26 Mar 2018

Zero regrets: How to secure a superfight

5:29 pm on 26 March 2018

David Higgins has zero regrets about the way he secured Joseph Parker the fight he wanted against Anthony Joshua.

Joseph Parker.

Joseph Parker. Photo: Photosport

The promoter of the first New Zealand-born world heavyweight boxing champion was not always comfortable with his role, and he could have done without the hate mail and death threats on social media.

But it got WBO belt holder Parker what he asked for, a shot at unifying the titles in the sport's glamour division against the British superstar who holds the WBA and IBF crowns.

Where others see madness, Higgins simply sees logic.

WBO heavyweight champion Joseph Parker and Duco David Higgins

WBO heavyweight champion Joseph Parker and Duco David Higgins Photo: © Copyright Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz Photosport Ltd 2017

"Most of my friends and my girlfriend think I'm quite eccentric and out there," he told RNZ.

"When there is a universal view like that I suppose I have to agree, maybe I am.

"But to me it all seems logical what we did. It's thought about in advance, planned out and executed.

"And it worked," Higgins said.

Given that perception of Higgins, few on Kiwi shores were surprised when Team Parker launched their controversial campaign to flush Joshua out and get a deal done.

With Higgins at the forefront, the Parker camp repeatedly stated their belief the physically imposing Englishman had a glass jaw and also alleged he was mentally fragile.

The approach riled the usually calm and composed Joshua.

Perhaps even more importantly, it riled the 2012 Olympic champion's large and passionate fan base in the UK.

Very soon they were baying for the two undefeated young champions to meet, exactly what Joshua's promoter Eddie Hearn told Higgins they weren't doing when Higgins first put the feelers out about a possible clash in early October.

Boxing is counter intuitive, Higgins said about their tactics.

"If something feels uncomfortable in normal business you tend not to do it. In boxing it's the opposite.

"Most of Joshua's previous opponents, if not all, have been very polite to the champ. They've dared not disrespect him and they definitely haven't highlighted his weaknesses.

"We just went in gung ho. It felt uncomfortable, I don't want to be out there in the media accusing Joshua of potentially having a glass jaw, getting hate mail and death threats from fans on social media. I don't want to do it but it's my job.

"It had to be that provocative, if it was vanilla it wouldn't have worked."

Anthony Joshua (L) and Joseph Parker will go head-to-head in their heavyweight boxing world title showdown in Cardiff this weekend.

Anthony Joshua (L) and Joseph Parker will go head-to-head in their heavyweight boxing world title showdown in Cardiff this weekend. Photo: AFP

When Higgins claims they went in gung ho, he means that with respect to the intensity they used in their approach, not the way they went about it.

He reiterates every move was calculated, with Parker himself, his trainer Kevin Barry and Duco media director Craig Stanaway all on board.

On one occasion, Higgins said he even ran a tweet Parker was going to send to Joshua through Parker's father Dempsey, who got it straight away and encouraged his son it was the correct move.

Higgins knew it was, a confidence he garnered from his first foray into the often murky world of boxing more than eight years ago.

His idea for the 2009 bout between former world title challenger David Tua and then leading New Zealand heavyweight Shane Cameron came after, with Duco in danger of going under, he went to the movies.

The film he saw that night was called 'When We Were Kings'.

It tells the story of how, funnily enough, another eccentric promoter, the famously frizzy-haired American Don King, put together the iconic 'Rumble in the Jungle' between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in 1974.

In a nutshell, King got the two fighters to agree they would meet if he could promise them a US$5 million purse he didn't have, then got Zaire's dictatorial leader Mobutu to finance that promise.

Higgins eyes lit up as he recalled.

"It got me thinking about the Tua Cameron fight," Higgins said.

"I'd had David Tua appear at a business conference in Wellington on motivation. Cameron had been baiting him and calling him out I studied it and thought for one they had been a bit disrespectful to him, and I found out the most they'd offered him was around $150,000.

"I thought I could go to Tua with a clean record, no baggage in boxing and offer him way more. I did the numbers and had a hunch it would be massive. Tua backed us and ended up with a purse of half a million, Cameron demanded parity, so he got half a million too.

"We announced the fight and ended up getting backing from Hamilton. I wouldn't quite say they were our Congo or Zaire but they played that role nicely. We got written off by a lot of media who said we were stupid and would go bankrupt but it was record breaking and still is.

"Going through those trials and tribulations gives you the confidence to ignore the noise and go at the prize, which in this case was a massive unification bout with Joshua," Higgins said.

Three years later, Duco signed a promising young heavyweight from south Auckland to a six-year contract.

It was a moment, as Higgins puts it, of serendipity. They were lucky to meet Parker, as he was to meet them.

Fast-forward almost another six years, after a winding road of numerous ups and downs, and that promising young heavyweight has become the world champion they envisaged he would be.

He's preparing, yet again, for the biggest fight of his career.

It's an event Higgins said could turn over $50 million, enough to set his fighter up for life and provide Duco a return they'll be more than content with.

And despite how much will be at stake inside the cauldron of Cardiff's Principality Stadium, there is a quiet confidence among Team Parker that this Sunday will be special.

"There's a sense of destiny," Higgins said. It's been a long hard road to get here.

"Joseph started on the pads age three, Kevin has devoted his life to this sport and at Duco we've nearly gone bankrupt. We've all sweated blood to get here, risked it all."

"I for one believe Joseph Parker will bring those four belts back to New Zealand triumphantly," Higgins said.

"It'll be like Peter Blake bringing back the America's Cup, except it'll be watched by a billion people."