Newsroom combat sports analyst Mike Angove breaks down a pivotal contest in the careers of Joseph Parker and his British foe Dillian Whyte.

A loss for Joseph Parker in Sunday’s heavyweight crossroads fight against Dillian Whyte will do more damage to the former WBO champ than it will the outspoken Brit.

Whyte’s brand as a belligerent contender who brings the fight and a bucket load of controversy to the promotion is well established. His split decision win over Dereck Chisora in 2016 also claimed Chisora’s mantle as the volatile “‘ard man” of the division; the guy who gets bums on seats and eyes on screens despite being someone the very best should account for.

By contrast, if Parker, after several competent but uninspiring performances, can’t use his superior hand speed and boxing skill to handle the Brixton-based “Body Snatcher”, he’s at risk of going down the same path as Charles Martin or Bermane Stiverne – being regarded as a caretaker of share of the title but someone who couldn’t cut it at the leading edge.

Though Whyte looked superb against former WBA Champion Lucas Browne recently, and has clearly showed improvement under trainer Mark Tibbs, the underdone Aussie probably made Whyte look better than he is. His wins over Helenius and Chisora are better benchmarks. Both are solid fighters but couldn’t cut it at the elite level. Helenius was KO’d by Johann Dunhaupas while Chisora famously lost to Vitally Klitscho, Tyson Fury twice, David Haye and Kubret Pulev.

Most analysts view this as an even fight with an edge to Whyte, including Browne himself.

“I think it’s a great fight. Two styles that will make a good fight and hopefully the ref lets them trade, not like Parker vs Joshua – it’s 50 / 50 for me.”

But there is some dissention in the ranks from some pretty esteemed company. Peter Fury, trainer of Tyson Fury and previous Parker opponent, Hughie Fury, gives Parker the edge.

“I think Dillian needs a KO to win. Parker is a talented boxer with more fluent footwork and speed. If it goes the distance I think Parker wins. I also think Parker’s power is under estimated. Dillian really needs to lay it on the line and get him out of there. He’s rugged, he comes for battle every time, and with his power Parker can’t afford to make a mistake.”

British boxing commentator and former World IBF cruiserweight champion Glenn McCrory also sees a slight advantage for the kiwi fighter.

“For me it’s not a 50 – 50 fight more 60 – 40 in Parker’s favour with his speed and movement,” McCrory says. “But Dillian will bring it and has absolute belief he can win. Parker must be able to respond to the pressure.”

What is clear is that Parker cannot make the mistake of underestimating Whyte. He is no stepping stone. He’s a torrid test who will ask the Kiwi many tough questions. It’s a test Parker must pass to prove he belongs in the top echelon. Failure means the 26-year-old will have to spend at least two years rebuilding, most likely underpaid against high risk opponents.

Stylistically, the Jamaican-born 30-year-old Whyte brings an offense that has proven difficult for Parker to counter (think Carlos Takam and Andy Ruiz). He’s relentlessly aggressive, and genuinely dangerous with his left hook to the body and head. He’s doesn’t mind taking two to give three and is dangerous when hurt. He also possesses an inherent self-belief that he can find a way to win. In a long fight, this kind of pressure can drain an opponent’s resolve.

Whyte also brings a five centimetre reach advantage, which Parker will need to be aware of, particularly the way he throws the long left hook (both Takam and Anthony Joshua caught Parker with long left hooks at times as they looked to steady him up for the right hand).

Andy Ruiz also appeared to catch Parker to the body early in their fight, which saw JP circle away and rely on the jab as the fight wore on. Ruiz’s punch output dropped, which allowed the kiwi to win, but I don’t expect Whyte to fade down the stretch unless Parker rattles him consistently with hard combinations.

Parker, by contrast, is clearly the faster fighter and far better defensively. He generates his power through speed rather than brute force. Brian Minto, the veteran American who has fought both men, found that out to his detriment.

“Parker’s the fastest heavyweight I’ve been in with,” Minto said. “He’s faster than many cruiserweights. Speed kills. It’s the shot you don’t see coming. When we fought he hit me with a couple of shots I didn’t see and it was like KAPOW.”

Though he prefers to be an aggressive front runner, ripping out a myriad of multi-punch combinations, Parker can also fight off the back foot when the situation demands it, something they’ve worked more on in this camp.

“We’ve made a few adjustments, we know Dillian is an aggressive fighter, but that also brings opportunities to bring him on to a shot,” Parker told Newsroom.

Much has been made of the fact Parker has never really been hurt in any of his fights and appears to have plenty of granite in his chin. By contrast, Whyte has been stopped by Joshua and was definitely hurt several times by Chisora. But Whyte’s powers of recovery are proven. He is a man who can fight through adversity. So even if Parker catches him clean, he can expect the Brit to come firing back.

Parker can make this fight a lot easier on himself if he controls centre ring and utilises his speed to get off first before Whyte can bully him to the ropes. Because Whyte takes risks and tends to over throw in the mid-range, Parker must capitalise and draw him on to shots to double the impact when the Brit over reaches. While it’s a great idea to take half a pace, or a pace backwards to counter shot, the Kiwi can’t move consistently backwards in a straight line or he will fall into Whyte’s brawling web. Rather he needs to fire shots, angle off and find his way back to centre ring and ideally catch Whyte as he turns.

Parker himself acknowledges that he must turn his defensive capability into an offensive weapon. In the past he’s been guilty of not making opponents pay when they miss.

“In the fight against Joshua I felt my movement was good and I made him miss, it’s just a small refinement to not just make him miss but to catch him when he’s exposed.”

The critical aspect of this bout is a battle ground that isn’t stressed enough: mental warfare and emotional control. Whyte is an emotional fighter who uses his anger to fuel him. He’s at his best when he can bait his opponents into an emotionally-charged brawl. Parker has shown susceptibility to becoming frustrated in the past and also likes to brawl. In this bout, his intensity must be cold fury rather than frustrated fire. So far, he’s shown good resilience to Whyte constantly baiting him about a lack of courage in the pre-fight banter.

“He can say what he wants, to try and rattle me and get under my skin. The fight is not won by being the best talker, we don’t fight with our mouths. I’m not playing games, I’m going to let my fists do the talking and put my fists in his mouth, that’s the best way to shut him up.”

If he can stay true to his word and fight on his terms he can turn Whyte’s emotions against him and create more openings. If he reverts to instinct, it opens the door for Whyte to come into his own.

Parker needs a dominant performance. It would be a mistake to let a close fight go to the cards in the UK. Whyte is an Eddie Hearn fighter and there’s plenty of money in a Joshua rematch.

Commentator McCrory has his suspicions, too.

“I see British officials often give the decision to the foreign fighter in a close fight and I feel like they are very fair. But there’s the cynic in me, that thinks maybe Eddie already has Dillian signed up for April 2019. Look, Parker needs an impressive performance, if he can’t get him out of there he doesn’t want it close.”

Parker must leave no room for doubt and deliver a compelling performance. If he can do this against such dangerous opponent, he’ll reignite his brand and lay the ground work for a lucrative rematch with Joshua. If he can’t, it’s a long road to hoe for the former WBO champ. Everything is on the line at the O2 Arena this Sunday.

Mike Angove is a former kickboxing world champion. He coaches professional kickboxers, MMA fighters and boxers, and is a combat sports television analyst.

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