By Duncan Johnstone
Joseph Parker is willing and ready to fight Anthony Joshua for the IBF world heavyweight title if his mandatory challenge is ordered for November 26 in Manchester.
That possibility remains strong as Joshua's promoter Eddie Hearn struggles to nail down a preferred opponent from Bulgaria's Kubrat Pulev or Canada's Bermane Stiverne, both of whom are looking for massive pay cheques.
Ideally Parker will fight big Brit David Price on the Manchester undercard as a way of introducing him to the blossoming UK audience and ramp up the unbeaten Kiwi's profile and value for a title challenge against Joshua next March in London.
Parker is scheduled to face Russia's Alexander Dimitrenko (38-2, 24 KOs), the former European champion, in a risky tune-up fight in south Auckland on October 1.
Team Parker have arrived home to polish preparations for that. But trainer Kevin Barry made it clear they have had to think of the bigger picture because Parker's name could be the one announced by Hearn on September 26 as the next man to step into the ring with Joshua.
"We don't dwell on it too much but we are well aware that until they sign the Pulev fight they may turn around and call Joe for the mandatory," Barry explained.
"This is out of our hands. This is something we don't have any control over because we are the mandatory challenger. If they call the mandatory, we must take it. There's no way we can say, 'no, we aren't going to fight you till next year'. We don't have that right."
Barry said he would be comfortable with that rushed world title schedule if it eventuated.
"At the moment we are planning to be on the that undercard, so it's not like we are moving the base forward. We are prepared for that date," Barry said, though acknowledging that the stakes would rise considerably.
Parker's management have been working behind the scenes to sort out training bases, accommodation and medical facilities in Britain, eager to have everything in place for their battle in Britain whichever way it works out.
Barry never likes to get Parker, 24, thinking further ahead than his next fight and that is a large speed bump in the form of the 2.01m Dimitrenko. But the mandatory circumstances means such talk behind the scenes can't be avoided this time.
It has reinforced the importance of beating Dimitrenko to keep the title shot alive. The Russian has been selected because his height and power replicate the bigger assignments in front of Parker if he is to fight for a world title.
Barry has been delighted with Parker's latest training camp in Las Vegas where he fought three XXXL sparring partners.
"It's the biggest team of sparring partners we've ever had and Joe has systematically broken them down," Barry said.
They had concentrated on working combinations up and down the body of his opponents and also finishing those combinations at an angle rather than in front of the enemy and becoming a counter-attack target.
"Joe has been doing that very well," Barry said of his fighter who is unbeaten over 20 pro bouts with 17 KOs.
"He's got 93 rounds of sparring these guys under his belt. There are a lot of things to feel very good about, very confident about."
They included Parker's head movement and defence.
"Before, we have been relying on hand speed and power. Now, against bigger and stronger fighters, it's very important to have that head movement and Joe is better than ever with that. I believe his defensive patterns have really improved also."
"Joe's application to his training, his seriousness, everything like that, it's spot-on. He understands we can't afford to get anything wrong. All these fights are like our title shot now because if we lose, we lose the mandatory. Dimitrneko will be hugely motivated by that."
Barry said if an undercard role was the way the Manchester date panned out, they were ready for Price, the former British and Commonwealth champion.
"We have been tossing around the idea of fighting David Price for a while now."