By Duncan Johnston
One of the biggest powerbrokers in international boxing believes Kiwis Joseph Parker and Robbie Berridge have the styles to electrify American audiences.
The rising Kiwis make their United States television debuts tonight on NBC's Fight Night - the brainchild of Kathy Duva, boss of long time boxing promotion company Main Events.
Berridge fights unbeaten Russian champion Vasily Lepikhim with the Kiwi putting his WBO Oriental and WBC Asian light-heavyweight belts on the line over 12 rounds.
Parker takes on American Keith Thompson over six rounds as the second undercard fight to the main event which features rising Ukrainian heavyweight Vyacheslav Glazkov and American Derric Rossy.
Duva did her homework on the two New Zealanders and liked what she saw.
In an American market under threat from the hugely popular UFC and other mixed martial arts events, Duva believes the aggressive approaches of Berridge and Parker will be welcomed.
"They look like fun fighters. Berridge is out there throwing punches and the American audiences are particularly interested in that. And Parker is a big puncher," Duva told Fairfax Media.
"The sport has become MMA-a-fied ... the young men are starting to follow it. There's an older demographic but as young men get into the sport they are following guys with that take no prisoners kind of attitude. They don't want to follow stylish boxers, they want to follow guys that throw punches.
"They (Berridge and Parker) have got the style we are looking for."
Duva made it clear that tomorrow's performances could be huge for the futures of both New Zealanders.
Berridge, who boasts 20 knockouts in 24 wins, came on Duva's radar when his New Zealand management, Duco Events, unexpectedly pushed his cause to fight WBO champion Sergey Kovalev. That didn't eventuate because Australian Blake Caperello, the only man to beat Berridge, managed to persuade broadcaster HBO he was a better choice.
Caperello was knocked out by Kovalev in the second round in New Jersey last weekend. Kovalev has just signed a massive deal for a unification fight with veteran Bernard Hopkins, who holds the IBF and WBA belts, in November.
Beyond that anything can happen, especially with few fighters wanting to step into the ring with the unbeaten Kovalev.
Suddenly Berridge and Lipikhim's fight has the air of an eliminator about it.
"We want to look at both of them. Let's see what happens, maybe they will both make it long-term, but on Saturday the guy that wins is going to move forward and a step closer to a big fight," Duva said.
"Finding opponents for Kovlave is absolutely impossible, nobody wants to fight him. When Duco called us and pushed Berridge, we took them seriously. That didn't happen then, but this is an opportunity for us to see what he can do."
Duva feels that Parker, who has risen to No 15 in the WBO ranks inside two years, is timing his run nicely in a heavyweight division she believes is set for a rebirth.
With Vitali Klitschko having given up his belt and his brother Wladimir nearing the end of his dominant career, Duva believes there are a number of boxers under 30 who are going to have a good battle for one of the biggest crowns in sport.
Parker needs to continue his run of knockouts with an impressive performance against the little known Thompson.
Duva has a strong link with New Zealand, working with David Tua in his early professional years. She has retained that friendship along with Tua's former trainer Kevin Barry who now handles Parker.
Barry said yesterday: "It's very surreal this full circle I've come with Kathy and Main Events."
Duva's Fight Night concept is an ideal link for world class New Zealand fighters. She sold the concept to NBC as an economical way to take on the massive pay-per-view operations in the United States.
"I told them they should work with us because I don't have 25 fighters under contract who I have to give winnings to. I can go out and work with everybody and just put the best matches together to work the best show."
That had brought an international flavour to the series.
"That's how we found Kovalev," she said of a fighter who is now undoubtedly one of the best in the business.
Berridge and Parker will be hoping this is the start of something big too.