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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