What, the commentary team kept wondering during Joseph Parker’s fight against Jack Massey in Manchester yesterday, has Parker got left after his beating at the hands of Joe Joyce at the same venue four months earlier?
It was a question that felt irrelevant during the first half of Parker’s disappointing points victory – a solid if unspectacular start - but increasingly relevant during the latter.
What has he got left? And, after insisting he needed a knockout victory against Massey, an English cruiserweight 14kg lighter than him, and failing to deliver that or indeed failing to hurt or trouble Massey over 10 rounds, how much improvement has the 31-year-old New Zealander got in him at this point of his career?
Ultimately history will be the judge, of course, but it doesn’t look promising, although in hindsight agreeing to fight Massey, a technically good and resilient 29-year-old, was a gamble that did not pay off for Parker and his team.
It was a lose-lose situation. As a former WBO world heavyweight champion, Parker was expected to win well against a man fighting in front of his home crowd – a local battler hoping for a near miracle.
Anything less than a dramatic stoppage for Parker would have been a disappointment and so it came to pass.
Not surprisingly, Massey was conservative before becoming more adventurous as Parker became frustrated and the Brit had his moments in the second half of the fight, although for the three judges to score it so closely: 96-93, 97-92, 97-93 was difficult to understand as Parker dominated virtually every round.
The comments of Parker’s trainer Andy Lee afterwards referring to Massey’s “negative” style afterwards was a sign of the frustration in the camp. Lee's criticism of referee Darren Sarginson also felt a little unnecessary.
Parker looked powerful when he loaded up on his right hand as Massey retreated to the ropes, and the Kiwi connected with two good uppercuts, but the hand speed and devastating combinations he became known for were absent and have been for a few years. Also, it’s not the first time that Parker has failed to capitalise on clean punches recently.
His last knockout win was three years ago against Shawndell Winters in Texas. Winters, incidentally, has lost all four of his fights since that defeat in Frisco.
Parker is now so closely tied to Tyson Fury and his camp that a change of trainer is unlikely – Lee is Fury’s cousin - but after a good and occasionally brutal performance against Derek Chisora in their rematch last year, and a battling effort against Joyce (Parker was stopped in the 11th), questions about his apparent lack of power for an elite heavyweight will start again.
Perhaps the biggest concern for Parker, a world champion at 24, is his inconsistency.
Since joining Lee after his disappointing points win over Junior Fa in 2020, Parker looked good at times against Chisora in their first fight but lacked a killer instinct (see above), was better in the second but still couldn’t stop an ageing journeyman, and failed to hurt Joe Joyce and now Massey.
Lee was right to suggest Parker’s less than impressive performance could serve to make him a more attractive proposition to other fighters but it won’t send him back to main event status.
Parker would have attracted many new fans, especially from the United Kingdom, through his brave performance during the Joyce loss and stoic reaction afterwards.
This latest effort won’t have. His intriguing but also occasionally puzzling career continues.