Joseph Parker wins world heavyweight boxing title

10 December 2016

Joseph Parker lifts the WBO world heavyweight belt (Stuff)

The 24-year-old South Aucklander of Samoan descent became the second New Zealand-born holder of a recognised world professional boxing title by outpointing Mexican Andy Ruiz – who would have become his country’s first world heavyweight champion had he won.

Joseph Parker grew up in Māngere. It was no surprise when he took up boxing at the age of 11 – his father was named Dempsey after former heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey. Joseph won the New Zealand amateur heavyweight championship in 2010, aged 18, and repeated this achievement in 2011. In 2010 he also won silver at the Youth Olympics and bronze at the Youth World Championships, in both cases boxing as a super-heavyweight.

Most up-and-coming boxers – especially those in the heavier weight categories – contest a senior Olympic tournament before joining the paid ranks. Parker, however, chose to turn professional at the age of 20, in mid-2012. He was initially managed by Sir Robert Jones, but the property magnate resigned from this role because he disagreed with the choice of the veteran South African brawler Francois Botha as his sixth opponent in June 2013. Jones was replaced by the savvy Olympic medallist Kevin Barry.

Parker defeated Botha easily, and under Barry’s tutelage Parker has fought five times a year, retaining his unbeaten record. His 19th victory, in May 2016 against French-based Cameroon-born Carlos Takam, earned him the right to challenge the International Boxing Federation (IBF) heavyweight titleholder, Englishman Anthony Joshua.

After two more knockout victories, Parker’s last fight of 2016 was for a world title. His opponent was not Joshua for the IBF title, but Ruiz for the World Boxing Organization title, which Englishman Tyson Fury had relinquished after experiencing multiple health issues. (Professional boxing has four reputable ruling bodies, so there can be as many as four world champions in each weight class.)

In the first world title fight held in New Zealand, Parker narrowly outpointed Ruiz over 12 rounds at Vector Arena, Auckland, in front of an ecstatic crowd. The loser claimed this was a home-town decision, and boxing experts were divided over the justice of the outcome.

Parker’s ultimate goal is to hold all four heavyweight titles at the same time. The path to unification is never smooth, and in this case it is further complicated by Fury’s misfortunes. Some boxing aficionados remain unconvinced of Parker’s ability to beat the very best. Yet so far he has risen to every challenge, and despite alleged defensive frailties he has never been knocked down. There is no doubt about his speed of thought and movement, or his ability to produce damaging flurries of punches.

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