, the city in which it was held, returned to lockdown.
Halfway through it, though, the only thing more anticipated than the fight’s first bell was its last, with the fans inside the Spark Arena subjected to more clinches than clean punches throughout 12 rounds.
In the end it was Parker, 28-2 (21), who triumphed via unanimous decision (119-109, 117-111, 115-113), but, given everything at stake, the fight likely exposed the winner’s limitations rather than enhanced his reputation. Indeed, all the talk of Parker landing either another world title shot or an unappealing UK pay-per-view date against Dereck Chisora should have died a death within the first couple of rounds of Saturday’s fight.
Going in, much of the pre-fight hype had been fuelled by the fact Fa and Parker had boxed four times as amateurs and were split at 2-2. It was Fa, 19-1 (1), who had won the most important bout of the four – a regional Olympic qualifier in 2012 – but it was Parker who had turned professional four years earlier than Fa, won a WBO heavyweight title, and gone 12 rounds with Anthony Joshua in 2018.
As pros, Parker and Fa were ranked at three and five respectively by the WBO and both, through no fault of their own, had recently been blighted by inactivity (Fa’s last fight was November 2019; Parker’s was February 2020). This rustiness showed throughout their fight, particularly in the case of Parker, who struggled getting to grips with Fa, a spoiler happy to use his superior reach (204 cm to 198) to control the distance and tag Parker whenever he roamed forward recklessly.
The underdog seemed composed and relaxed, especially in the opening rounds, and it became easy to see how he got the better of Parker in the shorter amateur format. His was the more intelligent, measured work and Parker, even if on the front foot, had difficulty finding his range.
In fact, it wasn’t until the third round that Parker opened up and had his first bit of success in the fight. This arrived in the form of a wide right hand he used to get around Fa’s guard and it was at that point Parker increased the tempo and Fa, eager to match him, was forced to return fire with shots of his own.
The fight continued in this manner through the middle rounds as Fa would peck, prod and hold, while Parker would shuffle forward and look to explode in close with body shots whenever Fa failed to tie him up. All in all, it made for a messy, drama-free spectacle in which Fa would initiate the holding and Parker would appear happy to be held.
When boxing, Fa boxed well, at least in terms of stifling his opponent, but it was hard to see how he was going to win the fight unless he made a greater impression on Parker and, more importantly, the three ringside judges.
What didn’t help Fa’s ambition, either, was a cut he picked up in the second half of the fight, though, even with this cut, he still managed to frustrate Parker in the eighth and ninth rounds with his jab and clinches. He then had his best round of the fight in the 10th when he landed a quality right that backed Parker up and led to Fa feeling as adventurous as he had felt all night.
Alas, this confidence soon disappeared and presumably did so because Fa had never been beyond 10 rounds in his career and because Parker, for all his lethargy, had completed the 12-round distance six times and is accustomed to ending fights in the ascendancy. This combination led to Parker being busier down the stretch, throwing his hands whenever given the chance, and ultimately taking an oddly wide decision at the fight’s conclusion.
On the Auckland undercard, another unbeaten heavyweight, Hemi Ahio, knocked out 43-year-old Julius Long, 18-25-1 (14), inside seven rounds to move his record to 17-0 (12). Ahio, 30, was taken the distance by Long in 2019, so improved on that result if nothing else. (For context, it was 19 years ago that Long was stopped inside two rounds by Audley Harrison.) At cruiserweight, meanwhile, Nikolas Charalampous, 19-3-1 (9), and Panuve Helu, 12-2-2 (11), had to settle for a draw after six rounds.
The Verdict Victory important for Parker but he struggles to impress