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Heavyweights Collide in Manchester: Breaking Down the Parker-Fury Fight

Matt McGrain

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This weekend in the UK’s Manchester Arena, beltholder Joseph Parker (23-0) and rookie Hughie Fury (20-0) are set to squabble over a bauble sanctioned by a rankings organization that sees Christian Hammer as the world’s number two heavyweight contender.

As a heavyweight championship match it is a bad joke; as a crossroads fight for two of the division’s brightest prospects it is a deeply compelling meeting of styles and character.

If Tyson Fury was the unwanted stepchild of British boxing, Hughie’s position is even less enviable: the unwanted stepchild’s cousin.  Hailing from the proud Fury fighting clan, Hughie is son to Peter, the unlikely but brilliant mastermind of Tyson’s rise to heavyweight title and the strategist who engineered Tyson’s brilliant championship winning performance. Tyson and Hughie have both described the other as more akin to a brother than a cousin, but it is a fact that Hughie has labored in his larger cousin’s larger shadow. Lyrical and controversial outbursts have assured the more experienced Fury more column inches than his less colorful, better adjusted younger relative.

Joseph Parker, too, has been too consistently reasonable to make major headlines. In the Antipodes he is a hero, his recent (narrow) victory over Andy Ruiz which saw him throw aloft the strap that is on the line this Saturday, saw a national holiday declared in his native New Zealand; in Europe and the US he is far from a household name.

At first glance, this seems unjust. At 6’4, 240lbs, Parker looks the part and he has scored eighteen knockouts in twenty-three outings. Parker’s resume, although not overwhelming, is decent, with key victories over Kali Meehan and Carlos Takam coming prior to his title victory.  But it is that title victory which has defined him, and Parker was underwhelming against Andy Ruiz. Writing for this website in the wake of that fight, I called him “unnecessarily cautious” during what was a “turgid” fight.

Fair enough; these things happen – but I also observed that Parker now had the chance to prove his character by meeting some off the world’s best heavyweights. This, the New Zealander has failed to do.

His first defense was a pitiful affair although there were mitigating circumstances. None other than Hughie Fury was due to travel to New Zealand to match Parker in his homecoming fight but the fly in that particular ointment was Peter Fury’s checkered past which his seen him twice sentenced to prison for drugs related offences. This led to difficulties with his being admitted to the country, and it is perhaps not cynical to suggest that it was this rather than a purported back injury suffered by Hughie that led to the fight being cancelled.

Rather than abandon the promotion for what was a colossal fight in New Zealand, Parker’s people fished around for another opponent and hooked one Razvan Cojanu, 16-2, out of Romania. Cojanu had recently been stopped in two rounds by retired American journeyman Donovan Davis and had never completed the twelve round distance.

Such an opponent – the new answer to the question, who is the worst fighter ever to have fought for a heavyweight title? – is perhaps excusable in the circumstances, but Parker’s inability to knock him out was not. Cojanu made the twelve, losing a one-sided decision in another dull fight, one that did nothing to endear Parker to boxing fans, and especially not to fans of the heavies. His quickness of hand is undeniable, but he was pushing out snippy, torqueless punches that appeared to glance at and slip off a relatively guileless opponent throughout. Parker was suddenly the belt-holder everyone wanted to fight and in a division that contains perennial ticket-puncher Deontay Wilder, that is quite an achievement.

What then, of Hughie Fury’s chances?

In a sense, Hughie is a perfect opponent for Parker. He can dig, but he’s no puncher, stopping only ten of twenty men, and solid chins, even when they’re attached only to less-than-good fighters, hold his shots with ease. But he lands a lot of them. And there’s more.

Hughie has been plagued brutally by a skin condition called “acne conglobata”.  According to medscape.com the condition is characterized by “burrowing and interconnecting abscesses and irregular scars.” When Hughie reported to a skin specialist in the wake of a lackluster performance against Fred Kassi in April of last year, he claims the specialist told him that the disease had been “poisoning his body.” This made sense to the fighter, who claims he felt his “legs had gone” and he “couldn’t lift up my hands” in what did indeed appear to be a lackluster performance.

As a subplot, this intrigues. There is nothing like a new lease of life in an underdog in fostering a shock. Think of Bernard Hopkins unshackled from the middleweight limit in his mauling of Antonio Tarver or the motivational promise Buster Douglas gave his departed mother in the run-up to his famous clash with Mike Tyson.

Stylistically, Hughie will likely have to prepare himself to be hunted. This fight has value because it presents a legitimate technical test for both men. Hughie may be more lightly regarded than Ruiz was when Parker took a majority decision from him, but he is also a very different sort of fighter. While Ruiz was willing to mix it, Hughie will probably look to remain outside, to bring Parker onto him. A limber style barracked by a stiff jab and some very relaxed – some say too relaxed – footwork makes defense his first line of defense, and attack, something he probably needs to intensify. An accurate left and a nice line in counter-punches thrown with the right probably won’t cut it at the highest level. Still, I have a feeling that a healthy Hughie will fight up to the level of a good opponent and that he has, so far, fought within himself for the most part.  Combined with new reserves of energy, Fury could be about to spring a surprise. A win propels him by definition to world level, and that means one thing: a fight (eventually) with the king, Anthony Joshua. That in turn means a British superfight and millions.

Parker, for his part, must be watching footage of Fury’s languid movement and low hands with great interest. Parker has quick fists and if there’s one thing dumber than wearing low hands with a big puncher it’s wearing low hands with a quick puncher. For a man of his size his speed is really quite surprising and for all that Hughie has genuinely quick reactions, I can’t see him keeping out of trouble throughout if he doesn’t augment his style. Peter Fury, of course, is perfectly capable of springing a surprise, so it is far from impossible that the Hughie we get this Saturday night brings something unexpected to the table, but assuming he reverts to type, Parker’s big problem is going to be walking Hughie down.

Fighting with a reported 4” reach deficit, it is impossible to overestimate how important Parker’s footwork is in this match. Unable to consistently corner Cojanu, he is unlikely to be able to consistently corner Hughie, presuming, that is, Hughie cedes the center of the ring. This makes for a classic bull matador where the matador displays a coolness beyond his years and the bull has a patience and quickness of hands belied by his physicality.

It’s a heady combination that might just make for an excellent fight. Beyond the expected, there is the unexpected, prompted not just by the dark genius of Peter Fury but by the determination of Parker to make a name for himself. Britain is a place he sees himself settling as a fighter if he can find a way past Hughie, and in Tony Bellew, Dillian Whyte and, most of all, Joshua, he has a series of targets that cannot fail to make him both rich and famous – if he keeps winning.

I suspect that he will keep winning, or at least that he will win on Saturday night. Hughie is intriguing and I suspect he may have more improving to do than Parker but he is also the more inexperienced at this level and has been inactive in the ring over the past eighteen months. We should see a decision here, barring unexpected fight plans, and ring-rust might cost the Brit the contest. A fast start is a must but it is also a big ask for a man who has boxed seven rounds since out-pointing a washed up Dominic Guinn in April of 2016.

So while it may be a little shameful that the contest is being fought for the supposed heavyweight championship of the world, it is a cracking little fight that should deliver up a legitimate player at the highest levels and, even better, leaves behind a defeated man who will have more than enough time to rebuild a career that will be far from shattered.

I would suggest it is worth catching.

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BJ Saunders Improves to 30-0 at the Expense of Mildewed Martin Murray

Arne K. Lang

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There was a time several months ago when it appeared that Billy Joe Saunders was in the driver’s seat as far as securing a match with Canelo Alvarez. The lucrative assignment went to BJ’s countryman Callum Smith, but there’s a strong possibility that Saunders and Canelo will lock horns in 2021. If so, Saunders will bring an unblemished record. Tonight, behind closed doors at Wembley Arena he advanced his ledger to 30-0 (14) with a predictably one-sided decision over UK veteran Martin Murray. Saunders was appearing in his seventh world title fight and making the second defense of his WBO 168-pound belt.

Saunders, a close friend and training partner of fellow Traveller Tyson Fury, represented England in the Beijing Olympics at the tender age of 17. Now 31 years old (but with the emotional maturity of an adolescent) he is the classic example of a cagey southpaw.  That’s another way of saying that while a purist can appreciate his artistry, he doesn’t have a fan-friendly style. He is the British equivalent of Demetrius Andrade.

Martin Murray was making his fifth stab at a world title. The 38-year-old campaigner from St. Helens, near Liverpool, previously fought Felix Sturm and Arthur Abraham in Germany, Sergio Martinez in Argentina, and Gennadiy Golovkin in Monte Carlo. His fight with Sturm ended in a draw, but that was back in 2011 and Murray has put a lot of mileage on his odometer in the interim. Tonight, that showed as he did not instinctively let his hands go when he saw an opening. The scorecards read 118-110, and 120-109 twice. Those scorecards were similar to Saunders’ tour-de-force vs. David Lemeiux, but that was an unexpected eye-opener, whereas tonight Billy Joe was expected to win as he pleased.

This may have been the last rodeo for Murray (39-6-1), five times a bridesmaid. He can leave with his head held high. Always in shape, only Golovkin was able to stop  him and it took GGG 11 rounds. BJ Saunders hopes to fight the winner of Canelo vs. Callum Smith, but there is also talk of a rematch with Chris Eubank Jr who gave him his toughest test back in 2014.

Co-Feature

In a lightweight match framed as a WBA title eliminator, James Tennyson (28-3, 24 KOs) blasted out previously undefeated Josh O’Reilly, now 16-1, in the opening round. It was the sixth straight win by TKO for Belfast’s Tennyson who moved up in weight after being stopped in the 4th round at Boston in a bid for Tevin Farmer’s IBF 130-pound title. O’Reilly, a Hamilton, Ontario native appearing in his first fight outside Canada, was on the deck twice before the referee waived off the mismatch. The official time was 2:14.

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Twenty-eight-year-old London light heavyweight Lerrone Richards improved to 14-0 (3) in a monotonous 8-round contest with 36-year-old Finland journeyman Timo Laine, 28-14 (15). Laine fought to survive, not to win, and Richards won every round on the referee’s card.

Undefeated super middleweight Zach Parker (19-0) was scheduled to fight former Edgar Berlanga victim Cesar Nunez, a 35-year-old Spaniard, but the fight fell out when a member of Nunez’s team tested positive for the coronavirus. Parker is ranked #2 by the WBO.

Photo credit: Dave Thompson / Matchroom Boxing

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Boxing Exhibitions: Side Show, New Angle, or Something Else? Part Two

Ted Sares

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Boxing Exhibitions: Side Show, New Angle, or Something Else? Part Two

YouTuber Jake Paul (2-0) says he wants to fight English YouTuber KSI, and then maybe Ryan Garcia, Conor McGregor, and some of the top UFC fighters (using boxing rules). This comes after his recent coldcocking of former NBA star Nate Robinson.

“There is a long list of opponents that I want, you know Conor McGregor, Dillon Danis. I’m going to knock them both out.”– Paul

Jake and his brother Logan are participants in a continuing side show and the more attention they get, the more this freak show will last. In that vein, this writer will no longer mention them except to quote the following from a poster named VashDBasher: “Hopefully these exhibition matches with these retired fighters don’t get out of hand. Not to mention these youtubers with single digit fights making more money than a lot of top prospects and contenders. Boxing is turning into a sham with…”

Exhibitions: The Fire Has Been Ignited; Will It Burn?

Jorge Arce and Julio Cesar Chavez, Sr. launched the tour when they faced off in September in Tijuana but it was done under the radar.

The super-hyped and much anticipated Tyson-Jones exhibition is now in the past, but already it appears that many others will take place. After all, this one—though a stylistic stinker– reportedly pulled in close to 1.2 million PPV buys!

“There’s a sucker born every minute.” – usually attributed to P. T. Barnum

Mike Tyson, coming in at a svelte 220 pounds wants to continue and asserts “my body feels splendid. I want to beat it up some more…I will do it again.” If he does, it may well happen in Europe.

Others are coming out of the woodwork sniffing around like dogs smelling Purina chow but the chow in this case is money and plenty of it. Suddenly, the “seniors tour” seems to enjoy the certainty of a Cher’s final tour. Ex- fighters like Glen McCrory, Lennox Lewis, Riddick Bowe, Johnny Nelson, Buster Douglas, Shannon Briggs, Erik Morales, Evander Holyfield, Marco António Barrera, and possibly Oscar De La Hoya (in a traditional comeback rather than an exhibition) are all looking to get in on the action.

 “The rumors are true, and I’m going to start sparring in the next few weeks.” –De La Hoya

The usually quiet Holyfield in particular has made a lot of noise saying among other things that, “Roy Jones was a good local opponent for Tyson, but a fight with me would be a global event and the only one fight that anyone wants to see is a fight between us. There is absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t make it happen…”

But the “Real Deal” also has said he won’t fight for less than 25 million which is pretty much tantamount to saying he doesn’t want to fight.

Tyson vs. Holyfield III? Don’t bet on this one happening.

However, if there is money to be made, Floyd Mayweather Jr will be hovering about like a helicopter perhaps looking to fight Manny Pacquiao in a mega fight, but Manny may be looking to fight everybody’s favorite opponent, UFC star Conor McGregor. A real fight involving Floyd against a risky opponent would be of enormous interest, but keeping in mind that one of his mottos has been “my health is my wealth,” that is not something to bet on.

Ted Sares can be reached at  tedsares@roadrunner.com

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Errol Spence Jr’s Near-Death Experience Has Made Him More Well-Grounded

Bernard Fernandez

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Maybe it’s a good thing that Errol Spence Jr. had to learn the hard way that talent, like life, is a perishable commodity. Even so accomplished a world boxing champion as Spence had to discover that harsh reality in the blink of an eye, or however long as it took for his fast-moving sports car to veer out of control and produce a knockdown far more perilous than anything the man known as “The Truth” ever has had to face in the ring, or likely ever will.

The Errol Spence Jr. (26-0, 21 KOs) who puts his IBF and WBC welterweight championships on the line against two-division former titlist Danny “Swift” Garcia (36-2, 21 KOs) Saturday night in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, could have, and maybe even should have, died in the early morning hours of October 10, 2019, on a virtually open stretch of highway near Interstate 30 in downtown Dallas. Spence’s white Ferrari, capable of hitting speeds up to 200 mph, went over the center median and flipped over several times. It seemed miraculous that Spence (who was cited for misdemeanor driving under the influence), who sustained significant injuries, could be ejected from the car yet somehow recover to the point where he could fight another day.

“It’s just a miracle for things to turn out like they did,” Spence has said. “For anybody to be ejected out of a Ferrari … I mean, it could have been so much worse. I could have lost a leg, an arm. I could have been paralyzed or had brain damage. I could have been killed right then and there. But I didn’t have to deal with any of that. I’m just blessed. I’m definitely going to heed this warning. You go through what I did, you definitely don’t take things for granted as I once did.”

His professional return Saturday night will not only be met with as much public anticipation as is standard for fighters occupying as elite a level as does Spence, but even more so given his career-long 14½-month layoff (his most recent bout was a 12-round split decision over Shawn Porter on September 28, 2019) and questions attendant to how well he has recovered from his near-catastrophic experience. Has the ordeal in any way diminished him physically or psychologically? Was he imprudent in choosing to forego a less-risky tune-up fight for a matchup with the very formidable Garcia, who previously has held the WBC and WBA super lightweight and WBC welterweight belts? Can he demonstrate that he still is as special a fighter as he had been before his car crashed? Or maybe even better?

Not all of the answers will be provided in the Showtime Pay-Per-View main event, but enough will be to ascertain whether Spence can still claim to be the best 147-pound fighter on the planet (as listed in The Ring magazine ratings) or, even if victorious, reveal himself to be at least somewhat damaged goods.

Not that he was prone to preening and chest-thumping before, but, if anything, Spence, although highly confident he will come away with his undefeated record extended, still presents a public posture similar to that of his understated trainer, Derrick James. That is a stark contrast to the bombast for which Garcia’s father-trainer, Angel Garcia, is noted, and has even ratcheted up a notch for this fight. Angel has even gone on record as predicting that Danny will stop Spence in seven rounds.

“He’s going to go out there and show the world what true champions are made of,” Angel said of what he expects from his son, a +340 underdog in contrast to Spence’s -450 favoritism. “Danny don’t just know how to win, he knows how to kick your ass.”

Noting that his date with Spence had already been twice-delayed, the 32-year-old Danny figures all good things come to those who wait, and his patience is about to be rewarded. “Boxing is a sport of timing,” he said. “And the time is now. I feel great. I had a tremendous camp and did everything I’m supposed to do. Now it’s time to go out there and do what I do best, and win.

“I’ve been the underdog in many fights. I don’t worry about the critics or the media. I know that I’m a great champion, and a great fighter. And that’s what I’m going to prove Saturday night.”

James, for his part, is only too glad to yield the megaphone to Angel Garcia. He’s not about to talk smack about the Garcias because, well, he believes no good can come for those who brag about what they expect to do before they do it.

“I don’t make predictions for myself or my guy, but (Angel Garcia) is supposed to believe in himself,” James said. “He’s supposed to believe in what he thinks his son is going to do. Why wouldn’t he? At the same time, we feel the exact same way. I don’t go in there saying we are going to get a knockout. I can’t predict anything like that. But I can predict that we will be victorious.

“My guy’s quiet, I’m quiet. If you believe in yourself, you don’t have to talk about it.”

Any changes in Spence might not be obvious inside the ropes, but he insists his lifestyle has undergone a radical makeover that can only serve to benefit him in the time he has left at or near the top of a brutal sport that chews up and spits out those who can’t appreciate that today’s glory can soon become tomorrow’s memory.  For one thing, he has traded a Ferrari’s massive horsepower for, well, a different sort of horse power.

“I think it did renew my focus and got me back to the thing that got me to the top of the mountain,” he said of his reconfigured priorities stemming from the accident. “After a fight I started taking a week off, then two weeks off to a month off. Now I’m grinding hard again. You realize that having this time on earth is a luxury. Being young (Spence was 29 at the time of the crash, and is now 30), you think you’re invincible. You think nothing bad can happen to you. But when something does happen to you, you realize that time is important, especially time spent with your family and loved ones.

“That’s why I actually moved out of downtown (Dallas), got a ranch with horses, cattle and things like that. I got a pool and I’m outside with my kids. I just had a newborn son.”

Still, Spence knows that saying he’s as good, or better, than he previously had been is not going to convince any doubting Thomases until he delivers the goods. Danny Garcia, proud and tough, poses the test he needs to pass before any lingering suspicions can be laid to rest.

“I’m a realist,” Spence said. “I know people have a lot of questions. Am I still the same? Am I a shadow of myself? Those are questions that need to be answered.”

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