It took all of about fifteen seconds for Joseph Parker to take control of his scrap with Alex Leapai. He came out looking sharp, throwing those quick hands around and looking to hit in combinations. Parker trapped Leapai on the ropes later in that first round and copped him with a few mean hooks while his jab was a constant force from the opening bell. But Leapai didn’t go down, he didn’t even wobble. This dude may be 39 years old and he may not exactly be in his best shape… but the bloke can take a hit. And that, unfortunately, proved to be the defining factor of this fight.
Because for the first few rounds it was beautiful stuff from Ol’ Joe. But then as he realised that this dude wasn’t going to get dropped no matter how clean a hit he could land on him, the tactics shifted. Parker settled into a slower more methodical pace where he outboxed Leapai from in the middle of the ring but with absolutely nothing coming back in the other direction there was only so long he could do that without it getting stale. Like, Leapai had nothing to offer this fight other than his ability to withstand damage. He threw a few haymakers in there but it took his entire body to launch them and Joe pretty easily ducked out of the way. According to CompuBox, Parker landed 198 total punches in the fight while Leapai landed a mere 42.
So that’s what we had here. For two rounds it was really scintillating and it felt the fight could end at any moment. Then we had three or four more where we realised that Leapai was going to take some stopping but the feeling was that he’d lose his lungs with all the damage he was absorbing and as he got tired he’d become more vulnerable. Not quite how it happened, to be fair. Leapai definitely wore himself out but in response to that he then pretty much spoiled the fight by going into survival mode. That dude is tough. That dude is a warrior. But he might as well have nested into the foetal position on the canvas and it would have been just as entertaining.
From about the eighth round onwards it was too much. Parker was in cruise control with nothing left to gain. Clearly there was no thought of chucking in the towel from Leapai’s crew even as Parker won every round comfortably while absorbing zero damage so the impetus was on Parker to up the tempo again and back his own superior fitness. He weighed in at a cheeky 109.5kgs which is consistent with his last couple fights (and the fifth heaviest he’s been in 28 pro bouts – a pretty good weight for him tbf) but still it was enough for his team to talk up what amazing shape he was in. Well, we didn’t really see that here. Maybe he punched himself out a little, it did look like that might have been the case, but mostly he just wasn’t challenged and he didn’t really extend himself and most frustrating of all was that Kevin Barry seemed happy to pat him on the back and tell him how good he was going at the end of every round even as the crowd got bored and opportunity for a headline grabbing stoppage surpassed him.
Eventually, in the tenth round, Parker did get a few combos to land and the ref stepped in suddenly and ended it. Which he had every right to do with the result a foregone conclusion and Leapai only really staying in there to absorb more damage. And it showed that if Parker had only ramped it up earlier then the ref was pretty much just looking for an opportunity by that point. But Leapai deserves credit for his tankness and Parker ultimately did get a routine win out of it ahead of what should be a busy rest of the year. The plan is to fight at least once, potentially even twice more in 2019 – best case scenario being Derek Chisora on the Joshua vs Ruiz 2 undercard. This was his first bout since December and that Alexander Flores fight was a nothing contest which ended in the third and the Dillian Whyte loss before that came in late July 2018. He’d only had one half-arse fight in eleven months and there was a little rustiness there in the old ring mentality. Plus this was a late replacement fight and a pretty poorly chosen one as well. His first scrap in the USA since 2014 as well.
So no dramas. But nothing really gained either other than the benefits of staying busy. If he was trying to impress the new promoters and get himself some momentum in the United States then that one whizzed right past his windscreen as he sped down the motorway. Then again, Anthony Joshua’s shock loss the other week might force Matchroom’s heavyweight contingent back to the UK anyway. That’s the thing with this fight, there were a few things Parker could have done better to improve his standing in the division but really all the things that matter are out of his control. We’ll find out a whole lot more about what Eddie Hearn’s plans for him are when the next fight is announced. He didn’t boost his stocks here but nobody really cares that he needed the tenth round to end this.
Which is why the best kiwi heavyweight victory this weekend was actually Junior Fa getting past the difficult prospect of Dominick Guinn. Guinn is now the top victim on Fa’s resume, the veteran having gone the distance with the likes of Kubrat Pulev, Hughie Fury, and Artur Spilka… granted he lost all three of those. In fact after losing to Junior Fa he’s now got 13 losses on his record (to go with 37 wins, 26 by KO, and 1 draw). Plus he’s now 44 years old so clearly a fair distance beyond his best. However he’s never been knocked out so that was something for Fa to have a crack at.
Just like with Parker that was not quite how it went, though. Instead Fa got rocked by a flying leftie in the fourth round and he hit the canvas for the first time in his pro career. The first three rounds had been very cautious with Fa the more aggressive of the two but mostly just looking to establish his distance with that left jab. Guinn was extremely patient in looking for his opportunities but almost immediately as the bell for the fourth began he was able to catch Fa with a rough one that saw him stumble to the floor. Fa was up before the count got to four but he looked rattled. He looked hurt. That shot opened the fight right up with Guinn going in for the kill and Fa being forced to counter or clinch his way out of trouble. Junior got whalloped with a couple more heavy ones as all this went on and to be honest he did well just to get out of the round.
This was the first time he’s really had to fight through pain like that. He’s had some close fights before but none where he’d had to peel himself off the canvas. Joseph Parker never experienced that until the Dillian Whyte fight either and that was too late, pretty much costing him the fight by taking as long as he did to recover his legs. This is a much lower standard of battle against a dude who debuted as a pro when Bill Clinton was president but Fa, having scrapped and scraped his way through that difficult fourth, came out throwing combos in the fifth and took control of the bout which he wouldn’t lose the rest of the way.
That’s where Dominick Guinn and Alex Leapai end up having quite a lot in common. Guinn took some heavy hits and rolled through them all, while offering bugger all in response. Fa went on to win basically every round after that and took the unanimous decision after ten rounds with the judges’ scorecards reading: 97-92, 98-91 & 98-91. In other words, two judges gave him nine out of ten rounds and the other eight out of ten. Even with the knockdown this ended up being a very comfortable win for the Papakura heavyweight who currently sits seventh in the WBO heavyweight rankings… although those ranks are a mess. Joseph Parker isn’t even on it despite having held the belt two years ago and some of those other names are tenuous at best.
There you go then. Joseph Parker and Junior Fa fighting on the same weekend on different cards and they both won. Both got caught up against defensive tanks and both had a few limitations of their own exposed in the process. But you learn from those things, it’s the only way. Ultimately they both won and they both edge slightly closer to contender status. For Parker it’s a matter of getting back to where he once was. For Fa we don’t yet know his ceiling and every subsequent test is a venture into uncharted territory. Safe to say it’ll be bloody curious to see what each of them are served up next by their respective promoters.
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