PARKER vs RUIZ; HORN vs FUNEKA — How big was the Parker-Ruiz fight in the context of New Zealand’s sporting heritage? Before the fight, a tub-thumper for the local promotional group said that if Joseph Parker were to defeat Andy Ruiz, it would place Parker on the same exalted plane as the late Sir Edmund Hillary in the mind of his countrymen. The Auckland-born Hillary and his Nepalese guide Tenzing Norgay were the first humans to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
That analogy was over the top, but Parker’s victory was yet a watershed moment in the history of New Zealand sports. When his arm was raised after the conclusion of the tense battle, the Auckland-born Parker became the first native New Zealander to win a world heavyweight title and he turned the trick in the first heavyweight championship fight ever contested on Kiwi soil.
Parker was also bidding to become the first heavyweight champion of Somoan ancestry. David Tua knocked out five fighters who at various times held versions of the heavyweight title, but he came up short in his lone stab at a world title, losing a lopsided decision to Lennox Lewis. Before Tua, Jimmy Thunder (aka James Peau) sported heavyweight title belts, but they were bestowed upon him by fringe organizations.
The event was captivating. The star-studded crowd included New Zealand’s outgoing Prime Minister and his successor who officially takes office on Monday. But the fight itself — which one writer described as unexciting, but yet enthralling — lacked indelible moments. Working behind an excellent jab, Parker chipped away at Ruiz’s early lead and brought home the bacon. One judge had it a draw; the others each gave Parker seven of the 12 rounds.
Before the bout Ruiz said matter-of-factly that he knew that in this hostile environment he would be two points behind before the first bell rang, but he accepted the decision without rancor, resisting the urge to state the obvious – that he would have likely copped the verdict, or at least salvaged a draw, had the fight been staged in the western United States.
Big money fights await Joseph Parker and, to a lesser extent, Jeff Horn, the Australian welterweight from Brisbane who defeated South African veteran Ali Funeka in the chief undercard bout. In a fight in which both battlers were bloodied by accidental head butts, Horn (16-0-1, 11 KOs) stopped Funeka (39-6-3) in the sixth round. A short right hand from Horn knocked the fading Funeka off his pins. He beat the count, but rose on wobbly legs, impelling the referee to intervene.
A quarterfinalist for Australia in the 2012 Olympics, Jeff Horn is being touted as the best boxer to come out of Australia since Jeff Fenech. He is promoted by Duco, the same company that manages the affairs of Joseph Parker.
During his stay in New Zealand, Bob Arum reached an agreement with Duco to be Horn’s North American representative. Arum is enamored of the 28-year-old former schoolteacher, whose wholesome, middle class image makes him very marketable in a sport long identified with hard-boiled characters.
“This kid, I can sell him as being as American as apple pie,” says Arum of Horn, the cousin of Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk.
A match between Horn and the ill-bred Adrien Broner would be an easy sell, but Arum apparently has different ideas. He has talked about putting Horn in with Jessie Vargas or Timothy Bradley and then, if Horn should win, thrusting him against Manny Pacquiao.
Arum’s trip to New Zealand was bittersweet. He worked out a deal whereby he will have a piece of Joseph Parker if he can induce Parker to fight in the United States or Macau, but he would have much preferred seeing Andy Ruiz become the first fighter of Mexican extraction to win a world heavyweight title. But if things work out the way Arum envisions, both Parker and Jeff Horn will inflate his coffers in 2017.
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