JOSEPH PARKER WINS WBO HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE — Joseph Parker, now 22-0, fulfilled the dream of his lifetime this morning in Auckland, New Zealand, becoming that country’s first heavyweight strap-holder at just twenty-four years of age. His victory came at the expense of Andy Ruiz, who dropped his “0” and now sits at 29-1, having blown a golden opportunity to become the first Mexican-American heavyweight champion.
Plenty, then, was at stake in the Land of the Long White Cloud this morning, although you perhaps would not have known that during the occasionally turgid ring-action.
Not that the fight was bad; there were too many twists and turns in the narrative for that to be the case in what remained an absorbing if not an electrifying contest, but both men seemed guilty of unnecessary caution at times.
Some of the quickest hands in the heavyweight division promised us something else very early, Parker (pictured with his trainer Kevin Barry) looking to land quick combinations from the bell, Ruiz trying to dart his way in, the ample 255lbs he was carrying spilling over his waistband. Parker, at 241lbs, looked much more the natural athlete, but he ceded the first just as he ceded ground to Ruiz, who stalked him carefully, landing a right hand over the top and a good body-shot to nick the round. Parker’s jab may be the fastest in the division but he was strangely reluctant to use it; this left Ruiz unhurried in his stalk and able to insist upon exchanges that Parker perhaps would have preferred to forgo. Either way, Parker was somehow three rounds down after three rounds had been completed, at least on my card, and looked, surprisingly, to be fighting scared. Given the fuss sometimes made about his “big fight temperament”, this was unexpected, although perhaps it was just a case of pressure getting to a young man out to make history in his country.
Ruiz, who is twenty-seven, was no less motivated. Nothing Parker threw had the appearance of bothering him and his determination to get home to the body with a leading jab gave the appearance of his having by far the better grasp of range. Parker seemed to want to wait for an opportunity to punch to present itself, occasionally trying to buy that opportunity with feints, a skill he has not mastered; he looked a little like a child trying to bait a friend into flinching at times. This had given Ruiz free reign through the third.
The middle rounds, however, would belong to Parker. Oddly, and in keeping with the flavor of the fight, much of his success was down at Ruiz’s level, the body. Listed at 6’4, Parker appeared shorter, perhaps due to an apparent inability to utilize his 2-inch height advantage properly. The triple jab he landed in the fifth signaled that he is technically capable of this, but more of his good punches were body punches, hard blows delivered as the two men bumped chests.
Ruiz retook the lead after eight rounds for me, consistent with the jab to the body and the aggressor throughout, which may have bought him a round or two given that each man had forced the other to wait. Ruiz, careful of Parker’s occasionally whip-like jab, a punch that had caught him during his mid-round rushes, Parker backing up but very cautious of throwing and allowing Ruiz to perform one of those rushes. When a fight is in the balance like that, the aggressor should be favored, and so it was that after ten rounds I had the fight even, the fight to be decided over the last two rounds.
Ringside, the judges saw it the same way.
Ruiz clearly knew what was at stake. He hunted Parker’s body relentlessly in the eleventh round, landing a left hook and right uppercut early, the latter of these the best punch of the fight for me. Ruiz looked ready to rumble, Parker a little uncertain where he could little afford uncertainty. He snorted his way to ring-center for the twelfth though and I thought just about out-worked and out-landed Ruiz to the body; in other words, won the final round fighting the American’s fight. For me, this meant a draw, for the judges, it meant a majority decision for Parker, 114-114, 115-113 twice.
There is no controversy here; as I noted between the bell to end the twelfth and the cards being read, “anything close is fine.”
Ruiz was sheer class in the post-fight interview, congratulating “Mr.Parker” and thanking the people of New Zealand as well as justifiably stating that he felt he had won “or at least drawn” the fight, and that he would like to box a rematch. Possibly the contest was a little too turgid and Parker a little too bemused by Ruiz’s rushes for his team to want to do anything but move on. Still, Ruiz has big fights in his future if he wants them.
Parker’s claim that he could “beat any heavyweight in the world” has been called into question by this performance, but if ever a match was all about getting the win, it was this one. Post-fight, Parker spoke of a “a dream come true” and it is, for all that the intrinsic worth of the WBO’s trinket can be called into question, for all that it must be pointed out that there are clearly better regarded heavies in the world currently than Joseph Parker.
That said, Parker can change all that by living up to the dream he has fulfilled. He can do this by meeting some of the world’s better heavies rather than the corpses the WBO has a habit of picking. Parker has made himself one of heavyweight boxing’s leading characters with this victory. Now we’ll find out if he has character.
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