The electricity that normally runs through the leadup to a world title fight has barely flickered in Manchester this week, although Hughie Fury’s circuitry sparked into life when he shoved the amiable New Zealander Joseph Parker at the weigh-in on Friday.
After a week that began with Parker’s promoter, David Higgins, being escorted from a press conference for supposedly upsetting the hosts by demanding a neutral referee then settling his differences with Fury’s father and trainer, Peter (to everyone’s smiling satisfaction), normal boxing service was resumed with some unsubtle histrionics the day before they fight for real at the Manchester Arena.
While it was not exactly Donald Trump staring down Kim Jong-un, Fury, the unbeaten, untested Mancunian challenger, felt inclined to raise the temperature after an exchange of pleasantries with the quiet New Zealander. Parker holds the WBO title vacated by Fury’s semi-retired cousin, Tyson, who was also restrained in the 30 seconds of hand-baggery that ensued.
The multiple prize they are reaching for is made up of a decent payday, Parker’s quarter slice of the world heavyweight title and the right to stay in the mix for a shot at Anthony Joshua or Deontay Wilder, who have more legitimate claims on the sport’s ultimate accolade.
Joshua defends his WBA super, IBF and IBO titles against Kubrat Pulev in Cardiff next month, while Wilder, who rarely leaves his Alabama backyard, travels to Brooklyn in November to put his WBC belt on the line against the unpredictable and talented Cuban veteran Luis Ortiz.
That is the proper context of Fury-Parker; two willing prospects fighting for third place. To pretend otherwise is to go along with the game’s ludicrous attempts to sell bronze as gold.
Wilder said this week: “I am the best, I am the toughest, whatever’s going in their country. They’ve got to come to me.” And he first has to beat Ortiz, who has a dangerous streak in him and nothing to lose towards the end of a largely ignored career.
Whoever commands top billing will be decided, as ever, by the financial clout and selling power of the incumbent, and Joshua can claim to prevail in that department, given his access to Sky Sports’ pay-per-view money, and having retired Wladimir Klitschko so impressively in his last fight.
Parker-Fury will make history of its own on Saturday night, going out to 25 countries on YouTube – which looks as if it will become a significant part of the future of showing sport – as well as 20 countries on traditional TV. As the promoter Mick Hennessy said this week: “Everyone with a smart TV can watch it. It’s going to be a tremendous production.”
It might well be but the quality of the product will determine that. Hennessy added: “It’s gained a lot of attention and it’s something everyone needs to stay peeled on. There’s going to be an upset in the heavyweight division this weekend. This young man’s going to make a huge statement at the tender age of 23.”
If so, he will have overcome a long spell out with a debilitating blood disorder that left him with bleeding skin and drained stamina. While Parker, a slight betting favourite, has been more active, he has yet to show he has the extra class to move to the elite level. As his well-travelled trainer, Kevin Barry, a silver medallist at light-heavyweight at the 1984 Olympics, was candid enough to concede this week, Parker’s last two performances have been below-par. It would be surprising if he does not raise his level.
Nevertheless Fury, expertly tutored by his father, inspired by his cousin and blessed with quick hands and a keen fighting instinct, may have a few too many tricks for him over 12 rounds.
Meanwhile, two similarly well-mannered pugilists, Luke Campbell and Jorge Linares, contest the Venezuelan’s WBA, WBC diamond and Ring magazine lightweight titles in the famed Forum in Los Angeles in the small hours of Sunday morning. Sky and HBO have that one.
Campbell, the London Olympic gold medallist, gets his world title shot at 29, and he has a mountainous challenge against Linares, who has prevailed in three excellent fights in the UK, against Kevin Mitchell and Anthony Crolla, twice. A fourth win over British opposition looks likely.
“This is why I turned professional, for big nights like this,” Campbell said. “We’ve worked hard and we’ve worked smart. I’m physically and mentally ready for this, I believe in my own ability. He’s strong and durable with plenty of experience but this is my time.”
As young champions arrive, an old one leaves. Andre Ward’s decision at 33 to quit boxing considerably diminishes the stock of quality fighters on the world stage. Nobody, amateur or professional, has beaten this extraordinary super-middleweight/light-heavyweight since he was 13. He says his body is giving up on him, so it sounds as if he has made a sensible decision. Contractual wrangles with HBO, however, have not helped.