Having made history as the first New Zealand-born boxer to win one version of the multiple world heavyweight titles, Joseph Parker will need to sharpen his act if he is to become undisputed champion against the likes of Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder.
Having come from behind to win a disputed home decision against American based Mexican Andy Ruiz Jnr from three overseas judges at Auckland’s Vector Arena on Saturday night, 24-year-old Parker achieved his dream of winning the WBO crown.
But as in his fight against Carlos Takam, the personable local hero was not entirely convincing against a tough opponent who carried the fight to him by halving the ring and forcing him to counter punch.
In the end it was the snappy left jab and Ruiz’s battered face that gave Parker the crown, albeit by just two points on the cards of two judges and a draw on that of the third.
In winning, the Kiwi Samoan carried his unbeaten professional record to 22, 18 by knockout while the Ruiz suffered his first loss in 30, 19 by KO.
However against an opponent who displayed a strong defence, Parker was unable to land the fast, two-fisted combinations that had previously dispatched so many of his previous opponents.
The plan, according to trainer Kevin Barry, had been to follow up his double left jab with a right to the body and a left hook. That he didn’t execute it left Barry puzzled.
It is a good combination. But when boxers attempt right-handed body shots they can leave themselves exposed to a left hook.
More disturbing was the fact Parker carried both hands low for much of the fight instead of protecting his head by carrying them high in the manner of Ruiz.
Against fearsome punchers Joshua and Wilder, that could be fatal although Parker claims to have no fear of either.
Certainly he doesn’t lack confidence or courage, just as he doesn’t lack speed or power. But he will need to produce a better defence and more combinations if he is to succeed against those two.
Like Parker, both are unbeaten with IBF champ Joshua having won all 18 of his professional bouts by KO. WBC champ Wilder has won all 37 of his, an incredible 36 by KO.
Meanwhile, Joshua is scheduled to defend his IBF crown against former multiple champion Wladimir Klitshko, as well as contest the WBF and IBO titles left vacant by the troubled Tyson Fury.
Parker’s promoters Duco are leaning towards an April defence of his IBO crown in Dunedin against Fury’s 1.98m cousin, Hughie, who, at 22, is two years younger than the Kiwi star.
Certainly Fury should not pose the same menacing threat to Parker that Joshua and Wilder do. Making haste slowly would be the smart move until Parker fully develops the necessary skill set to combat the threat they pose.
Meanwhile he can make hay while the sun shines, picking up rich purses against lesser men until he’s ready to tackle the real monsters in a bid to unify the world heavyweight crown.
Having proved he can sting like a bee, our Joseph needs to hone his defence by showing he can, like the late Mohammad Ali, float like a butterfly.
Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author