Joseph Parker: Comeback Fighter Of The Year

By James Slater - 12/26/2023 - Comments

Pretty soon, all the major boxing outlets will be announcing their awards for the year, from Fight of the Year, to Fighter of the Year, to Trainer of the Year, to Round of the Year. The trophies will be handed out soon, and as usual, the results will make for interesting reading. In terms of Comeback of the Year, one man seems a lock for the distinction, at least from this ringside seat.

Rewind to September of last year, and the career of former WBO heavyweight champion Joseph Parker seemed to be in tatters. Parker was stopped for the first time (and so far, the only time) in his career by Joe Joyce, and Parker was, as his trainer Andy Lee said recently, “in a really dark place” as a result. Parker had peaked, the know it alls declared, this back in 2016 to 2018, when he held the WBO belt.

Now, losses to Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte, both in 2018, and the crushing hammering he took as “The Juggernaut” rolled over him, had put Parker in his place – he would never be anything like an elite heavyweight again. But Parker had other ideas, and the New Zealander had far more ambition, far more inner toughness, way more desire, and more ability than any of us knew was the case.

Parker fought again just four months after the Joyce defeat and, with Lee fully believing in his charge, Parker set about putting together a nice string of activity. Still young at age 31, Parker registered three decent enough wins, these over Jack Massey, Faiga Opelu, and, on the Fury-Ngannou card in Riyadh, Simon Kean. This resharpening of his tools, and of his determination to achieve further big things in the sport, saw Parker get handed a fight with Deontay Wilder.

Nobody outside of his inner circle gave Parker a chance.

Wilder, 43-2-1(42) and the most destructive puncher in the sport, some said of all-time, would wipe Parker out in double-quick time, the experts insisted, most of them, anyway. Wilder, who would use the Parker fight as the springboard to a massive fight with Anthony Joshua, was listed as a hefty favorite to win in Riyadh, the fight to take place on the stacked “Day of Reckoning” card of December 23rd. Forgotten was Wilder’s serious case of inactivity, his possible if not probable ring-rust. And this, along with Parker’s sharpness and the game plan Lee formulated (with a little help chucked in by Wilder conqueror Tyson Fury), added up to see Parker pull off the nobody-saw-it-coming unanimous decision win.

Wilder’s expected lowering of the boom never came. Instead, it was Parker who looked like the man who might score the stoppage win, with Wilder shook and knocked backwards more than once during the fight that went all 12 rounds. Stunned, we fans were left shaking our heads. Parker was brilliant, to the extent that some, including Wilder himself, had to believe that something was wrong. There was something wrong for Wilder – Joe Parker was all wrong for him. Might rust have been a significant factor in the fight? Sure. But nothing can be taken away from Parker, who exited the ring at 34-3(23).

Parker shocked the world, and in doing so may even have ended the career of Wilder. Certainly, Parker ruined the planned Wilder-Joshua mega-fight.

Parker also earned himself the Comeback Fighter of the Year award for 2023. Now, what might 2024 have in store for this genuine nice guy of the sport?