Can Joseph Parker With Andy Lee In Corner Pull Upset?
(This commentary item originally appeared on David’s own site www.boxingwriter.co.uk)
Any boxing match worth its salt is a cocktail of knowns and unknowns. Proposing multiple potential outcomes, paradoxical in the conflict of conviction and uncertainty those possibilities provoke. Fight week should play with those conclusions, tease doubt, shift perspective and stimulate debate for those with the wisdom to embrace the rumination rather than dismiss anything that doesn’t validate their own opinion. A common failing in the echo chamber of our own social media streams.
This weekend’s heavyweight battle between Joe Joyce and Joseph Parker doesn’t possess all of those ingredients. As a result it had failed to toy with fight fan’s interest as the last days and hours before the first bell tick away in the way the best fights usually do. Both Joes possess strengths and weaknesses, present a variance of form and experience and offer complimentary styles too. There has always been much to like in the match up. The bout boasts sufficient jeopardy and reward for the victor and vanquished to encourage a fierce commitment from the two gentlemanly protagonists too.
Despite these truths, it didn’t quite capture this writer’s imagination until Andy Lee, Parker’s trainer, was asked to justify his belief that the Kiwi could make this an easy fight at a pre-fight press conference.
From his response to that question and resulting ones, perceptions about the fight shifted.
Whisper it, shout if you feel inclined, but the heavyweight division, which would be in rude health if the main characters were a little busier, may have stumbled across an unexpected classic this Saturday.
Joseph Parker arrives at the fight as the underdog despite a demonstrably deeper record, including a stint as the WBO belt holder and is, incredulously, still only 30 years old. He has good mobility, a stout chin and quick hands. A respectable puncher too, Parker has transplanted himself to the North West of England for his current run at the heavyweight titles with the aforementioned Andy Lee, the former fighter, a WBO belt holder once upon time too, as his trainer. A camp shared with his friend Tyson Fury.
Hear Dan Rafael with T.J. Rives previewing Joyce-Parker off our BetUS Friday TV show by clicking below:
The story of this fight, the narrative with which the pin was pushed into the calendar, is, or was, that Parker would provide a high-end, respectable gatekeeper type opponent for the Juggernaut. Perception being that Parker was, despite his youth, a fading force. Motivation was ebbing and the excellence promised in his twenties had given way to something more malleable, more circumspect.
Neither Joyce nor Parker are loquacious talkers. The man from New Zealand is more accomplished but he is a respectful professional. He doesn’t offer click bait quotes. He doesn’t throw tables or litter the room with profanity. Tales of renewal therefore, however sincerely intended, didn’t move the needle, didn’t distract from the notion Joyce was bigger, stronger and had the better endurance.
Joyce would absorb what success Parker’s hand and foot speed would afford him early and overwhelm a tiring former ‘champion’ with work-rate and weight of shot. That was the established intersection of their respective career trajectories. There was risk for Joyce, as the ‘go-forward’ commodity in the fight and on the cusp of a title shot, vacant or otherwise, but that risk was a curated one.
Bigger Joe didn’t suggest deviation from this plot line. Sound bytes are not his forte.
He was ready, emboldened by a solid sequence of wins against known, if not distinguished opponents, and his proximity to the final step. Aged 37, time is not his friend, but natural strength, clubbing power and a rate of work acknowledged by all his contemporaries are. Reunion with trainer Ismael Salas, following periods with Adam Booth and Abel Sanchez, is still under review, but his style has certainty and simplicity.
It isn’t smooth, it isn’t quick, it isn’t eye-catching. But it works and it’s reliable.
Comparisons with second career George Foreman perhaps over-zealous, visual echoes of fellow late starter Matt Skelton less flattering – Joyce’s career may dissect the two. Doing so would still represent success and may lead him to a title win, if the timing is right and the circumstances favourable.
So the two trundled toward the weekend. The narrative undisturbed. Boxing fans intrigued, casuals less so , this despite the name recognition of both here in the UK. Parker has, after all, boxed here in five of his last nine fights. Winning three of the five bouts with Hughie Fury, Dillian Whyte, Anthony Joshua and Dereck Chisora (x2). He hasn’t, nevertheless, thrilled in doing so.
And that’s where the fight was. Credible, interesting and straightforward to predict.
Until that is, Andy Lee, the former Middleweight carving his own niche as a boxing trainer since his retirement, spoke at the press conference and for this observer at least, tore up the accepted script. Just as the best fights should, fight week had finally produced the doubt required. Lee inserted another perspective into the consciousness of those present and watching on line. Had this idea, or presentation of the facts been delivered by anyone else it may not have cut through in the way it did.
The latte coloured tracksuit, greying beard and tall, lean, angular fighter’s frame perched on the dais all added to the impact of his words. Lee has a unique blend of his own languid confidence, the brogue of his Irish traveller roots and the scars of a hard career still visible on a broken face. All help validate his opinion. Every utterance is laced with the wisdom of those old voices for which he is a natural and refreshing conduit.