By Duncan Johnstone
New Zealand heavyweight boxer Joseph Parker needs more than a win against Alexander Dimitrenko on Saturday night, he must deliver a statement performance.
The swirling talk of a world title fight has heaped pressure on the 24-year-old to come through unscathed against the giant Russian at the Manukau Events Centre in south Auckland and hold his mandatory rights to the IBF belt and No 1 ranking with the WBO that offers him another option.
Victory is essential but a commanding performance is just as important and that probably equates to a knockout win.
Parker needs to look like the title contender he is. The eyes of the world will be watching with the handlers of Anthony Joshua, Wladimir Klitschko and Andy Ruiz – three possible options for a title fight – sure to be among viewers from the 53 countries where the fight is being televised, the biggest spread for a Kiwi bout with a large chunk of the audience in Europe and Asia.
The stalled negotiations on various title scenarios have had a bit to do with Parker having to get past the substantial hurdle in the form of the 2.01m Dimitrenko before any concrete plans can be confirmed.
Parker seems to be relishing the pressure. He hasn't lost focus on Dimitrenko but he hasn't lost sight of the bigger picture. It's driving him to be at his best.
"Being in the No 1 position is a good position to be in but it's not where I want to be – I want to be the champion," Parker said.
"Thinking about being champion keeps giving me motivation and drive to push forward."
Parker gives away considerable height, reach and weight advantages to Dimitrenko who has been picked for those very reasons. The visitor cut a large and impressive figure at Friday's weigh-in, proof of the preparation he has put in.
But if Parker is to push on, big men and bigger challenges lie in front of him.
Parker's trainer Kevin Barry is demanding and expecting something special in his charge's 21st professional fight.
"We're thinking about winning this fight, winning it well and making a statement," Barry said.
"When you're under pressure, this is when real champions stand up."
He wants early pressure from Parker, wary of allowing Dimitrenko to get comfortable given the Russian's durability that has seen him lose just two of his 40 fights in 15 years and only once been stopped short of the distance.
"Joe's last three performances were all good wins but he is capable of so much more than that. I've seen so much more than that in the gym. My challenge to Joe this time is, when you actually fight, bring your A-game ... showing everyone what you're showing me," Barry said.
"I'd like to think that Joe will get out there and eventually break this guy down. But he's a big, strong guy and we are going to have to chop him down.
"That's something we are going to have to get going right from the outset. This is a fight I don't want Joe to just cruise through the first two or three rounds and let Dimitrenko get comfortable and build up a bit of rhythm. We need to put something hard on him right from the outset."
The simple theory is that Parker, backed by his youth, will be too fast and strong for the 34-year-old Dimitrenko.
Attack the body, work the angles, duck and weave out of trouble and look for the big opportunities are Parker's goals.
And the Russian? Doe he use his reach to stay on the outside? How does he cope with the pressure game of Parker? Will he look to smother rather than engage in a gun fight?
"He's a nice straight puncher, he has a good one-two straight down the centre," Barry said of Dimitrenko's weapons.
"It's very important that Joe moves his head a lot. Our defensive patterns in this camp have been as good as any we have done.
"Joe is focussed, he's hungry. I think he has challenged himself more and I think we are going to see a very strong performance."