Parker vs Fury preview: bargaining chip up for grabs

Chris Williamson
22/09/2017 9:15pm

The WBO heavyweight title has traditionally been the poor relation among the alphabet titles, but champion Joseph Parker and challenger Hughie Fury know that it is an important bargaining chip in a fast developing weight class. Chris Williamson previews an intriguing clash in Manchester...

When a dominant world heavyweight champion departs the scene, the relative health of the division left behind depends, of course, on the nature of his removal - through dethroning or abdication - and the quality of contenders eager to claim the throne.

When Muhammad Ali retired in 1978 after the Leon Spinks rematch made him the unprecedented three-time champ, the next decade – along with the emergence of the IBF as a third world governing body – saw a variety of talented, undisciplined heavyweights scrap their way through a merry-go-round of championship confusion and outside the ring chaos. Larry Holmes was the sole consistent fixture throughout this period and generally regarded – having beaten a returning Ali – as the legitimate champ. It wasn’t until Mike Tyson swept up the alphabet titles and knocked out Holmes’ lineal successor Michael Spinks that the new champ was truly undisputed.

Interestingly, part of the reason it took so long for the WBO heavyweight title to gain legitimacy – far longer than at any other weight – is because the group’s formation in 1989 coincided with Tyson being at the peak of his championship dominance. What the WBO should have done was simply present 'Iron Mike' with the title, much as the IBF had done with Holmes. Instead, they persisted in being the only group outside of a certain Italian household – and even that is debatable – to call Francesco Damiani the world heavyweight champion. Hardly the fast lane to credibility, in retrospect.

Of the 19 further WBO heavyweight champions since Damiani won the inaugural belt, it wasn’t until Wladimir Klitschko regained the belt in a unification bout with Sultan Ibragimov in 2008 that it was held by the true recognised champion. This matters at heavyweight. There is only one world and only one 'baddest man on the planet'.

Here in 2017 it's not quite a case of 'the King is dead, long live the King'. The inconvenient truth is that the Wladimir Klitschko beaten for the WBA and IBF titles in April at Wembley had already been dethroned by Tyson Fury eighteen months previously, before Tyson - with perhaps a subconscious nod to the misfits his namesake violently removed - spiralled into his own vortex of self-destruction. Of the currently active titlists, Anthony Joshua has a strong claim and faces IBF mandatory Kubrat Pulev next in October, while WBC champ Deontay Wilder has signed a contract to fight Luis Ortiz - the first serious test of his reign - in November.

The big boys are stating their intent and jostling for position in a new era. So where does Joseph Parker vs Hughie Fury for the WBO heavyweight title fit in?

The belt which was once considered a laughing stock – dropped by champion after champion in order to secure rankings with the more established organisations – is now a serious bargaining chip and perceived as bounty to be claimed if the new champ is to be anointed undisputed ruler.

New Zealand’s Parker claimed the belt cast aside by Hughie’s cousin Tyson against Andy Ruiz Jr last December, before defending against late substitute Razvan Cojanu earlier this year. This match with Fury, his mandatory contender, represents a interesting test for the young champion, particularly since its location was rescheduled from New Zealand to Fury’s home of Manchester, England after the Englishman withdrew from a planned 6 May date with a back injury.

Hughie is flattered by his WBO number one ranking, with his best wins coming against Andriy Rudenko during an active 2015 and Fred Kassi in April 2016 in what was - incredibly - his last competitive bout. I was present at that match – I still have remnants of Hughie’s blood splattered on my programme – when Fury was in the midst of terrible skin problems and covered in acne. Although winning clearly at the time the bout was stopped and declared a technical decision win, Fury seemed listless against the awkward African. Incidentally, cousin Tyson was present as world heavyweight champion that night, preparing to rematch Klitschko. That in itself indicates how long it is since Hughie competitively laced up his gloves.

In July this year, again at the Copper Box arena, there were few of us present when Hughie boxed an off-television exhibition against Devon based Pole Kamil Sokolowski. In fact, Parker was in town to promote his bout with Fury and had yet to take his seat, such was the early scheduling for Hughie’s work-out. For what it's worth, Fury appeared heavier than for the Kassi match and comfortable switching stances and doubling up the jab with either hand. It was a good-natured contest - not scored of course - and little can be sensibly deduced from it in assessing Fury's chances against Parker.

Parker has been much more active, with at least three useful wins - Carlos Takam, a disappointing Alexander Dimitrenko and a majority decision win over Andy Ruiz Jr to land the vacant title - in the five bouts he has undertaken while Hughie has been inactive. The champion thus arrives in Manchester confident of retaining his title and with the earning power in New Zealand naturally restricted by the size of the market, Parker and promoter Duco appear keen to establish his name in the lucrative U.K. and US markets.

Given the exposure Team Parker crave and young Hughie desperately needs, the announcement from Hennessy Promotions that a YouTube PPV channel would broadcast the event in the UK rather than one of the established television networks raised some eyebrows. To this observer it appears a short-sighted move, when the maximum number of eyes focused on these two young unbeaten heavyweights must surely be a key goal. Still, perhaps that is why I am writing about and not promoting boxing events.

Commercial considerations to one side, it is an intriguing fight for sure and the prediction here is for the stocky, heavier Kiwi champion to outwork and outpoint Fury. There is a maturity about the way in which Parker has approached his career, with sensible matchmaking having developed his style and temperament. Although I expect him to perform well, there remain too many questions over young and inactive Fury for me to pick him to win with any confidence and I suspect this chance has come a little too early in his career.