WBO heavyweight champion Joseph Parker (22-0-0, 18KOs) will be back in the squared circle in his native New Zealand this weekend as he makes his first title defence against Los Angeles based Romanian Razvan Cojanu (16-2-0, 9KOs).
This should be a fairly simple night at the office for Parker – former sparring partner Cojanu is a late replacement and Parker is a significant step up in class to anyone he has faced thus far. The champion will be looking to negotiate this defence without any major drama before looking forward to what could be several money spinning fights in the near future.
Firstly though – how did Parker vs. Cojanu come about?
Joseph Parker won the WBO title in December by scoring a majority decision win (115-113 twice, 114-114) over Andy Ruiz.
The title was available because Tyson Fury vacated after his well documented problems last year. While the fight never really caught fire, it was a close fairly cagey affair, Parker to my eye always seemed to be doing just enough to remain in front on the scorecards and him being declared the winner was the correct decision.
Parker then had a mandatory obligation to fulfil. The man at the head of the queue in the WBO rankings was Hughie Fury, cousin of Tyson, and the deal was made for the fight to take place in Auckland on May 6. Two weeks out from fight night Fury withdrew citing a back injury and Parker’s promoter, Duco Events, needed to find a late replacement. Razvan Cojanu answered the call and the venue was changed to the smaller Vodafone Events Centre in Manukau, New Zealand.
Trained by Kevin Barry in Las Vegas Parker has been maneuvered sensibly by his handlers since he turned pro in 2012. Without being disrespectful to any of the opponents he previously faced, 2016 was the big breakout year for Parker. Joseph fought five times last year as he stepped up the level of opposition and proved he was ready for a world title. His hard-fought but deserved UD win over Carlos Takam in May showed he deserved to be facing higher calibre foes and he underlined this by beating Alexander Dimitrenko via 3rd round KO in October. This led to his December coronation against Ruiz.
Standing 6’4 Parker is certainly not a giant compared to some modern heavyweights. He has very good movement and footwork and looks to land quick combination punches when the opportunities arise. Parker has adequate power but he is more likely to grind an opponent down with volume rather than land a one punch KO. On the defensive side he can be slow to get his left hand back into position after jabbing but overall his skills are sound. Saturday’s fight should see him showcase his talent en route to a 6th round stoppage victory.
Razvan Cojanu is the man looking to prevent this from happening – can he?
Firstly Cojanu should be praised for taking this fight at such short notice. Minimal preparation time and the long journey to New Zealand are the first two factor which suggest his title attempt will be unsuccessful. He hasn’t fought anyone who jumps off the page, his opponents with a combined record of 125-109-31 seem to be journeymen or novice pros. The leap to beat a defending world champion on the road should be too great.
This is not to say he can’t win. Standing at almost 6’8 he will have this advantage in his favour. As mentioned he is a former sparring partner of Parker so he may have noticed some habits that he can capitalise on. A big right hand may connect in the correct spot if Parker is careless or slow in getting his leading left hand back up to defend his chin. The chances of this happening are slim, but Cojanu, by opting to travel to New Zealand, has given himself a better chance than all the boxers who declined this chance to take on Parker.
If, as expected, the bout goes the way of the form book then Parker will have some lucrative options in front of him. It would also appear that the likely destination for Joseph will be the UK. Perhaps with this in mind broadcaster Sky Sports will be showing Parker vs. Cojanu live here at 11am local time (6am NY time) on Saturday.
The obvious fight that will be speculated on is Parker facing off against last weekend’s heavyweight winner Anthony Joshua. As Joshua now holds the WBA “Super” and IBF titles a clash between the two would see three of the four main belts on the line.
New addition to the heavyweight division Tony Bellew may also have eyes on Parker if he fancies landing a belt as Parker, unlike Joshua and WBC titlist Deontay Wilder, is not significantly bigger than the man who recently scored an upset win over David Haye.
There is also still the matter of the Hughie Fury fight. Whether or not this takes place down the line will depend on how the WBO rank Fury after his injury withdrawal and indeed if they force Parker into fighting another mandatory defence straight away. An article in The New Zealand Herald earlier this week made it clear that Duco Events are not happy with Fury’s late pull-out, the indication being they would be reluctant to negotiate with the Fury camp ever again.
I think a realistic strategy would be to match Parker with Tony Bellew in a large UK arena. This would get Parker known to more fans over here and, if he wins, would be a solid building block towards a stadium fight with Anthony Joshua round about this time next year. If Bellew were to win then his promoter, Eddie Hearn, would be delighted as two of his fighters would own three quarters of the heavyweight straps.
While trying to predict who will fight who in the months to come is a fairly thankless task in boxing, there is a picture emerging here of what the immediate future in the heavyweight division could look like.
Before we can step back and fully admire the canvas though we have a fight to watch on the morning of May 6.
A fight Parker should dominate and win – if he does his prospective earning opportunities will increase tenfold.