By Bryce Wilson
The boxing business is nothing if not a constant merry-go-round of last minute changes and unsolicited blindsides. There are times when the everchanging landscape of the sport is enough to make even an episode of ‘Game of Thrones’ look predictable and a little boring.
Much to his chagrin and certainly against his will Joseph Parker has found himself in the midst of such drama, in what he hoped would be a smooth first defence of the WBO heavyweight world title that he secured with a 12 round points win against Andy Ruiz Jr in December of last year.
Parker’s maiden defence was to have been against unbeaten Brit Hughie Fury in Auckland on May 6th. Negotiations with Team Fury had been fraught from the beginning with rumours circulating within boxing circles for the past few weeks that the Fury’s were looking for a way out of making the trip down to New Zealand to fight.
With just over 2 weeks left before the bout Hughie Fury’s camp advised the WBO that due to a lower back injury he would be unable to fight, leaving Parker’s promoters in a last-minute scramble to locate a suitable replacement. That fighter now comes in the form of Razvan Cojanu, a Romanian giant ranked number 14 by the WBO and with a 16-2 record.
While Cojanu’s name does not carry the same type of lustre as Fury’s, he does fit the WBO’s criteria of being in their top 15, was willing to travel at short notice and unlike some other more well-known names calling Parker out via social media, didn’t price himself out of the fight.
At his Auckland training base, I sat down with Parker to discuss his thoughts on the Fury cancellation, what he makes of his new opponent Cojanu and how he is enjoying his life as champion.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: When and how did you find out that the fight with Hughie Fury had been called off?
JP: I found out on Sunday, I woke up getting ready for training and found out via social media, then I got a call from Kevin (Barry) confirming the fight was off.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: That being so, when you arrived into Auckland and gave an interview out at the airport, even then you didn’t sound 100% confident that the fight would happen.
JP: We felt through training camp that this may happen. We did have a conversation that this could happen but at the same time I also felt confident and optimistic that they would turn up to fight. It is a heavyweight world championship after all and I thought they would be desperate to get their shot at it. I know I would.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: Being that negotiations have been tricky throughout have you had half a mind throughout training that you might end up facing a last-minute opponent?
JP: It has been in my mind but I didn’t want to believe it. There was such a good payday on the line for him as well as a world title. I was sure that they would come.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: it must be noted as well that when you fought Andy Ruiz your trainer Kevin Barry has gone on record as saying that you didn’t have a great camp and that you carried some injuries into that fight but you fought anyway.
JP: Yeah, because it’s not every day you get the opportunity to fight for a world title and you have to take your shot when it becomes available, which makes their decision not to fight so confusing to me.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: The Fury name is very well known in boxing and obviously, it would have been a great introduction into the UK market which I know you’re keen to expand in to. That being the case how disappointing is it that they have pulled out?
JP: It’s disappointing because you go into training camp to prepare for a fight and then the date gets changed. So, we reschedule things, we do everything right, we come down here to New Zealand mentally and physically prepared and then this happens. It’s very unprofessional and so last minute, but it happens in boxing and you just have to adapt and move on to the next challenge.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: In the spirit of moving on, I know this has been the longest you have been out of the ring in some time. How has that felt and how has the body reacted to the break?
JP: Now my body has had a break I’m eager to get in the ring again and the mind feels sharp as a tack. I feel like even despite all these disruptions the mind has been the best it’s ever been.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: And your trainer Kevin Barry has also mentioned that he has seen a whole change in your demeanour in the few months you’ve become a champion.
JP: I think I feel a new calmness and intensity in training, I feel a lot more present. When you become a champion, I believe it’s important you carry yourself in a particular way.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: Now you’ve become a world champion, (New Zealand’s first,) do you believe you’ve got a monkey off your back it will free you up in future performances to go to the next level?
JP: That’s an interesting question. Certainly, once you achieve what you want to achieve as far as winning a world title then it motivates you to want to set a whole new set a whole new bunch of goals. I want to win more titles, to unify and participate in some really big fights and prove to people that I really do belong at the elite level.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: Your new opponent Razvan Cojanu, you know a little bit about him having spared with him only recently.
JP: Yes, I do. He has some power and he puts on pressure. Boxing is funny like that, sometimes your sparring partner becomes your opponent. It can be dangerous as well, boxing is littered with examples of last minute opponents stepping in and upsetting the favourite.
BOXINGSCENE.COM:And how hard is it mentally having to switch an opponent at the last minute, or has sparring him in the past made that a little bit easier?
JP: I sort of know how it works. With sparring, you have to remember that you’re asking your sparring partner to attempt to mimic the style of fighter you will be facing in the ring. Come fight night I’m sure he will bring a little more of his own style to the contest. But as always Kevin has put together a game plan for me already and we are good to go.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: It did seem that you were keen to put some type of fight together being that this is the last time you’ll potentially be fighting in New Zealand for some time?
JP: It will most likely be the last fight in New Zealand for a while, but also a lot of people have shown us support, bought tickets, made travel arrangements and we didn’t want to let them down. It’s been a long training camp, you put in the hours and really the fight is my reward and trust me, I want my reward!
While it might not have been the ‘reward’ he is after, it is clear that Parker and his team remain upbeat and determined to make the most out of a bad situation. One suspects that Parker is determined to maintain his focus, put a ‘W’ in the win column and move on past the enduring nightmare that has been Team Fury. Expect Razvan Cojanu to be the recipient of those frustrations on May 6th as Parker unleashes with fast combinations and thundering power shots, a stoppage before the 6th round being the most likely result.
Joseph Parker 22(18)-0 faces Razvan Cojanu 16(9)-2 at Vodafone Events Centre, South Auckland on May 6th for the WBO Heavyweight Championship of the World.