By Anthony Cocks
The bad blood between the camps of WBO heavyweight champion Joseph Parker 23-0 (18) and his nemesis Hughie Fury 20-0 (10) boiled over this week at the press conference on Monday to publicize their 12-round championship fight at the Manchester Arena in Manchester, England this weekend.
Parker’s promotor David Higgins blew up at Team Fury, insisting the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBoC) appoint a neutral referee for the bout instead of Brit Terry O’Connor who had been handed the assignment.
Peter Fury, father and trainer of Hughie, took umbrage at Higgins’ inferences.
“Is he insinuating that I’ve got the BBBoC, one of the most respected groups in world boxing, in my pocket? I’ve got no interest in a referee or a judge,” he said.
“The politics of boxing, people get carried away. The fight is on. They’re here and the fight is happening.
“I want my son to win a world title with no hidden agendas.”
The issue stems from the perception that O’Connor, who has refereed Fury’s previous two fights and worked as judge or referee for at least six of cousin Tyson Fury’s fights, might be less than impartial in the ring.
By Wednesday the BBBoC conceded and O’Connor was removed from the position of third man in the ring. But Higgins’ victory might be short lived. O’Connor was replaced by Marcus McDonnell, another referee well known to the Fury clan.
McDonnell was one of the three ringside judges for Fury’s last contest against Fred Kassi and refereed Fury’s 2015 bout against Emilio Zarate. In addition to this, McDonnell also worked a number of Tyson Fury bouts.
Parker’s trainer Kevin Barry insisted he had no issue with who was appointed referee and said that they were simply looking forward to getting in the ring to prove who is the better boxer.
“Myself and Joseph have no concerns. We’ve come here for one reason and that’s for Joseph to defend his world title,” he said.
“We’ve waited a long time to campaign in the UK and the timing is perfect. Right now, I believe Joseph is at his best.”
The venom being spit between the two teams just goes to show how much is one the line when the two big men meet in centre ring on Saturday night.
UK fight fans already have undefeated Anthony Joshua 19-0 (19) pegged as their favorite heavyweight in the post-Wladimir Klitschko era. The 27-year-old WBA, IBF and IBO champion is widely regarded as the world’s leading heavyweight, leaving WBC titleholder Deontay Wilder 38-0 (37) of the USA and New Zealand’s WBO equivalent Parker on the outside looking in.
As for the 23-year-old Fury, he needs a career-defining victory to stake his claim as a legitimate heavyweight contender or better – a world champion. Against Parker he has in front of him the man many consider the weakest link in the heavyweight championship chain. But does the light-punching and largely untested Fury have what it takes to get over the likeable Kiwi of Samoan descent?
Parker, 25, comes into the ring in his physical prime. He is trained in the United States by fellow countryman and former Olympian Barry, who took another Samoan heavyweight to the brink of a world championship when he cornered David Tua in his ambitious challenge for Lennox Lewis’s WBC, IBF and IBO world titles in Las Vegas in 2000. Barry is an accomplished coach who gets the best out of his fighters.
The recent acrimony between the two camps runs a little deeper than just the selection of the referee for the Fury bout.
Ever since Parker’s world title defense against Fury that was scheduled to take place in New Zealand in May was postponed due to a reported back injury suffered by the big Mancunian, there has been no love lost between the two camps.
As the WBO’s mandatory contender Fury was always going to get another crack at the title after withdrawing for the fight.
Despite the bad blood, the boxers themselves have remained surprisingly calm, composed and professionally focused on the task at hand.
Hughie Fury’s trainer and father Peter likes to paint himself as something of a boxing Svengali, a man whose sometimes unorthodox approach to training takes cues from the training techniques of boxers from earlier generations.
It shouldn’t have come as any surprise then when photographs emerged early on in Fury’s training camp that showed Hughie running up a slight hill in the mud dragging behind him a small tire tethered to his waist; carrying a medium-sized sheep across his shoulders; chopping wood; or swimming across a freezing looking highland lake.
At a glance, all this appears fine. Until we realize that the tire looks like it belongs to a small sedan. Or when we recall the footage of a prime George Foreman pulling a Jeep tethered to his waist up a small hill. By contrast, Hughie kind of missed the mark on this one.
Then there was the filmic vision of him hitting beef carcasses in what was reported to be a local abattoir. While Philly’s Smokin’ Joe Frazier did hit sides of beef in a slaughterhouse, he did it out of necessity to supplement his training. You know, because he was working there at the time. Of course the scene was made famous on celluloid by Sylvester Stallone in the first movie in the Rocky franchise. Hughie’s appearance at the local abattoir wearing white handwraps already pre-stained with an overkill of fake blood across the knuckles must have left the slaughtermen bemused.
While Fury was getting his picture taken in the English countryside Parker was apparently toiling away in remote quietude in the middle of the Mojave desert.
Parker has now had two full back-to-back training camps preparing for Fury’s awkward and technical style – a clear advantage over Fury who says he was unable to spar for a number of weeks before the withdrawing from the first fight with his back injury.
So where does all this leave us as we inch closer to the fight?
Consensus opinion is that Parker will need a knockout to get a draw and it’s not hard to see why. After the fallout from last weekend’s high profile middleweight world title clash between Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez in Las Vegas, Nevada that saw experienced judge Adalaide Byrd roundly condemned for her off-the-planet scorecard of 118-110, all eyes will be on the judges and referee this weekend.
Both boxers have promised knockouts, with Fury even going as far as to say he will get the visitor out of there by round four. It’s a big claim for someone with a KO percentage of just 50%. More likely we will see Fury box at range, sticking to what he does best, keep the fight long and tying up Parker when he gets inside. If he can minimize the damage done in close he should be able to pile up a points leads in the early rounds and possibly squeak out a decision on the cards if he can sustain it over the distance. The hometown crowd has to be seen as a big advantage when the going gets tough. They will probably be worth an extra two rounds to him.
But all the cheering and good intentions will not be enough to negate Parker’s educated pressure. Look for Parker to shrink the ring and force the fight to the inside where his shorter, more powerful shots will be most effective. Against Razvan Cojanu in his last fight, who replaced Fury on less than two weeks’ notice, Parker seemed unable to corner the towering Romanian and spent much of the fight following the 6-foot-7½ monster around the ring, content to box his way to victory in what was a lackluster showing against his former sparring partner who seemed reluctant to engage. I’m prepared to give him a pass for that fight considering the circumstances and don’t expect to see such a ponderous Parker in the Manchester ring on Saturday night.
Parker has terrific handspeed and a strong body attack, something of a rarity for a heavyweight and therefore something not many heavyweights are particularly comfortable defending against. Looks for Big Joe to dig into that body with both hands to slow down the taller Fury with the early investment paying dividends in the back half of the fight.
FINAL PREDICTION: Maxboxing believes that Fury will start well, perhaps even making a clean sweep of the first four rounds. But as time creeps on, Parker is going to find Fury on the end of his punches more and more regularly until he drops the hammer somewhere around the 8th, putting Fury to sleep and taking the decision out of the hands of the ringside officials.