After an unpredictable week of good humour and erratic behaviour, of eating breakfast together and then squabbling over who would walk first to the ring, Joseph Parker beat the old warhorse Derek Chisora on a split decision in a close and bruising fight at the Manchester Arena late on Saturday night. The decisive third scorecard, which was awarded to Parker by a margin of 115-113, was disputed by Chisora who complained it was “unbelievable”. Parker agreed that Chisora deserves a rematch – especially after the start he endured.
Seven seconds into the fight for the WBO’s intercontinental’s heavyweight title, Chisora floored Parker with an overhand right. It was a shock opening for the favoured fighter but he looked off balance as the blow to the back of his head landed with crude force. Chisora, seeking an early finish, poured forward but Parker was not badly hurt. The New Zealander managed to keep the marauding Chisora at bay to see out the rest of the round without further mishap.
But Chisora maintained his rough-house tempo. Whenever Parker tried to hold and smother him, Chisora punished him with rabbit punches and uppercuts. Parker, the more skilful fighter, had sporadic success but he struggled to stem the brawling style of Chisora. Clearly Parker hoped his 37-year-old opponent would begin to wither in the later rounds.
Parker looked more authoritative in round six as, trailing on the scorecards, he boxed effectively. He won the round and entered the second half of the bout with renewed hope. Parker hurt Chisora in the seventh and the older man looked tired as he returned to the corner. His breathing sounded ragged as momentum swung back towards Parker. But Chisora is a brave and determined old warrior and a see-sawing ninth round featured heavy punches from both men as the contest hung in the balance.
Parker shaded the 10th round to edge ahead but Chisora landed a right hand on the bell as a clubbing reminder that he was still in the fight. It was desperately tight but Parker won the decision to end a surreal week.
On Friday afternoon Chisora had threatened to walk away from the contest when it was decided, by the toss of a coin, that he would be required to climb through the ropes first. It was a ludicrous situation and presumably an attempt by Chisora to disrupt Parker’s preparations or to drum up interest in a contest that was struggling to generate many pay-per-view buys. In the end Chisora backed down on Saturday morning, apparently on the instruction of his mother, Viola, and he allowed Parker to follow him to the ring.
The fighters had appeared to be much more dignified when sharing a breakfast of poached eggs and avocado on toast on Thursday. But even then Chisora pulled a stunt as they were joined by an unknown figure dressed as Spider-man – in a crude dig at the fact Parker had pulled out of the bout 18 months ago after suffering a spider bite. Chisora insisted Parker was simply too scared to fight him.
Chisora had been told by Buddy McGirt, his American trainer, that his best hope of winning was “to make it a dog fight”. He succeeded in that aim but, crucially, only on the scorecard of Howard Foster, who had Chisora 115-113 ahead.
Parker, 29, is eight years younger and has only lost two of his 31 fights. Chisora, in contrast, suffered his 11th defeat in 43 bouts and this narrow loss was bitterly disappointing after he had worked so hard in the buildup. He had invested in a new trainer, the esteemed McGirt, in an attempt to roll back the years and find fresh impetus after a long career crammed with bruising and damaging battles against often superior opponents such as Vitali Klitschko, Tyson Fury, Dillian Whyte and Oleksandr Usyk. He insisted at the end that he would return to the ring – probably to face Parker again.
In the best fight of the night, Ireland’s Katie Taylor retained her undisputed world lightweight title after stemming the desire and resolve of her English rival Natasha Jonas. Taylor and Jonas had last fought each other in a memorable encounter in the quarter-finals of 2012 giochi Olimpici. Taylor prevailed then, and went on to win gold in London, and she has since established herself as the biggest name in women’s boxing.
Taylor’s unbeaten record as a pro stretches to 18-0 but she was tested by the admirable and resilient Jonas. The two women produced a thrilling fight which was even on the scorecards at the end of the eighth round. But Taylor shaded the last two rounds to win a compelling contest.