A change of opponents on two week’s notice has not rattled heavyweight world titleholder Joseph Parker.
New Zealand’s Parker was supposed to make the first defense of his belt at home against England’s Hughie Fury, his mandatory challenger and the first cousin of former heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, on Saturday at the Vodafone Events Centre in Manukau, New Zealand.
However, Fury pulled out two weeks ago claiming he was having lower back problems that prevented him from training and Duco Events, Parker’s promoter, quickly signed Razvan Cojanu as a replacement.
Parker is enormously familiar with Cojanu, having sparred many rounds with him in Las Vegas, where Parker trains under Kevin Barry.
“All I’m worried about is getting in the ring and getting the job done,” Parker said at Wednesday’s final prefight news conference. “Razvan is here ready to fight and take away the title but I’m going to keep it here. That’s my plan. I’ve been training so hard for this fight, and even though he knows my style, I will change it a bit for him. I am going to keep this title here in New Zealand and Samoa. That’s how focused I am.”
Barry added, “This is a guy who knows Joseph Parker very well. He knows me very well. He knows the style of my coaching. He knows the style of Joseph Parker, he knows Joe’s strengths and he knows Joe’s weaknesses. In two training camps we’ve probably had 100 rounds (of sparring) with Razvan. We know each other.”
The 25-year-old Parker (22-0, 18 KOs), who is 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, won a majority decision against Andy Ruiz Jr. on Dec. 10 in Auckland, New Zealand, to claim one of the belts Tyson Fury vacated because a slew of personal problems left him unable to defend.
Parker was ready to face Hughie Fury (20-0, 10 KOs) and when he pulled out Parker and his team were determined to find a replacement so as not to waste a long training camp.
“I don’t know one other heavyweight champion who would have one fight cancelled, then within the space of two weeks, would reschedule another opponent,” Barry said. “A lot of people are looking at us right now saying, ‘I hope you guys know what you’re doing.’ We’ve trained for 12 weeks for one particular style. Now we’re fighting a guy with a different style. We’re fighting a guy with absolutely nothing to lose. We’ve got a lot to lose.”
Cojanu (16-2, 9 KOs), 30, of Romania, who is based in Los Angeles, is best known for advancing to the semifinals of the ESPN eight-man Boxcino heavyweight tournament in 2015. He was knocked out in the second round by Donovan Dennis. Since participating in the Boxcino tournament, the 6-foot-7 Cojanu, who weighed a career-heavy 282 pounds for his last fight, has won three bouts in a row against low-level opponents.
John Arthur, Cojanu’s manager, believes Parker’s team made a mistake picking his guy.
“They’re looking past him, the media are looking past him,” Arthur said. “(Duco Events) want a rematch (clause in the contract). Is that telling me they’re scared? Is Razvan that dangerous?”
Parker has a lot on the line besides just his belt. A win would put him in the picture for possible big-money unification fights with either England’s Anthony Joshua (19-0, 19 KOs) or American Deontay Wilder (38-0, 37 KOs), both of whom have interest in facing him and vice versa.
The Parker and Wilder teams have discussed a possible fight and Parker was ringside for Wilder’s fifth-round knockout of Gerald Washington on Feb. 25.
Joshua knocked out former longtime world champion Wladimir Klitschko in the 11th round of an epic fight Saturday night before 90,000 at Wembley Stadium in London to retain his belt and also win a vacant title. Klitschko has a rematch clause, but if he declines to exercise his option, then Joshua-Parker is possible. Duco Events and Joshua promoter Eddie Hearn have had conversations about the possibility of the bout.
“There are many offers in the U.S. and the UK, but those offers don’t mean nothing if I don’t win this next fight. Let’s get it on. It’s time to fight,” Parker said.
Parker said he rather enjoyed the Joshua-Klitschko fight.
“It was an exciting fight, I was excited to watch the fight and I was analyzing what I could’ve done against both fighters,” Parker said. “It was great to see Joshua went through a bit of a hard time in the fight but good to see him come back strong and maintain his title and get the other one.
“I guess Joshua is the man to beat and he got off the canvas and showed heart, but I think every fighter has things they have to work on, weaknesses and strengths, so I feel like I have to get past this next fight and I look forward at sitting down and planning a fight with him in the future.”