Down a long private driveway set among the rolling hills of semi-rural South Auckland I have come to catch up with Joseph Parker to discuss his upcoming December 11th bout against Junior Fa. It’s a clear cloudless afternoon and the house with its limitless views feels like a sanctuary, far away from all the global craziness that has defined 2020 as one of the strangest years on record. (photo by photosport)
Surrounded by family, his partner Laine and three daughters, Elizabeth, Shiloh, and Michaela, this is Joseph Parker in his element and it seems like he is finally found that perfect balance between professional athlete and family man. He wears it well. His daughters cluck around him and fatherhood, despite all the disruptions that fighting overseas the past few years has caused, is clearly something that Joseph relishes.
If one word were to sum up the mood at the Parker residence it would be ‘serenity’ with ‘balance’ being a close contender. In the past it would be fair to say Parker was living two lives, lives that were not always compatible. On one hand there was the fresh faced fighter moving up the rankings, operating under the strict regime that entails being a professional athlete, but equally there was also the young man wanting to live his life, experience the fun and freedom of socializing and partying with his friends. It’s something that Joseph acknowledges as part of the maturing process, ‘yeah I was trying to be an athlete but I was also a young guy out enjoying time with my friends’ he then laughs ruefully recounting a story about a fight early in his career where he indulged in a burger eating contest post weigh-in.
2020 along with many other changes in the world has also seen a transformation in the way Joseph conducts his preparation, not only for his upcoming fight but also the way he lives and trains all year round. Gone are the boom/bust times of being in camp and fight night only to be followed by periods of no gym work at all.
Despite not being in camp since February, Parker has maintained a rigorous training schedule full of strength and conditioning work interspersed with various built-in recovery sessions. Weight-wise he looks to almost be in fighting shape with over 7 weeks out from his fight with Fa, it’s something he says has helped both with managing injuries while maintaining a better mental focus.
‘The biggest difference for me nowadays is that I’m finding staying in shape all year round much more enjoyable. I’m not getting those ongoing injuries that I used to have with the stop-start nature of being in the gym and then being totally out of the gym. Mentally I’m feeling very sharp and that’s where everything comes from. I feel a lot more confident and as soon as we announced the fight, I felt like bring it on.’
I mention to him that this reminds me of the Mike Tyson quote that the most dangerous fighter is the fighter who is happy in his work. It’s something Joseph readily agrees with, ‘I think that’s absolutely true, I’m very happy and with that my goal for this fight, and for future fights to come, is to take more risks.’
Having said that I then ask him how frustrating it must have been to watch Andy Ruiz’s first fight with Anthony Joshua and see how well Ruiz did moving forward and engaging Joshua in a fire fight. ‘The answer is yes it was very frustrating; I was saying to myself I beat the guy who then beat the guy that beat me! I learned a lesson watching that fight and I know moving forward I need to take more chances and go for it more.’
It’s an interesting point he makes, and as we discuss his career in its entirety to this point I put it to him that in his early years he was a lot more instinctual with his output, it was very much a case of ‘see punch, throw punch’ and if there is a knock on his recent fights it’s been a lack of letting those super fast hands go more often. He nods in agreement, ‘I definitely became too picky with my punches. I was at times too cautious; the reward comes when you take the risk. In some of my more recent fights I would get into position to throw a certain punch and then wait, thinking I might get a better opportunity later in the fight and then that opportunity would never come.’ He tells me this is something he plans on remedying in his next outing against Fa.
Being that Covid has made for a tough year for New Zealanders, as it has for most people around the world, and with a lack of high quality sport having starved a sports mad nation, Parker is keenly aware as to what this fight will mean to many New Zealanders. Already there is a hype and anticipation, as well as some ongoing needle between the two camps, that echoes much of the build-up to New Zealand’s last domestic super-fight, the David Tua and Shane Cameron clash, a fight which is still one of the highest watched pay-per-views per head of population anywhere in the world.
I ask Joseph if he remembers much about that fight, ‘I was watching it at my parent’s house, 2009 but then I actually ran over to Laine’s place before it started, to watch it with her dad. The atmosphere was electric we were all screaming and going crazy. The whole country stopped at that moment to watch two New Zealand fighters go at it.’
His clash with Fa hasn’t materialized without its problems, negotiations seem to have taken an eternity and according to Parker that has mostly come from the Fa camp and resulted in a career high payday for Parker’s unbeaten domestic rival.
‘The Joshua and Dillian Whyte fights which of course were both way bigger fights were much easier to negotiate than this one. Maybe they (Fa’s camp) thought, because of the past if they drag it on longer, I’ll stop training and get out of shape, which isn’t happening.’
As the heavy favorite this fight does present significant risk to Parker, it is the kind of fight he is expected to win and win well. Being that he’s given up a lot at the negotiating table in order to bring Junior Fa to the dance, failure of any variety isn’t really an option for Parker. For Fa there only seems upsides, losing to a former world champion, one that has beaten Andy Ruiz and gone the full 12 rounds with Anthony Joshua carries no shame and is a loss he can easily enough rebuild from with the right matchmaking.
Without predicting which round it happens in, Parker makes it clear that this is a fight he intends to win via knockout. ‘People think I’m the favorite, which I am due to what I’ve achieved and I do feel like people expect a lot from me so to be honest there is no point winning a decision, that’s not exciting. With heavyweight fights it’s knockouts that fans want. Part of my plan will be to go in there and let my hands go early and see how he reacts. He has a corner who can help him improve but can they really change him? I don’t think so but that’s what we’ll all see.’
I ask him what he rates about Fa, ‘he does have a decent reach and seems to use it fairly well, but has he fought any opponents at my level? No and I think if it gets later into the fight he will revert to type.’
With a win over Fa and allowing himself a small peek into the future Parker seems comfortable with being in the Matchroom stable and trusts that Eddie Hearn will have a potential list of credible candidates ready to go once December is done and dusted. If there is one wrinkle in these plans it’s that Tyson Fury, the heavyweight we both agree currently sits at the top of the heap, has made it clear that he will never fight Joseph, claiming a kinship that he doesn’t want to broach by facing each other in the ring. Parker is sanguine about it, ‘well you never know, he says we’ll never fight but as you know, money talks……………..’
Outside of an obvious super-fight with Tyson Fury there is one opponent that Joseph Parker wants more than any other and that is a rematch with Dillian Whyte. ‘That was a fight which I felt I had had my best start in for the past few years and then the headbutt happened and everything changed. I’d love to have a redo of that fight, but other than that I’ll face anyone.’
As we wind down our chat, I touch on the fact that he once said he’d like to be out of boxing by age 30. I wonder if having had the freak spider bite in 2019 and now with a global pandemic in 2020 delaying potential big fights might this push his potential retirement out a little? ‘Not really, it still sits around the 30ish mark, early 30’s I’d say, I’ll be comfortable with that.’
Looking around his peaceful lifestyle block, full of child’s laughter and Joseph on daddy duties it’s easy to see why you’d prefer the quiet life rather than wanting to put yourself through too many more grueling training camps or walk-through-fire type fights. But equally, with the changes he has made in lifestyle, with the care and conditioning he now approaches his work with it is clear that the finish line remains a way off yet. Indeed, in the next few years we may see the best of Joseph Parker, as he relaunches post Covid, Joseph Parker 2.0, and it all starts with Junior Fa on December 11th.
I expect nothing short of a dominating and explosive performance, and so does Joseph, humming along with the quiet confidence of the happy fighter.