By Terence Dooley
Today’s final press conference to publicise Joseph Parker’s WBO heavyweight title defence against mandatory challenger Hughie Fury was a more sedate affair than the one that was held in London on Monday during which David Higgins, the promoter of Parker, blasted Peter Fury over the lack of neutral officials, particularly the appointment of Terry O'Connor as referee.
The Duco Events director had claimed that the contract had been breached, initially blaming Fury before switching his ire to the British Boxing Board of Control, who moved to replace O'Connor. Marcus McDonnell has since been named at the third man with one New Zealand-based judge also set to feature.
With that row behind them, the fight is nearly on us. It takes place at the Manchester Arena on Saturday night, the venue’s first boxing show since the Manchester bombing back in May, and both men believe that a win will propel them to bigger things.
This time around it was all smiles as the two fighters and their teams took to the dais at Old Trafford to give their final thoughts on the contest, which is being shown live on Youtube in what promoter Mick Hennessy hopes will be a new wrinkle when it comes to broadcasting boxing shows.
Fury’s promoter was the first to speak, telling the assembled press that: “I am very proud to be bringing this fight to Hughie’s hometown. For me, this is the best fight in the heavyweight division right now. Two brilliant, world-class talents in a real 50-50 fight. There is going to be an upset in the division this weekend, this man is going to shake up boxing at the tender age of 23.”
When asked about rumours of sluggish ticket sales, with 5000 the figure given out earlier today, Hennessy stressed that this is all about getting Fury a title belt and raising his profile by giving him his first outing in his hometown.
“Ticket sales are going up by the day,” he answered, indicating the final figure will rise. “No one expected to fill stadiums with this fight, we had to be realistic with it. This is a brilliant venue in Hughie’s town.”
Unlike Monday, Higgins was seated at the top table and addressed the issues surrounding the appointment of O’Connor as referee, and he underlined the fact that Team Parker had pushed hard for neutral officials.
“It is wonderful to be here,” he said. “Buy some tickets, because it might not be often you get a genuine heavyweight title fight like this. Peter Fury put the money in the bank. Guys like Eddie Hearn pulled out, but not the Furys, which is why we are here today.
“I worked tirelessly for weeks behind the scenes, writing letters to the British Board of Control and the WBO about the officials. We want it be natural, according to the WBO guidelines, and don’t blame the Fury camp for that, we blame the British Board of Boxing Control. We have got the change, and now everyone is talking about the fight, which is the job of the promoter.”
He added: “Finally, I’d just like to thank Peter Fury for the fact that I’m safe here in Manchester, he’s a man of his word so we’re all going home safe.”
Peter then took to the mic, explaining that his son has trained indoors and outdoors as part of a gruelling schedule in order to prepare him for his first crack at the heavyweight title. “He’s had a great camp,” he said.
“This is his dream. He is more than ready. It is the hardest camp he’s ever had as we know the challenge Joseph Parker brings. It is time to sit back and enjoy it—there will be no excuses. We’ve had the best of everything.
“It was a tricky road to get here, but David has come over here despite people trying to manipulate him into thinking the fight isn’t going on, this is what has been going on behind the scenes. It was only a bendy road because of other people. There’s no tricks, like we had in Germany (when Tyson Fury, his nephew, fought and beat Wladimir Klitschko in November 2015). We are happy with whatever officials we get.”
“It is going to be a pleasure to perform there, especially after it is the first time since the tragic events—no words can be said about how bad that was—but I will bring the belt back to Manchester,” added Hughie (20-0, 10 KOs). “You can look at different fights to weigh it up, but this is a different Hughie Fury—I am going to knock him out.”
Parker (23-0, 18 early) seemed quietly confident, stating that he will take belt back home with him and will use the fight to launch himself here in the UK. “All the talk has been done, it is time to get into the ring,” declared the 25-year-old title-holder.
“All the hard work has been done. I feel like the UK is where it is at the moment, so we felt it was important to come here and make a statement by fighting Hughie, you will see us here a lot more in the future.”
Kevin Barry, his trainer, echoed his charge’s confidence, saying: “We had a very solid training camp in Las Vegas, which we needed for this challenge. People told us we could lawyer up and get Hughie removed as mandatory after it didn’t happen the first time, but Hughie is a tough opponent and Joseph wanted his first fight in the UK to be a challenging fight.”
He added: “Hughie is very skilful, it will be a very difficult fight for Joe. His last two fights were not his best work, despite winning the belt and then defending it (against Andy Ruiz Jr. and Razvan Cojanu respectively, both decision wins), but everything has clicked in this camp. We know the size of this challenge.”
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