By Bryce Wilson
On October 1st, at Vodafone Events Centre, South Auckland world rated heavyweight and IBF mandatory challenger Joseph Parker (20-0, 17KOs) faces off against the towering colossus that is Russian Alexander Dimitrenko (38-2, 24KOs) in a fight that Parker’s team has taken in a bid to acclimatise their man for the size and bulk that is IBF champion Anthony Joshua.
Catching up with Parker via a phone call after a recent training session it’s clear the sands are changing swiftly around him as recent reports have him being lined up to first face another giant in the form of David Price, possibly fighting on the undercard to Joshua’s next defence.
Although there is definitely some risk associated with the strategy should Parker prevail against Dimitrenko and then go on to defeat Price it will have given the English audiences an excellent opportunity to acquaint themselves with the unbeaten Kiwi contender.
With a lot to get through, I start by asking him how his troublesome shoulders have held up over camp.
PARKER: They’ve been fine, maybe a little sore last week but I sparred 10 rounds just the other day and they didn’t give me any trouble which is encouraging. It’s just getting my body used to consistently punching upwards, jabbing upwards at much bigger opponents.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: On that note your next 3 potential opponents in Dimitrenko, David Price and Anthony Joshua are all much taller than you. To start preparing for these types of fighters I understand that in this training camp every one of your sparring partners have been taller than you?
PARKER: Yes, one’s 6,’6 one’s 6,7 and one’s 6,8 or even 6,9. These guys are giants.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: How different has that been for you, both physically and mentally?
PARKER: With these taller guys there’s definitely more thinking about strategy, there’s more that you have to do to get on the inside to try and catch them. This is where the jab is more important. You can’t just throw a single jab to get in, you have to be throwing doubles and triples.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: And also preparing to throw the jab up for a whole 10 rounds?
PARKER: Correct. Usually we’re jabbing downwards and it does take some adjustment, but sparring is coming along well, I’m using my angles a lot more and of course being the shorter guy going to the body becomes that more important.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: I wonder with such large opponents looming in your future if you’re looking to add to your inside game? As the smaller man these bigger guys are going to look to tie you up on the inside, lean on you and use their superior weight to drain your energy.
PARKER: We are working on our inside game but we’re also looking at ways to get out of clinches when they are looking to tie up. With my speed its more about being in and out, in and out and also moving with angles.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: And if everything goes to plan and you beat Dimitrenko then there is possibly Price after that and of course your title challenge against Joshua in London in the early part of 2017. All very big units.
PARKER: Yeah! Look at the champions as well as the other guys I’ll be potentially fighting, they are all very tall fighters. I’m pretty much the short guy now.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: With Dimitrenko you’ve had the chance to be face to face with him once already. How is that for you psychologically, to have to look up at a guy that is so massive?
PARKER: It’s definitely on another level to what I’ve seen before. I’m looking forward to this new type of challenge and I was sure to look him in the eye to let him know I’m not scared of him either.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: The heavyweight division is unique in that if you fight in any other weight you have to weigh within a maximum of a 7-pound range, but with heavyweights once you are past 200 pounds anything goes.
PARKER: You’re right it certainly makes it unique but sometimes if a guy is a little heavier he may be too slow which could hurt him against a guy who is lighter and quicker. There’s benefits on both sides and there’s negatives on both sides, I think.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: I know you hate to look past the guy you are fighting but I have to ask. Should you beat Dimitrenko does it excite you to possibly be facing David Price on Anthony Joshua’s undercard and fighting in his backyard. It basically serves as a dummy run for your fight with Joshua, the hotels you’ll be staying in, the training facilities, plus the atmosphere at one of his fights.
PARKER: All these little things matter which is something my trainer Kevin Barry is very adamant that we get right. Our focus is of course on Dimitrenko but there is definitely noise in the background of what is to come. It’s certainly a great opportunity to acclimatise ourselves to the surroundings before we face Joshua but it means nothing if we go over there and don’t beat Price first.
And here’s the thing, if we do get through these next two fights and to get to face Joshua, the question is relevant, has he been tested yet? At the end of the day I’ll fight anyone. Like every other fighter at an elite level I back myself one hundred percent.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: I guess there is a risk in taking these types of fights when you have your mandatory locked in but equally we’ve also seen guys like Charles Martin almost freeze when they get to their moment on the big stage. I assume the reward of potentially doing it this way is that you’ll be as well prepared as you can possibly be when you do fight Joshua?
PARKER: Exactly. It will be a great opportunity to experience the size and the scale of this type of event in Britain. This is a really exciting time, the most exciting of my career thus far.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: So you’re obviously comfortable with that plan?
PARKER: Definitely. Yes, it is a risk but if you don’t challenge yourself and just sit back what are you really going to learn? Listen, it comes down to this, say I get into a fight with the likes of Price and I lose, then that means I wasn’t ready anyway and I still have things to work on. Of course I always carry the mindset that we’re gonna win, I train too hard to not think any other way, but as I said, if you do lose you just go back to the gym, train harder and continue climbing to the top.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: Which leads me nicely into my question, defence, how’s it been coming along? It does seem to be a favourite topic amongst many fans that do watch you.
PARKER: It’s Aa lot better, thank you for asking! In sparring 10 rounds yesterday I didn’t get hit clean once. Kevin’s been drilling into me to keep using those angles, head movement and keeping my hands up. Not standing too tall as well. Ever since I was young I’ve always fought with my left down, it’s a bad habit I know and one we’re slowly starting to change.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: When do you get back to New Zealand?
PARKER: We arrive a couple of weeks out from the fight.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: And anything you’re changing in the lead-up to this fight?
PARKER: Actually this time we’re having to button down on the amount of time I spend with friends before the fight. We want to keep our focus as concentrated as we can. We are so close now, we can’t let anything get in the way. But the good thing is they understand that and we’ll have time after the fight to catch up. But for now brother, it’s all about the fight.
Which seems a fitting place to end our chat. The sands of change are moving swiftly around Joseph Parker right now and he stands two impressive performances away from the type of heavyweight clash with Anthony Joshua that could well ignite the division with a momentum that has stalled since Tyson Fury upset Wladimir Klitschko some 10 months ago. No wonder he sounds like he’s all business.