It was supposed to be a clash with Eric Molina, Joseph Parker getting into it on his first Matchroom Boxing card with a scrap against a fella who has fought (and lost) to both Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder. Not the toughest opponent of his career but a respectable one, a solid win for the resume as he looks to build himself back into contention under his new promoters. The first of the three fights he’s signed on for with Eddie Hearn.
But that isn’t what’s going to happen. When Joseph Parker steps into the ring in Providence, Rhode Island, on early Sunday afternoon NZT, he’ll be coming up against Alex Leapai instead. Molina had agreed to the fight but then pulled out after troubles in negotiations. Molina is represented by the (somewhat problematic) legend that is Don King and old mate – emphasis on the old – seems to have been a bit of a stickler for the dollar signs in these chats… which has led to some of Dangerous Dave Higgins’ best work, to be fair…
David Higgins: “Most of us thought Don King was dead but it turns out he's alive and well. He's nearly 100 years old, living in Florida somewhere, probably with a big Afro, causing trouble... Along the way Molina's on again then he's off again, then he's on again, then he's off again and my understanding is the terms he's been asking for are ridiculous.”
If you’re my age then you probably got to know who Don King was through Jason Fa’afoi on What Now? and also Lucius Sweet on The Simpsons. Then, obviously, from the various brilliant Muhammad Ali documentaries out there. The fella’s turning 88 years old in a couple months. Not quite a hundy like Dave suggested but close enough that he coulda long retired by now. Between him and Bob Arum there must be something in the promoter’s water. Get ready for Eddie Hearn to outlive us all, still organising fights eighty years from now between mutant life-forces in atmospheric domes after global warming’s destroyed the rest of the planet.
Eric Molina has only fought once since taking all of 2018 off. He’s 37 years old and with a 27-5 record he’s not likely to get back up to the very top again. He’s had his big pay days. All five of those defeats were knockouts as well and there’s only so many times you wanna be peeling yourself up off the floor and putting your brain in the line of fire. So I sorta understand why he’d drive a hard bargain here to get back in the ring against a top ten heavyweight. However this is an undercard fight to keep Joe busy. The crowd will be there to witness Demetrius Andrade defend his WBO world middleweight title against Maciej Sulecki. Parker vs Molina/Leapai is only the third fight on that card, with super flyweights Khalid Yafai and Norbelto Jiminez also scrapping it out for a WBO title. To expect any kind of monster payday from that is, as Higgins said: ridiculous.
The problem here is now that Alex Leapai is outrageously overmatched. The Aussie/Samoan makes for a nice little sentimental matchup against the Kiwi/Samoan but this dude is washed, mate. He’s best known for stepping into the ring against Wladimir Klitschko in 2014 and that one was as one-sided as it gets. Leapai was dropped three times and stopped in the fifth. He followed that up with defeats against Malik Scott and Manuel Charr and has had three low key fights in Oz since. He hasn’t had a relevant win to his name since he beat Denis Boytsov in November 2013… five and a half years ago. In fact the 39 year old actually retired for a while back in 2016 after being told that he could go blind if he keeps boxing. But he had another operation on the sightballs and all was sorted, apparently. For what it’s worth.
Which leads us into that original question and what’s on the line for the fella? Well, if he loses then his bloody career. But assuming he does what he’s expected to do… and he probably ought to knock the fella out inside eight rounds… then he doesn’t really gain anything at all other than staying busy. Maybe a cheeky highlight for the knockout reel. He could always use one or two more of those. But overall, big picture thinking, this is not a fight that will make any difference to his reputation. To keep it fully hundies here… this is a stupid fight which Parker will get very little from and I realise it was very short notice but surely they could have gotten somebody a little more relevant.
Instead the biggest thing for his career that could happen this week has already happened with Andy Ruiz Jr admitting that he wants revenge for the only loss of his pro career and would be open to a rematch with Parker after his rematch with Anthony Joshua is done. The thing about rematches though… those clauses exist for a reason and AJ will still be favourite to reclaim his belts especially with a fight back in the UK. Which might take the hot sauce off of that prospective matchup, to be fair. But make no mistake, Parker’s victory over Ruiz back in the day and now Ruiz’s sudden prominence does matter. It means that Joe’s got a win over a top ranked heavyweight, which demands he be taken seriously. It’s up to him to channel that into something beneficial now moving into this next phase of his career.
By the way, the best thing he could do would probably be to angle towards his Matchroom teammate Dillian Whyte for that rematch. Parker was so close to knocking that bugger out last time, twenty more seconds might have done it, which showed he and Kevin Barry really got the approach wrong to that one. Parker was dazed by an accidental knockdown too. Whyte is beatable and if Parker can get at him in one or two fights’ time and do exactly that then he delegitimises one of the two defeats on his record – leaving only the AJ defeat and lifting him back up amongst the top challenger class of heavyweights.
But Alex Leapai, honestly… if Parker does what’s expected of him then it’s a nice little moment and it keeps his name in the news cycle. But it doesn’t change anything. This is a low stakes fight for him under less than ideal circumstances and even before Eric Molina backed out of this thing he was still only gonna be third on the cards here – the fact is that this was a convenient window to get some action in, work through the new promotional processes with David Higgins and Eddie Hearn now best mates all of a sudden.
Whatever Matchroom have planned, whether it’s to position Parker as a gatekeeper for some of their other challengers, whether it’s to position him for a rematch with Dillian Whyte, whether it’s to keep him out of the way of Anthony Joshua in the meantime, whether it’s to build up his profile and cash in on some mean dollars… whatever the plans are we’ll begin to see them flowering from the next fight onwards. This one’s not really all that much to get excited about… but hopefully we see a fresh new Joe with a reinvigorated spirit. That’s about all we can get out of it, but at least it’s something to watch on a Sunday arvo.
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