WHAT: Parker vs Takam
WHERE: Manukau Events Centre
WATCH: TV3 starting at 7pm
Samoan heavyweight Lupesoliai La'auli Joseph Parker has skipped a year in his boxing education in an attempt at graduating from prospect to genuine contender tonight at the Manukau Events Centre.
Lupesoliai’s last two opponents Jason Bergman in Apia and Daniel Martz were not even been close to top 50 status, and the step up to Takam – a battle proven top 10 contender – is a genuine risk for the Duco-managed phenom.
In an ideal world, a couple more fights against top 20 guys would have rounded out the Samoan-Kiwi’s apprenticeship nicely.
But making fights at the highest level is a hard road to hoe, and matchmaker Stuart Duncan has had tremendous difficulty in finding fighters willing to face Parker.
Factor in British superstar Anthony Joshua’s recent acquisition of the IBF crown, and the prospect of a lucrative mandatory title challenge in the UK should Parker win, and the risk versus reward equation has changed significantly.
However, trainer Kevin Barry’s assessment of Takam as two or three notches above the level of competition Parker has faced so far is spot on. The France-based fighter is better than anyone WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder or IBF heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua fought before their first title fight.
Takam is an avoided guy in the division, a banana-skin fighter in the loss-averse boxing world.
At 35, he’s still in his physical prime, made more dangerous with a lucrative title shot just a win away. Add in the desperation of being on the verge of the twilight of his career, and Takam becomes a formidable opponent.
Takam’s professional tally of 36 fights, with just two losses, is double that of Parker. The former Cameroon Olympian has boxed 166 rounds to Parker’s 68, 40 of those in the past two years against the likes of Alexander Povetkin, Mike Perez, Tony Thompson and Michael Grant. That’s a lot of recent rounds against guys who can genuinely hurt you.
Against the former Olympic gold medalist Povetkin, who’s only loss came against Wladimir Klitscho, and is clearly one of the elite fighters in the division, Takam was up on points early and even on the cards after eight rounds. Although he ran out of steam in round 9, and was stopped in 10, the bout was regarded as one of the best of 2014, and a loss against a proven KO artist like Povetkin is hardly an indictment on his durability.
I expect the known qualities of Carlos Takam will ask a number questions about Parker’s unknown capabilities.
The 24-year-old’s raw athletic prowess and speed, his ability to throw combinations, and the power of his right hand are well established, but he needs more than that to have a genuine shot at the top of the heavyweight heap.
Chin – can Parker take a shot?
There’s no real data on this, he’s never really been hit, but at some point(s) in this fight he will get whacked. How a human being takes a shot is genetically determined, but how he reacts and the speed of his recovery is determined by mental strength and physical conditioning.
If Parker can’t gobble up bombs like Ray Mercer, it isn’t the end of the world.
Both Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitscho had questionable whiskers, but their ability to fight to their strengths and stick to a game plan saw them elevate to hall of fame status.
But if Parker shows some genuine granite content in his jaw, it’s a huge asset as he moves into the elite level of punchers.
This comes in three areas:
First, fighting at range. When boxing long, Parker needs to be acutely aware of the kill zone. This is an area, which has seen huge improvement over the three years under the tutelage of Kevin Barry. Parker’s uses his lead hand well to enter and doesn’t fall off balance as he did in his early bouts.
Then, fighting in close. Parker has been guilty of standing too tall on attack and “shot watching” on occasion, which has left him vulnerable to counter shots over the top. Additionally, he can be too upright when exiting a clinch at times. At the level he is at now defensive lapses like the ones he made against Sherman Williams will be punished. However, it’s important to remember that bout was just Parker’s 11th fight, two years ago, against a wily 52-fight veteran.
Fighting in the Clinch will also be crucial against the 250-pound Takam. Parker must use his physical strength to tie Takam up and lean over him, nullifying the shorter man’s most potent offense. Mike Tyson made an art form of not only slipping punches and punishing his opponents for missing, but also freeing his arms on the inside. Carlos is no Tyson, but Parker must show savvy in the dark arts of infighting to avoid Takam bullying him to the ropes and working his body to create an opening upstairs.
Finally, over the course of a 12 round fight, adaptability is key. We may or may not see this on Saturday, but a defining X factor of greatness in a boxer is the ability to change direction mid-fight to exploit a weakness or move on from a plan which isn’t working.
At some point Takam could very well force Parker outside of his comfort zone, and how he adapts is crucial. One facet that characterises Parker’s time under Kevin Barry is that he is a very good listener in the corner and responds to what he is being told. If plan A – speed on the outside, a cracking right hand, nullifying Takam’s inside game – doesn’t pay off, Barry’s acute strategic boxing nouse and Parker’s trust and ability to execute under pressure may very well come into play.
With all that said, here’s my head to head breakdown.
• Speed to burn, both in his jab and combination punching
• One punch KO power – if it lands, it’s good night Irene
• Punch variety – Kevin Barry has continued to add to Parker’s arsenal including a better-leveraged left hook to the body and head, and a variety of set ups for the punch you don’t see
• Man strength: Parker is a different fighter from two years ago and has grown into his body. He has strength to go with his speed and athleticism
• Kevin Barry – The Olympic silver medalist is an astute strategist who would not have taken this fight if he didn’t think his charge was ready, he’ll have a well thought out plan A, B and probably C.
• Parker’s ability to listen, he trusts Barry’s judgment and has shown an ability to execute what he has been asked to do
• Inexperienced at this level
• Impatience: there have been times when Parker has tried too hard to get his man out of there – he’s still learning how to construct the KO when raw power and speed don’t do the job immediately
• Defensive responsibility, not uncommon in fighters who rip through their early opposition, but inside the top 10 there’s no room for error
• Upright stance when punching and after a combination can expose the chin to counter shots.
• Never been to dark places as a professional. It’s an unknown intangible which will only be answered if forced to go there
Keys to victory
• Establish the jab with speed– whether Takam can adjust to Parker’s renown jab speed will dictate how this fight will play out
• Crack Takam early and get some respect for his power, discouraging the veteran from walking up
• Variation/fakes and counters – make Takam react to the jab, then change up the leads, including fakes to open up defensive holes
• Same advice as for Takam, tight defense early, be patient, it’s a marathon not a sprint. Create openings and opportunities, don’t force them
• Tie up and lean on the shorter fight in the clinch – this will be a battle of two rutting bulls looking for physical dominance, use that man strength and leverage
• Frustrate Takam into overthrowing punches and looking to double the impact with counters as he falls forward
• Battle tested experience
• Skilled boxer who can use his skills to take a breather and test an opponents versatility from the inside or outside
• High boxing IQ, tactically versatile and able to change his game plan under pressure
• Defensively well drilled with a solid chin
• Inside game well developed
• Left hook and body attack on the inside
• Conditioning – has been into the later rounds with quality opponents on a number of occasions
• Vulnerable to speed, can get caught on the outside and pause, reacting to fakes and false leads – creating punching openings
• Falls off balance when he pushes forward, particularly in the mid to late rounds making him vulnerable to counter uppercuts in particular
• Solid, but not one punch KO artist. Most of his KO’s have been in the later rounds and come from accumulation
• Often fails to punish fighters when he makes them miss – needs to have his feet set to punch
• Natural inclination to push forward at the similar pace meaning his rhythm can be read and countered
Keys to Victory
• Nullify the jab and get inside keeping Parker off balance while delivering two-fisted volleys to the body and eventually the head
• Punish the younger fighter when he misses, take advantage of that moment of vulnerability.
• Tight defense early. Be patient, the young bull may look for the early KO impatiently and expend unnecessary energy chasing it
• Rough him up in the clinch, get under his skin, and impose his 250 pound frame physically on the 24 year old.
• Punch off the break and out of clinches to check Parkers composure and defensive responsibility
• On the outside, know his range and look to make Parker reach and counter
It’s a fight that I expect Parker to win, but it’s a tough exam with real risk and a lot at stake for both men. From the ringside commentary box, I’ll be in the edge of my set throughout – and that is what top tier heavyweight boxing should be about.