The president’s cousin that made Joshua-Parker happen

Millions of eyeballs will focus on a small rectangle in Cardiff tonight, with three of the four major world heavyweight titles on the line. Both fighters are undefeated, both are heroes in their own countries.

The president’s cousin that made Joshua-Parker happen

There will be a genuine sense of occasion at the Cardiff arena when Anthony Joshua faces Joseph Parker.

Parker’s promoter, the 38-year old Auckland-based David Higgins, is among those who have done most to make the fight happen. He spent some of his teenage years in Clare and his mother hails from Newmarket-on-Fergus.

Parker has been with Higgins’ company Duco Events since turning professional and one could almost say Higgins is the WBO champion’s creator, having sat down at a whiteboard some years ago and plotted how he might take a talented but raw fighter from obscurity to the world’s greatest stages.

In December 2016, his investment in Parker was vindicated when he took the WBO Heavyweight Championship but tonight has the look of career-defining fight, before a massive live and TV audience.

A self-made man, Higgins says much of the motivation for success in business comes from a relatively deprived youth, his father, a Dutchman, having left at an early stage.

His mother, Bridget Higgins, brought her young family back from New Zealand to Clare for a couple of years in the 1990s.

“My mother was born in Newmarket-on-Fergus and her brothers and sisters all grew up in Clare. In the early ’90s we moved back, so I lived in Ireland from 1993 to 1995. We went to St Caimin’s.”

Settling into life in rural Ireland wasn’t very easy for a youngster from the far side of the world, but he has a lot of affection for his mother’s home place.

“Yeah, it was a culture shock. You come from Auckland, New Zealand, a city of 1.5 million, you’re used to playing cricket and rugby and so on. Then to go to a small town and Ireland was in recession at the time. But I tell you what, Ireland and Clare are great; I love returning. It’s a great place to go on a road trip, I’d recommend anyone visit Ireland at least once in their lifetime.”

There wasn’t much to spare as Bridget raised her two sons, but he praises her for passing on values that have served him well.

Having studied commerce, Higgins founded Duco Events aged just 24. While this year has been spent promoting a multi-million dollar heavyweight clash with three world titles on the line, the early days were much more modest.

“No one ever loaned me money. We never had a bank loan. Thankfully, the first one did make a bit of money, then you try to do another one.

"We nearly went bankrupt a few times along the way, but sort of kept alive. You get a thicker skin, more confidence. Things now that are happening could have kept me awake at night in my early 20s but you just get used to it. You sleep like a baby, even when you are risking a lot.”

Duco took a leap forward in 2009, when it promoted David Tua against Shane Cameron, a big deal with Kiwis. The fight sold 88,000 pay-per-views, thought to be a per capita record. It was a bumpy ride, however.

“To put things in perspective, the majority of pay-per-view buyers buy on the day of the fight. The morning of that fight, I was losing a million dollars and going bankrupt. By 4pm I had broken even and by 8pm, it’s been a big success. Imagine that for a rollercoaster of a day,” he recalls.

Few roles require as much self-belief, chutzpah and sheer neck as being a boxing promoter and Higgins had to shoot his mouth off to make Joshua-Parker happen.

“They [Joshua’s camp] wanted to give us a smaller share, their view was that Parker didn’t have a big enough name in the UK. That’s why we went a bit feral, started talking about Joshua’s chin and criticising Joshua’s weaknesses.

“That sort of killed two birds with one stone. One, it put Parker on the map in the UK media and educated fans that there’s another world champion, not just Joshua. Secondly, a lot of fans were outraged by our approach, so they started demanding the fight. It worked well to build Joseph’s profile in the UK.”

Parker has told him he would likely be a builder nowadays if their paths hadn’t crossed and Higgins is full of praise for the big 6’4 Auckland fighter.

“The timing was good and he’s been wonderful to work with. We also invested heavily in him to build him up very quickly. I think he’s the fourth youngest heavyweight world champion in history. To get there that quickly, and then to try and unify against Joshua is a remarkable achievement in New Zealand and Samoan (Parker’s parents are both from Samoa) history.”

Even though he threw a few digs at Joshua before the fight was made, Parker comes across as gentlemanly and likeable, a world away from more natural trash-talkers like Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder.

“He’s got a good head on his shoulders, very mature and intelligent. He’s a nice guy. With Joseph, what you see is what you get. He treats everyone the same.”

Tonight he will face another nice guy but a nice guy with ferocious power, who has never had to go the distance in his 20 fights.

It will be a major upset if Parker can dethrone Joshua but Higgins insists it can be done.

“There has been a massive hype job, fuelled by the money and power of Sky Sports in the UK. A lot of English fans think Joshua is unbeatable.

"But what I said in the build-up (is true), he has genuinely been dropped half a dozen times, we’ve got video of it. It doesn’t mean he has a glass jaw but there is a question mark over his chin. We also said that Parker has never been dropped, ever in his life. That’s fact.

"So Parker definitely has a better chin, no one can deny that. Second, Parker has got quicker hands, definitely quicker, better footwork and also he’s mentally tougher.

“Joshua has never been criticised. He has had a soft ride from the British media and isn’t used to criticism. You can see that when Parker made those criticisms, Joshua got rattled.”

Inevitably, there has been a little bit of noise between Higgins and Eddie Hearn [Joshua’s promoter] but Higgins certainly doesn’t take it too seriously.

“He cops a lot of criticism but I’ve dealt with a lot of people in boxing now and he’s an honest guy. He’s not out to rip anyone off.

"He’s made a lot of money I’m sure but he probably deserves to have made a lot of money. In some ways, he’s cleaning up the sport, putting it on the map. I think he’s quite fair with the people he works with. His team and our team are working well together.”

Higgins isn’t that common a surname around Newmarket and David has been told he is a distant relative of President Michael D Higgins, who came out of Ballycar. He has never met the President but jokes that he could fit him in tonight.

“He’d be welcome to come to the fight though. He needs to get his people to contact my people!”

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