Expectations Building to a Crescendo for Parker vs. Ruiz, Jr.
By: Eric Lunger
On December 10th at the Vector Arena in Auckland, New Zealand, Joseph Parker (21-0, 18 KO’s) will step into the ring for the biggest fight of his young career.
With the WBO world championship at stake, Parker and his trainer, former Olympic silver medalist Kevin Barry, have been working together towards this goal for over four years. He will face a tough, undefeated and well-prepared Andy Ruiz, Jr. (29-0, 19 KO’s). But remaining focused amid a number of distractions and expectations is the biggest challenge the young fighter from New Zealand must now overcome.
All fighters must minimize distractions in the final weeks leading up to a bout, but Parker has some unusual ones. First, is the best kind of distraction. On November 21st, Joseph’s long-time partner, Laine Tavita, gave birth in New Zealand to their first child, Elizabeth, while Joseph was finishing his final stretch of sparring in Las Vegas. Having a new baby in the midst of a run up to a title fight might be a distraction, or it might be the purest form of motivation to capture that belt.
Second, Parker faces enormous pressure in the form of public and press expectations in New Zealand. Duco Promotions, a New Zealand based company, is calling this bout a major moment in New Zealand Sporting history. The company has brought the WBO belt itself to the country, and launched it on its own publicity tour, with the local media tracking its whereabouts each day. In New Zealand, Parker is often called “Gentleman Joe,” an indication both of his kind and humble demeanor outside the ring, and the respect he has among his fellow Kiwis. Furthermore, Parker proudly inhabits his Samoan heritage, and that island nation has backed the fight financially in return for significant tourism advertising. In a sense, Andy Ruiz can roll into Auckland as the outsider, and just focus on his fight plan. Joseph, on the other hand, has the weight of expectations of two nations on his shoulders.
Third, HBO has picked up the fight, and it will be broadcast December 10th as the lead-in to the Crawford vs. Molina junior welterweight title clash in Omaha. When reached for comment, Kevin Barry characterized the fight this way: “This fight on paper could be the best Heavyweight match-up of the year. Both [guys] are undefeated, both are young, both have very fast hands and love to come forward in an explosive manner…. We are thrilled that HBO believes in this match-up and is showing it.” It’s a big stage, a world-wide television audience, in an era when the heavyweight division is about to catch fire.
And finally, there’s the fight itself.
Andy Ruiz is a very good heavyweight. While Barry has played down the significance of the trainers, when pressed on the issue by the New Zealand media, boxing fans notice when a fighter heads to Big Bear, CA, and begins training under Abel Sanchez. Parker and his team know that they will be facing the best that Andy Ruiz has been in his career, and that he will come into the fight with a serious game plan.
Joseph Parker faces some significant pressures and distractions as he makes his final preparations for December 10th. But that’s what you want, and need, if you are going to become heavyweight champion of the world.