The latest iteration of the trans-Tasman rivalry takes place on neutral ground in Providence, Rhode Island, as former WBO heavyweight champion Joseph Parker faces former heavyweight title challenger Alex Leapei on the undercard of hometown favourite Demetrius Andrade’s middleweight title defence against Maciej Sulecki. 

Parker returned to winning ways with a routine stoppage over the unheralded Alexander Flores, following successive defeats inflicted by Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte respectively. Now, having inked a deal with broadcaster DAZN, the New Zealander is looking to enhance his Stateside profile in addition to working his way back into world title contention after suffering back-to-back losses; something which is typically damaging for any fighter’s career.

However, despite offering little resistance whatsoever in being unanimously outpointed by Anthony Joshua, there were several promising signs in his showdown with Dillian Whyte that Parker can certainly take encouragement from going forward. After a lively start, Parker was clearly unsettled by Whyte’s aggressive and perhaps overly physical approach throughout the early and middle rounds, but nonetheless rallied hard in the final round- nearly forcing a dramatic stoppage in the dying seconds of the fight as a staggered Whyte elected to take a knee.

However, at this point Parker’s late success was not sufficient to compensate for such a significant deficit on the scorecards as Whyte was able to survive and reap the benefits of the unassailable numerical lead he had built in the prior rounds. Parker, as well as his trainer Kevin Barry, understand the implications of such a setback – namely that he is now positioned below Dillian Whyte in the heavyweight hierarchy – and have fully committed themselves to re-climbing the rankings.

Although Parker has based himself in Las Vegas for many years and was previously aligned with Bob Arum’s Top-Rank, it is only now that he has expressed a desire to market himself to an increasingly relevant American audience as opposed to hosting fights in Auckland or Wellington – something made all the more important by Andy Ruiz’s stunning victory over Anthony Joshua. Ruiz, incidentally, is someone who Parker has previously beaten in December 2016 via majority-decision for the vacant WBO heavyweight title, and the newly-crowned unified champion has stressed his determination to avenge his sole career loss should he complete the double over Anthony Joshua; something which could provide Parker with the opportunity to make himself one of the heavyweight division’s most valuable players.

Before Parker can entertain such lofty aspirations, however, he must attend to immediate business. Although he was originally scheduled to face two-time world-title challenger Eric Molina – a figure more familiar to American audiences – ‘Drummer Boy’ was forced to withdraw while Alex Leapei stepped in on short-notice as a replacement.

Leapei, who like Parker is of Samoan extraction but proudly represents Australia, is a rugged operator who unsuccessfully challenged Wladimir Klitschko in 2014. Ultimately, expect Parker’s superior hand speed and quality to be evident from the outset, as Leapei is pummelled into submission somewhere around the middle rounds.

Article by: Navi Singh

Follow Navi on Twitter at: @DarkMan________