Joseph Parker’s career has been one of extremes.
In 2016, he became the first New Zealand heavyweight to win a world title when he defeated Andy Ruiz to take the WBO heavyweight crown on the tightest of points decisions.
Today, that seems hard to believe, as he has plummeted down the rankings. In fact, following the defeat to Dillan Whyte in July, he is only ranked in the top 15 by one of the major boxing organizations, the WBA.
This means that in the space of two years, he has gone from champion to unranked in the WBO.
Whether his time at the top will be remembered as one that was over as soon as it started, or he will come good again, as his promoter David Higgins insists, remains to be seen. But either way, he has prompted a resurgence in boxing’s popularity in his native New Zealand that cannot be denied.
Locations do not get much more remote than New Zealand, meaning that when there is no local talent to watch, the popularity for a sport can quickly wane. But in this online age, that is less of an issue. New Zealanders have become as transfixed by the virtual as the rest of the world. For example, the global obsession with online casino games like slots and roulette is as popular in New Zealand as anywhere. The related industry of live sports betting has also seen a surge in the internet age, as has the phenomenon of following the action via live streams.
Parker’s time at the top tuly pushed boxing up the sporting agenda in New Zealand. His first title defence against Hughie Fury might have taken place on the other side of the planet, but it didn’t prevent thousands from tuning in to see him defend his title 118-110 in Manchester. Losing the crown to Anthony Joshua was no major surprise. Joshua was always the favourite among pundits and bookmakers. The interesting thing is that despite Parker’s plummet down the rankings since losing his title, the power of the internet is keeping boxing’s profile high among New Zealanders.
Antipodean boxing fans are not just watching boxing online, however. This is a nation that loves to participate, which is why it can field such strong teams in sports like rugby and cricket, despite having a far smaller pool of talent to choose from. The same applies in boxing, and the Papatoetoe Boxing Club in Auckland, where Parker learned his trade, has never been busier.
Parker visits the club whenever he is back home, and takes time to sign pictures and even get into the ring and train with the boys who, according to owner Grant Arkell, “want to be the next Joseph Parker.”
Training the next generation of youngsters is one thing, but sometimes, the eagerness of New Zealanders to get involved in sports can come at a cost. An unexpected side effect of boxing’s new-found prominence has been the phenomenon of corporate and charity events where anyone can “have a go.” Earlier this year, a man was hospitalised with brain damage after a corporate event, prompting the gym to cancel future events indefinitely. Joel Rea was knocked out in just eight seconds.
Joseph Parker spoke out in the local press, saying that while he is delighted with the newfound popularity of boxing, safety must always come first, regardless of what level the fight is at. He went on to say that he can understand why gyms are rethinking the whole topic of corporate boxing.