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From Samoa, With Gloves: Joseph Parker Ready to Rejoin Top Tier of Heavyweights

Bernard Fernandez

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Statistically speaking, Joseph Parker is involved in the wrong sport.

Yes, the 27-year-old Parker is a former WBO heavyweight champion, not so very long ago widely regarded as one of the division’s leading lights and possibly even a superstar-in-the-making. He won that vacant title by posting a majority decision over Andy Ruiz Jr. in Auckland, New Zealand, on Dec. 10, 2016. (You might have noticed that Ruiz has been in the news of late.) But Parker’s reign proved brief; after one successful defense against Hughie Fury (cousin of lineal champ Tyson Fury), he relinquished the key to his share of the throne room by wide unanimous decision in a unification showdown with Anthony Joshua on March 31, 2018, before a sellout crowd of 78,000 in Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, the first time in 21 professional bouts that Joshua had not won by knockout or stoppage.

Parker (25-2, 19 KOs) took another step backward when he followed the loss to Joshua with a much tighter unanimous-decision setback to Dillian Whyte on July 28 of last year in London, but he got back on the winning track when he scored a third-round knockout of Alexander Flores on Dec. 15 in Christchurch, N.Z. He still isn’t all the way back, but the New Zealander of Samoan heritage could again emerge as a leading contender when he takes on countryman Alex Leapai (32-7-4, 26 KOs) in a scheduled 12-rounder Saturday night at the Dunkin’ Donuts Arena in Providence, Rhode Island. The bout will be televised via streaming service DAZN, and is the lead-in to the main event pitting WBO middleweight champion and Providence native Demetrious “Boo Boo” Andrade (27-0, 17 KOs) against Poland’s Maciej Sulecki (28-1, 11 KOs).

So, if Parker is again on the verge of elbowing his way into the heavyweight spotlight, why would anyone think that he might have made it even bigger in another sport? It’s because his Samoan heritage suggests that people from his tiny Pacific island, with a population of only 50,000 and located 2,600 miles south of Hawaii, are much more apt to score roster spots in the NFL than to achieve stardom in boxing.

At 6-foot-4 and generally in the neighborhood of 240 pounds, Joseph Parker – it’s so much easier to spell and pronounce than his Samoan name of Lupesolial La’aliolemalietoa – bears a striking resemblance to the late, great linebacker Junior Seau, a Californian of Samoan descent who was a 2015 posthumous inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after 20 seasons starring for the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots. But it’s not just facial similarities that makes some people think of Seau when they look at Parker. They are also approximations of one another physically, not exactly a surprise when you consider that football players of Samoan heritage constitute a remarkably outsized percentage of Division I and NFL players.

A staggering 33 players from Samoa or of Samoan descent – Parker was born in Auckland and continues to reside there – have made it to the NFL, and some 200-plus have performed for Division I programs in the U.S. In what would seem to be an incredible statistical anomaly, a Samoan man is 56 times more likely to make the NFL than any American male. Many of those players are thick-bodied linemen, their strength and girth the possible result of having long feasted on such island dishes as palusai, faia eleni, fa’apapa and fa’ausi.

So while the idea of Parker in a helmet and shoulder pads is intriguing, he might, by virtue of the WBO belt that once was his, might already qualify as the best fighter of Samoan descent although that distinction might still be held by squatty former heavyweight contender David Tua (52-5-2, 43 KOs), now 46, best known for knocking out two-time future WBA champ John Ruiz 19 seconds into the first round and going the distance with WBC/IBF titlist Lennox Lewis. Also making some noise during his heavyweight heyday, if not quite at the same level as Parker and Tua, was Jimmy Thunder (35-14, 28 KOs), now 53.

Interestingly, Parker, like so many other Samoan athletes, has a history of struggling to keep his weight in a manageable range. He said he is in the best shape of his career, which if correct could make for a short night against the 39-year-old, Samoa-born Leapai who is based in Australia.

“Over the past six years of being a professional this is the first time that I’ve come into camp at a good weight,” Parker said. “I’m enjoying camp much more as a result, I think, because we’re working more on skills and technique rather than focusing on losing weight. I feel faster, I feel everything is clicking, less injuries, everything is on track.”

Leapai is a late substitute for two-time world title challenger Eric Molina (27-5, 19 KOs), the 37-year-old veteran whose third bid for the big prize was thwarted because Matchroom Boxing, under whose promotional aegis Parker will be making his debut, could not reach contractual terms with Molina’s promoter, Don King, still as argumentative as ever at the negotiating table at the ripe old age of 87.

But the identity of the guy in the other corner, Molina or Leapai, is of little concern to Parker if he is indeed as much up to the mark as he claims to be. He dares to believe that a victory, particularly a rousing one, puts him right back in the mix for a rematch with new three-alphabet-belt champ Ruiz or former conqueror Joshua.

“With each opponent you see what their style brings and you adjust accordingly what you do in the ring,” Parker said. “There’s a lot that I am doing that I am excited about, like throwing different combinations. I’m just looking forward to putting it all on display.

“A stoppage would be nice. That’s the goal going into every fight. I just have to change the mindset to not only go in there and win, but to go in and knock out someone and make a statement. I want to make that statement.”

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Results from Auckland: Parker UD 12 Fa; Ahio KO 7 Long

Arne K. Lang

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New Zealand heavyweights Joseph Parker and Junior Fa met four times as amateurs and each man won twice. On Saturday night in Auckland, they met for the first time as professionals and the heavily favored Parker broke the deadlock with a 12-round unanimous decision.

The bout beat the clock, in a fashion. During the match the crowd at the waterfront arena, estimated at 8,500, was informed that Auckland was reverting to Phase Three effective at 6:00 in the morning, following the discovery of a new Covid-19 infection. That meant, among other things, that public gatherings would be restricted to 10 people and schools would be open only to the children of essential workers.

The fight was a rather drab affair in which both men had trouble landing clean punches, perhaps owing partly to ring rust. Parker (28-2, 21 KOs) was making his first start in 12 months; Fa (19-1, 10 KOs) had been inactive since November of 2019.

Parker, the former world title challenger who went the distance with Anthony Joshua, had the upper hand in the early rounds and opened a small cut over Fa’s left eye in the seventh round, perhaps the result of an errant elbow. The cut became larger and bled profusely as the bout continued but it was never in danger of being stopped.

Parker had a worried look on his face as he awaited the reading of the scores, but he had nothing to fear. The judges had it 115-113, 117-111, and a head-scratching 119-109.

After the fight, Parker said, “It was a lot closer than we expected.”

Ahio vs. Long

The undercard was rubbish, but the Ahio-Long fight warrants a mention. A stablemate of Junior Fa, Hemi Ahio improved to 17-0 (12) with a wicked seventh-round knockout of Julius Long who was thoroughly gassed when Ahio caught him against the ropes and landed his haymaker. They had previously met in a 6-round affair that went the distance.

If the name Julius Long sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because he’s been around since 2001. Listed at seven-foot-one but likely an inch or two shorter, the boxer nicknamed the Towering Inferno came to New Zealand in 2013 to serve as a sparring partner for David Tua and never left.

Nearly 15 full years have elapsed since Long was whacked out in the opening round by Samuel Peter on a Duva Promotions card at Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Casino.

George Kimball was ringside for TSS and described the scene: “The overmatched Long had already been down once when Peter smashed him with a left-right combination…(Long) hit the ropes with such force that he shot back off them like he was bouncing from a trampoline. Unfortunately for Long, the slingshot effect propelled him straight into the path of the right hand Peter had dispatched toward his head, effectively doubling the force of the blow. Long went down as if he had been whacked with a sledgehammer and lay motionless on the canvas. Referee Arthur Mercante Jr waved it off without a count, but he could have counted to 100.”

Long is now 43 years old. Since his crushing defeat by Samuel Peter, he is 4-17-1 and counting his defeat last night has been stopped seven more times. For his rematch with Akio, he weighed in at 326 ¾ pounds, more than 100 pounds more than his opponent.

In his adopted home, Julius Long, who grew up in Detroit, is a qualified chef, an occupation that requires an apprenticeship and many hours of training. He supplements his income moonlighting as a freelance prizefighter. By all accounts, he’s a very likeable man, but someone needs to take away his boxing gloves and burn them.

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The Winning Purse Bid for Teofimo’s Next Fight has the Boxing World Buzzing

Arne K. Lang

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The big buzz this week in boxing was the enormous fee ponied up by the video-sharing, social-networking service Triller to lasso Teofimo Lopez’s lightweight title defense against IBF mandatory challenger George Kambosos. Triller didn’t merely out-bid Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom and Bob Arum’s Top Rank, but out-bid them by a whopping margin. Triller’s purse bid was $6.02 million compared with $3.51 million for Matchroom and $2.32 million for Top Rank.

Triller’s initial venture into boxing was the Nov. 28, 2020 show at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, a three-hour boxing and music festival, the centerpiece of which was an 8-round exhibition between 55-year-old Mike Tyson and 51-year-old Roy Jones Jr. There were four legitimate supporting bouts — legitimate in the sense that the competitors were active professional boxers – plus a freak fight between YouTuber Jake Paul and former NBA point guard Nate Robinson.

When the event was announced, it was panned by hard-core boxing fans, but it was slickly promoted and received a considerable amount of ink from both mainstream sports and gossip magazines. At a list price of $49.99, the event purportedly attracted 1.8 million pay-per-view buys which translated into a gross profit of more than $80 million. The honchos at Triller gambled that folks were still infatuated with Mike Tyson, an astute apprehension, but hedged their bets by conjoining the exhibition with non-traditional boxing fare and they came out a big winner.

Tyson vs. Jones was a pop culture event and the shebang itself, noted Thomas Hauser, was best understood as an infomercial. Triller’s core demographic is urbanites aged 15 to 27, the so-called hip-hop generation, and the company is playing catch-up in a fierce two-horse race for market share with China-based TikTok, an Internet phenomenon.

The driving force behind Triller is 47-year-old Hollywood hustler Ryan Kavanaugh who made it big with Relativity Media, a firm that arranged financing for movie projects, but left a few bodies in its wake. The firm filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2015 and again in 2018.

Kavanaugh’s business dealings came under scrutiny again this month when Universal Music Group, the world’s largest record company, pulled its catalog from Triller because Triller wasn’t paying its artists. In its response, Triller noted that many of the top earners in MSG are shareholders in Triller. Triller’s most prominent shareholder is rapper Snoop Dogg whose waggish commentary for the Tyson-Jones exhibition was widely hailed as the highlight of the telecast.

When the Teofimo vs. Kombosos match was announced, it was immediately speculated that it would be hinged to another Mike Tyson exhibition, perhaps against his nemesis Evander Holyfield. Kavanaugh insists that won’t happen. As for the date and location, that too is up in the air with the best guess being that it will be anchored in Miami, likely in May. It can’t happen in Australia, where Kambosos resides, unless the authorities relax the rule that requires visitors to quarantine for 14 days upon arriving in the country.

The deal with Triller may mark the end of Teofimo’s partnership with Top Rank. If so, Bob Arum is nonplussed. By rule, Teofimo Lopez, as the defending champion, is entitled to 65 percent of the purse. He is contractually obligated to give Top Rank 20 percent, nearly $800,000. Lou DiBella, who promotes George Kambosos, also comes out a big winner.

Who is George Kambosos?

The headline in an English-language, on-line publication directed at the Greek community reads “Undefeated Greek boxing sensation….” That’s over the top. In the click-bait era, words like “sensation” have wide currency.

Kambosos, born and raised in Sydney, Australia, of Greek ancestry (his grandparents are from Sparta) is indeed undefeated: 19-0 (10 KOs). But until recently he was best known as Manny Pacquaio’s sparring partner. He worked in three of Pacquiao’s camps and, by his reckoning, sparred about 250 rounds with the Filipino legend.

Kambosos won his last two fights by split decision. On Dec. 14, 2019, he outpointed former IBF world lightweight champion Mickey Bey at Madison Square Garden. On Oct. 31 of last year, he outpointed former IBF featherweight champion Lee Selby at Wembley Arena. Neither bout was the featured attraction. Kambosos vs. Bey was underneath Terence Crawford vs. Egidijus Kavaliauskas. Kambosos vs. Selby was the chief supporting bout to the heavyweight contest between Oleksandr Usyk and Dereck Chisora.

Kambosos punctuated his win over Bey with a knockdown in the final round, but would have prevailed without it. There was no controversy when his hand was raised. Similarly, his triumph over Selby was generally well-received although few fans would have quibbled if the match had been scored a draw.

In a 2019 interview, Freddie Roach said of Kambosos that he was very quick with hand-speed on a par with PacMan. The biggest difference between the two, said Roach, was Pacquiao’s superior footwork.

Roach may have been diplomatic when he said that the Aussie had the potential to go all the way as Kambosos will be a big underdog when he steps into the ring against Teofimo Lopez who figures to close in the 12/1 range. And the pre-fight pub will be all about Teofimo, in common with the Tyson-Jones exhibition where all the pre-fight hype was about Iron Mike.

This reporter bumped into Mickey Bey yesterday afternoon. Bey noted that he was hampered going into his fight with George Kambosos as he did not have the benefit of a full training camp. He took the fight on three-and-a-half weeks notice and had been out of the ring for 14 months.

The personable Bey, who is transitioning to the role of a trainer, waxed euphoric about Devin Haney who he regards as a once-in-a-generation talent. “I really believe he has a chance to surpass Floyd,” he said, referencing Floyd Mayweather’s 50-0 mark. “Haney is better right now than Floyd was at the same age.”

That’s open to debate, but Devin Haney, currently 25-0, is halfway there and he’s only 22 years old. Whether he stays at 135 or moves up to 140, he will have to run through a gauntlet to get through the next few years unscathed. Both divisions are brimming with talent.

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Avila Perspective, Chap 125: Canelo and other 4-Division Title-holders

David A. Avila

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Mexico’s Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (54-1-2, 36 KOs) defends the WBA and WBC super middleweight titles against Avni Yildirim (21-2, 12 KOs) on Saturday Feb. 27, at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida. DAZN will stream the fight card.

For the second consecutive week a four-division world champion performs.

“I always imagined the best for myself but never to this magnitude,” said Alvarez, 30. “I want to keep making history.”

Last week four-division titlist Adrien “The Problem” Broner returned to the boxing ring after a two-year absence and defeated Jovanie Santiago by unanimous decision. It was a battle designed for Broner to shake off the cobwebs developed since his prior fight against Manny Pacquiao.

Fans forget Broner captured world titles in four divisions. It’s quite an accomplishment for any fighter to win world titles in multiple divisions. For a fan to deride or devalue either Broner’s or Canelo Alvarez’s accomplishment of four-division world titles means only one thing said one true expert:

“They don’t know s*** about boxing,” said the late great Roger Mayweather. His words and overall boxing wisdom remain strong in my memory.

One of my goals whenever I hit Las Vegas in the past was to visit two-division world champ Roger Mayweather. If you ever had a chance to converse with any of the Mayweathers you know what I mean; they have deep-rooted knowledge about the history of the fight game.

Once at the Top Rank Gym, probably around 2007, I was chatting with Mayweather in the office with another boxing writer who was discrediting Oscar De La Hoya’s accomplishments as a multi-division world champion.

Mayweather straightened up from his chair and looked dead in the guy’s eyes and said to the writer “you ever fight in the ring?”

The writer shook his head.

Mayweather waved both his hands at him and said his now legendary line “you don’t know s*** about boxing.” He further explained that anytime you win a world title is a big thing. And if you win world titles in multiple divisions well that’s super human. He called them special fighters. They don’t come along very often.

Roger Mayweather passed away last March 17. It was a great loss to the boxing world. I’ll never forget his words on multiple-division winners. Mayweather captured world titles in the super featherweight and super lightweight divisions. If you consider the IBO title legitimate, Mayweather also won the welterweight title.

I can imagine Mayweather telling today’s fans and writers that they don’t know boxing if they think winning world titles in four divisions is nothing.

Roger Mayweather was one of the smartest boxing people I ever met and one heck of a fighter who sold out venues like the Inglewood Forum. As trainer for “Money” Mayweather he was very under-rated in my opinion. And gone too soon.

More Broner and Alvarez.

The first world title achieved by Broner was the WBO super featherweight title by knockout of Vicente Rodriguez in November 2011. Then he moved up a division and defeated Mexico’s super tough Antonio DeMarco for the WBO lightweight title by stoppage in November 2012. Broner jumped up again in weight to challenge Paul Malignaggi for the WBA welterweight title and squeaked out a split decision over the Brooklyn fighter in June 2013. After losing to Marcos Maidana in December 2013, he dropped down to super lightweight and defeated Khabib Allakhverdiev for the WBA world title by technical knockout in the 12th round October 2015. He eventually lost a version of the title by decision to Mikey Garcia on July 2017.

At 30 years old, Canelo has now entered his prime years. He grabbed his first world title in March 2011 beating Ricky Hatton for the WBC super welterweight title. He lost that title to Floyd Mayweather in 2013. Not until November 2015 did he move up to take the WBC middleweight title from Miguel Cotto. Alvarez then fought Gennady Golovkin twice, and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. before moving up to win the WBA super middleweight title from Rocky Fielding in December 2018. Then Canelo moved up to light heavyweight in November 2019 and knocked out Sergey Kovalev.

Alvarez now has won four division world titles like Broner and is poised to defend the super middleweight titles against Yildirum on Saturday. Two months ago, Alvarez handed Callum Smith his first professional defeat while taking away his WBA title and adding the WBC. The Mexican redhead continues to make history.

“It’s really important for me to leave a legacy in this sport,” said Alvarez. “There are still many milestones I have to achieve.”

Four-Titles or More Club

Among those with four or more division world titles are:

Leo Gamez (1985-2005) minimum weight, light flyweight, flyweight, and super flyweight

Jorge Arce (1996-2014) light flyweight, super flyweight, bantamweight and super bantamweight.

Roman Gonzalez (2005-present) minimum weight, light flyweight, flyweight and super flyweight

Nonito Donaire (2003-present) flyweight, bantamweight, super bantamweight and featherweight

Miguel Cotto (2001-2015) super lightweight, welterweight, super welterweight and middleweight

Juan Manuel Marquez (1993-2014) featherweight, super featherweight, lightweight, and super lightweight.

Erik Morales (1993-2011) super bantamweight, featherweight, super featherweight and super lightweight

Pernell Whitaker (1984-2001) lightweight, super lightweight, welterweight and super welterweight

Roberto Duran (1968-2001) lightweight, welterweight, super welterweight and middleweight

Roy Jones Jr. (1988-present) middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight.

Five-Titles Club

Sugar Ray Leonard (1977-1997) welterweight, super welterweight, middleweight, super middleweight and light heavyweight

Tommy Hearns (1977-2006) welterweight, super welterweight, middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight

Floyd Mayweather Jr. (1996-present) super featherweight, lightweight, super lightweight, welterweight and super welterweight

Naoko Fujioka (2009-present) minimum weight, light flyweight, flyweight, super flyweight and bantamweight.

Six-Titles Club

Oscar De La Hoya (1992-2008) super featherweight, lightweight, super lightweight, welterweight, super welterweight and middleweight

Seven-Titles Club

Amanda Serrano (2009-present) super flyweight, bantamweight, super bantamweight, featherweight, super featherweight, lightweight and super lightweight

Eight-Titles Club

Manny Pacquiao (1995-present) flyweight, super bantamweight, featherweight, super featherweight, lightweight, super lightweight, welterweight, and super welterweight

Straw Stirrers

New WBC super featherweight titlist Oscar Valdez joined the unique list of fighters who are in position to dictate their respective weight divisions in a big way. I call them the straw stirrers or to mimic New York Yankee great Reggie Jackson’s famous quote “the straw that stirs the drink.”

Valdez’s knockout win over the heavily favored Miguel Berchelt last week to win the WBC world title was one of those moments that captivates the world on multiple levels:

First, Valdez was not supposed to win according to the experts. Second, his emphatic one-punch knockout win via the vaunted Mexican left hook was a moment that will be viewed more than a million times on YouTube.com. Third, the super featherweight division is crackling with talent and gate attractions like Jojo Diaz, Jamel Herring, Tevin Farmer, Carl Frampton, Leo Santa Cruz, Vasyl Lomachenko and Shakur Stevenson. And if Valdez seeks an even bigger payday he can move up one division where he will definitely find big money guys like Gervonta Davis, Ryan Garcia, Devin Haney, and the other straw stirrer Teofimo Lopez.

At the moment, Valdez holds the key to stirring the super featherweight drink.

Fights to Watch

Sat. 5 p.m. FOX Anthony Dirrell (33-2-1) vs Kyrone Davis (15-2).

Sat. 5 p.m. DAZN Saul Alvarez (54-1-2) vs Avni Yildirim (21-2).

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