By Bryce Wilson, video by Ryan Burton
It’s been a strange year for Joseph Parker, involved in two of the biggest fights of his professional career, fighting in front of mammoth crowds along with career high paydays leaving him financially secure, but on the flipside incurring his first two losses as a professional fighter.
With every plus the year has bestowed upon him there have been negatives to contend with as well. His first loss to Anthony Joshua in a heavyweight unification fight meant having to relinquish his treasured WBO world title, while the loss to Dillian Whyte saw him taste the canvas for the first time in his career as a pugilist, whether it be in sparring, as an amateur or as a professional.
It’s meant that whilst not having to slide all the way back to Start, Joseph Parker finds himself in a distinct second phase of his career, rebuilding momentum and positioning himself for a second run at a title in what is fast becoming a congested division. While Fury, Joshua and Wilder stand apart at the top of the division, a triumvirate of undefeated champions, just below this level sits the likes of Ortiz, Whyte and Parker with a group of talented contenders such as Jarrell Miller, Daniel Dubois, Joe Joyce and even the Cruiserweight phenom Oleksandr Usyk making the move up to lucrative heavyweight ranks, coming into focus as well. Further big paydays and exciting fights await Parker and his team, but not just yet.
For Parker, after a grueling year and at the beginning of phase two, means fighting once again in his beloved New Zealand after spending 2018 taking his show on the road. It also means a smaller payday, a smaller crowd but without the pressure of expectation, in some ways he can start this new portion of his career flying under the radar. Positives and negatives.
However, it’s clear as I talk to Joseph that the fire still burns deeply. I wonder how it effects someone psychologically to now be referred to as ‘former WBO world champion’ after having spent the best part of two years being called ‘champion.’ He admits with a wry grin that it isn’t as nice as being known as champ, “it certainly provides a fire within me. I like to prove people wrong, and for me now it’s about wanting to be known as a two-time champion. It’s nice that these last two fights have set me and my family up for life and I’ve also proven I can win a world title but now it’s about getting back what I have lost.”
It would also be fair to say that the boxing world never really saw his best when he was champion something he agrees with, “yes I had some issues with my promoters splitting up, then some injuries and the Hughie Fury fight was off again and then on again. It means that I probably wasn’t able to show everyone my best work.”
Still if there can be an upside to back-to-back losses Joseph Parker has managed it. Both fights with Joshua and Whyte were very lucrative for everyone involved and he has established himself a growing fanbase in the UK, especially with his gutsy comeback against Whyte. Positives and negatives.
His trainer Kevin Barry very much sees Parker’s future as being most likely to include further fights in the UK.
“We pretty much see the UK as the place to be, it’s a booming market right now with Joshua, Whyte, Fury and then other guys like Chisora. Ideally we’d love a redo with either Joshua or Whyte but we’re also realistic and understand that we have to earn that opportunity.”
It’s an interesting question, Parker having suffered two very different types of losses, the first one to Joshua where neither man really fired a shot in anger and in the process, Parker achieved something that no-one else could and that was to go the distance with one of the divisions most dangerous punchers. The second loss against Whyte saw him dropped to the canvas twice, one from a headbutt and one from a legitimate monster left hook. This was a fight where Parker showed real grit and determination to come back and almost snare a last gasp victory when he flattened Whyte in the closing minutes of the 12th round.
So which fighter would he rather rematch?
“I’d prefer Joshua to be honest. With the Whyte fight it was kind of hard to tell how I did because of the headbutt in the second round, but with Joshua that is a fight that I know I could’ve thrown more punches in. It’s a fight where it ended with me knowing I should have done more. Hopefully one day in the future I’ll get the chance to face him again.”
Like anything though, future performances rely on current ones and the reality is that Parker needs to dispatch his upcoming opponent Alexander Flores in nothing less than spectacular style, a knockout and preferably a quick one. Going the distance would be almost as bad to the rebuild of the Parker brand as a loss. It’s something both trainer and fighter are keenly aware of and has resulted in their training accordingly, the emphasis being on power with that hint of mongrel that they have identified as lacking in the Parker game.
I ask Kevin Barry as we sit in the quiet confines of the hotel brassiere where the team is staying whether the rumors coming out of camp of a ‘nastier’ Joseph Parker are really true or a bit of PR spin.
“Yes, they are certainly true, in this camp I’ve seen Joseph wrestle guys to ground, hit them low, hit them on the hip. Obviously, you can’t overdo it because the sparring partners haven’t been paid to be treated that way, but Joseph understands now that if he is to continue competing at the elite level it’s a part of his game he can’t neglect.’
Looking at Barry and Parker work out it’s clear to see that they have changed up routines to focus more on punching harder, Parker repeatedly moving through a series of drills based on power shots during the gym session later that afternoon. It is also something that Barry has specifically asked for from his Strength and Conditioning team in the leadup to this fight. They have spent time working on developing Parkers shoulders and back while asking Parker to slow down his punches a little, sitting down on them more, sacrificing a little bit of speed for a lot more ‘thud.’
“Normally with fighters I’ve had in the past I’m trying to find ways to improve their hand speed. With Joe I have no such worries, in fact I’m asking him to slow down his hands a touch, so we can generate more heat on his punches.”
Added to this, specific footwork drills look to have Parker’s feet moving a lot quicker as well. It suggests that while they have the fundamentals in place, Parker being durable, a good mover with fast hands, Parker and Barry want to add some bulk and intensity to the package plus that little bit more ‘mongrel’ that has been so openly discussed since the Whyte fight.
All of which brings us to Alexander Flores, a name that is not exactly familiar to boxing fans. Flores possesses a record that on paper looks respectable enough, with 17 wins and only one loss, the problem being that aside from a knockout loss to former world champion Charles Martin, none of the other names on Flores’ resume jump out at you. Barry as it turns out has seen a little bit of him before, “He has a decent left hook to the body, that seems to be one of his favored shots.”
And Parker too is making the right noises, “unless I can get past Flores all of the other plans we are making will be useless. He seems confident which is great, I respect that.”
This is a fight where the reset button is clearly being pushed, Joseph Parker 2.0 if you like. A Joseph Parker who will sit down on his punches more, a Joseph Parker who will thrive in the trenches, a nastier more vicious Joseph Parker, goodbye ‘Gentlemen Joe’ and hello ‘Nasty Parker.’ But is it within him? His fans will say yes, while his critics will remain doubtful until they see the evidence.
So, what can we expect to see from Parker in this fight? Hopefully a fighter moving forward, whenever Parker boxes off the front foot he looks world class. We can expect to see a fighter sitting down on his punches more than we have in the past, throwing power punches and we can expect to see a fighter working his way into the kill zone early, looking for a definitive end to the contest. In many ways Parker’s immediate fighting future depends upon it.