Mark Reason: Joseph Parker's promoter David Higgins drags himself off the canvas

David Higgins has had a frenetic past six months and events such as the Brisbane 10s were not a commercial success.
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David Higgins has had a frenetic past six months and events such as the Brisbane 10s were not a commercial success.

OPINION: David Higgins has a dream. At the end of this year, the Patterman sees himself in the vortex of London's O2 Arena. A massive, supine British body is quivering under the television lights. Specks of sweat hang in the phosphorescent air. Higgins is standing next to Joseph Parker, "arms raised as Anthony Joshua lies on the canvas".

The "I have a dream" speech is  not quite up there with Martin Luther King, but when Higgins starts to rap, you ride the surf. The man who founded Duco has the spiel of a ring announcer, but unlike most boxing promoters, Higgins doesn't come across as an egomaniacal phoney.

Part of that dream is to climb what Higgins calls K2 as Parker tries to unify the boxing belts and become undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. Higgins says that Deontay Wilder, the highly ranked American, has a similar goal, as does Joshua. It is possible that some time in the next couple of years, boxing will become a credible sport rather than the Alphabet Soup rort of different titles that currently exists.

Razvan Cojanu and Joseph Parker face off during a press conference before their WBO title fight on May 6.
PHOTOSPORT

Razvan Cojanu and Joseph Parker face off during a press conference before their WBO title fight on May 6.

But before any of that can happen, Higgins has literally to negotiate the next few months. The Hughie Fury fiasco is far from over. It is likely to cost a great deal more money before this one is settled and right now you wonder just how much cash Duco can have to spare.

READ MORE:
Cojanu eyes big payday
Hype builds for Parker to take on Bellew
Injury forces Fury out of Parker fight
Fury camp hits back at Team Parker

When I put it to Higgins that they were struggling to even break even from the Fury fight and that it looked set to be a loss leader into the lucrative British market, he says, "No, no, we would have broken even. But you're largely on the right track".

Hughie Fury says a back injury prevented him from fighting Joseph Parker.
MARK ROBINSON PHOTOGRAPHY

Hughie Fury says a back injury prevented him from fighting Joseph Parker.

It had become a desperate track that had taken Higgins to England on several occasions. There was a long paper trail, as there so often is to men like Frank Warren, the unsavoury promoter of Fury. Warren has been gunned down in the street, disqualified as a company director, accused of art theft and sued by Don King. Actually that last one might be a badge of honour given that King once kicked a man to death.

When Higgins got to England, there was a lot of talk about the Fury/Parker fight being held in Manchester. And Higgins was happy to co-operate. He knows that Parker's future lies in Britain. Boxing's wealth is no longer in America. When Parker saw Wilder fight in Birmingham, Alabama, the arena was half full and there was little media presence.

Higgins recognises the heavyweight British market, but he also was not about to trust Warren. He wanted assurances. If Parker was to fight in Manchester, then Higgins required "neutral officials, a trust account and escrow to hold the funds. It had to be the main event on the card, held at prime time and with a satellite link back to New Zealand."

A fight against British heavyweight Anthony Joshua is the dream for Duco promoter David Higgins.
REUTERS

A fight against British heavyweight Anthony Joshua is the dream for Duco promoter David Higgins.

Fury's camp would not agree to terms. Higgins wrote to the WBO who ordered a purse bid. Duco won the bid, although they may have paid more than the New Zealand market could afford. Higgins acknowledges that two thirds of the 10,000 seat arena remained unsold when the fight was called off.

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When Fury's team would not sign the contract, Higgins again wrote to the WBO. The Fury camp was given 24 hours to sign or they would lose their mandatory challenger status. They signed. But they wouldn't come to New Zealand to help promote the fight. So Higgins flew to England again to try to drum up media.

He says, "We had a lot of money on the line. We were in a risk position."

The promotion of the fight was a struggle and then it collapsed entirely. Parker will now fight a no name Romanian. They have moved the Cojanu fight to a much smaller venue and the boxers have taken a big pay cut. Refunds are available. Parker's camp is probably right to claim it will be a more entertaining spectacle, but it will do nothing to advance Parker's career.

That is why Higgins flew to London a fortnight ago where he met promoter Eddie Hearns at the Arts Club in Mayfair. Hearns told him that they were keen to match Parker with Tony Bellew and or Joshua. Last month Bellew turned his back on Hearns when the promoter jumped into the ring to congratulate him after he stopped David Haye. Bellew is 34 and regards boxing as "a freak show". It's not much of a fight, but it gets Parker into Britain.

But first he has to get past Fury. Yep, and I do mean Fury and not the Romanian Cojanu. Higgins says that he predicted beforehand that Fury would pull a back injury because it is the hardest one to disprove.

Assuming Parker is good enough to knock Cojanu about, then Higgins expects, "Fury will try to force the mandatory. Then one or two things will happen. I say, 'these are the terms' and they accept or we get the lawyers involved. I'm not worrying about that."

That last bit is Higgins talking to himself. He is worrying about that. Duco's Auckland Nines tournament took a bath this year and the Brisbane Tens was not a commercial success. Higgins says this "latest week has been very, very stressful". Six months ago the world promised so much to Duco and now times are hard.

Higgins partner Dean Lonergan is over in Brisbane promoting the fight between Jeff Horn and Manny Pacquaio, a bout that is linked to state and government funding. Higgins says it will fill Suncorp. He says the broadcast will be spliced with tourist promotions and go out to "probably a billion people or more".

And that's where he gets hacked off. It irritates Higgins that John Key would waste taxpayer money on a golf tournament that has a tiny broadcast audience so he can hob nob with his mates. Higgins has another dream of Parker versus Joshua at Eden Park, bringing in the barmy army, bringing in the tourist dollar and being beamed to the world. He says there are rumours that Joshua is "a little chinny".

What an occasion that would be and it's not going to happen. Higgins says, "New Zealand is a bit behind the times. Boxing is a bit voodoo, a bit niche. It's a fallacy."

But it's a fallacy that is hard to sell to top promoters. Higgins sees top end watch brands like Hublot named in the ring and Hugo Boss and Mercedes supporting Vladimir Klitschko in Germany, but he can't even flog a burger any more. The vast financial corporation Blackstone owned the loss-making Burger King, but they no longer sponsor Parker.

Parker got more Google hits than any other New Zealander last year. His title fight, according to Higgins, was watched by a quarter of the population. But Parker does not pull in major sponsors in this country.

A couple of weeks ago I suspect Higgins was on the ropes. He had had enough. But now he is moving and jabbing again. It's hard not to find him endearing.. He says this will probably be Parker's last fight in New Zealand "for a very long time". His career is "at the tipping point".

Maybe Higgins' career was also at a tipping point. He found he was feeling sorry for himself. Then he pumped a bit of philosophy and decided that 20 years down the line he would be looking back on interesting times. The risk is the spice.

Phone call over. He's off to talk to someone else. If I were a donkey, I would be suffering a severe shortage of hind legs right now. But that's Higgins for you. The man's a verbal hurricane, a salesman who actually believes in the product. He even put the word ethical and boxing in the same sentence. It is hard not to be swept along.

 - Stuff

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