Joseph Parker versus Junior Fa is the type of fight that has an ‘anything can happen’ type feel to it. With just over two weeks to go before the former WBO world champion and the undefeated, fast rising challenger finally face off in the ring, it is a promotion that has already gone through its fair share of twists and turns.
In reality this local derby still had a year or two in the marinating dish to go, but with the world suddenly shut down with Covid, a lack of viable opponents and money to be made the two camps sat down for what would turn out to be protracted negotiations with barbs being thrown on both sides. Accusations of bullying behavior came from Fa’s team especially aimed towards promotor David Higgins, while claims of greed and diva-like conduct came from Parker’s side.
However, once the ink on the contracts finally dried both sides got down to work in preparation for a December 11th date, in what would’ve been a great pre-Christmas gift for sports-mad New Zealanders with both athletes looking in superb shape ahead of their clash.
Just when it looked like the fight might finally materialize after a long buildup, a delay was announced as Fa’s team asked to move the date so Fa could undergo an unspecified surgical procedure. The postponement also prompted a bizarre outburst from one of Fa’s trainers, Eugene Bareman claiming that Parker had stolen a sparring partner from them and to kiss his ass. Strange times.
Now, as the new date of February 27th approaches Boxingscene catches up with Joseph Parker and veteran trainer Kevin Barry in a private East Auckland gym to get their take on the stop-start nature of the promotion, why they believe the reschedule actually helped them more than Fa and what sort of result they see happening on fight night.
Firstly, I ask Joseph what he makes of Eugene Bareman’s diatribe, especially telling Parker and his team that he ‘runs the streets of Auckland and knows everything that is going on,’ Joseph smiles but his answer is short and sweet, almost dismissive of it all, ‘I really don’t know to be honest. All we can really concentrate on is what we’re doing.’
It indicates a confidence within the Parker camp, the feeling that if both fighters come at their best, his experience and professional pedigree will win out.
Being that the fight has had real issues getting to the starting gate, so much down time could’ve been a disadvantage to Parker. In the past there has been a temptation to tail of from training, and Joseph has admitted his discipline in bygone times hasn’t always been as professional as it could’ve been. This time around though Parker is leaving nothing to chance, keeping the motor running over a number of months and is now seeing the results only a few weeks out from the fight.
"I’m actually now at my fighting weight. I watched what I ate over Christmas and made sure everything stayed on track."
Kevin Barry who has been in Parker’s corner for the majority of his career is even more impressed, offering a lengthy and detailed response as to why he is feeling so much confidence in his charge,
"The Joe of the past, when he wasn’t fighting, he liked to enjoy himself. There is a lot to like about the New Zealand summers and I’m sure Joe would’ve loved to have got this fight in before Christmas. Despite the downtown over this period he has really looked after himself and you can tell by the way he looks now, he’s right at fighting weight already and I can tell you in the entire time I’ve been training Joe that has never happened before.
"This comes with maturity, he’s a different fighter now from when he started eight years ago. He understands the importance of recovery and how that effects him long term.
"Joe now owns some things of the things in the past, for instance coming into camp for the Joshua fight he had to drop thirty pounds. And he’s been real and honest about the mistakes he’s made. I believe the next chapter in his career, you have to remember Joe is still only 29 years of age, now he is at his physical peak and these next 3 or 4 years are going to be his biggest and best years. I really believe that."
Despite the newfound professionalism in regard to maintaining good living habits, Parker hasn’t been without other issues. His troublesome elbows, a long-term injury that has required surgery previously, flared up again ahead of the initial date. As soon as the postponement was announced Parker booked in for immediate surgery to get the issue sorted,
"I was prepared to go into the fight knowing the elbows weren’t one hundred percent. After all the delays I wasn’t prepared to postpone it again but when he (Fa) pulled out we made the decision right away to have the surgery done. Otherwise, I would’ve had it done straight after this fight."
And how has it been since?
"Pretty good, it’s always a little sore once you first have it done but we are stretching it out now. I expect the power to be there come fight night."
I ask Kevin Barry if he has seen any improvement since surgery and how this might have derailed any plans, they had in regard to training.
"We don’t look at it as a challenge we look at it as a positive thing. When the fight was delayed it actually played into our hands a little bit as we were able to get the surgery done on both of Joe’s elbows which has enabled him to throw a lot more punches in training camp. In fact, the 5 weeks we did before Christmas were no comparison to the output we have seen from Joe since he has had the surgery."
Past history has shown neither Parker nor Barry are ones to make predictions before fights, preferring the more time-honored tradition of stating that a win will suffice. This though is not one of those times, both fighter and trainer are adamant that this must be a spectacular win for it to mean something.
Joseph seems happy to telegraph his intentions for a knockout, ‘really it should be a knockout, otherwise what’s the point? Everyone knows what I’ve achieved in the sport, and they are expecting me to do the business. This is what the sport is all about, excitement.’
It’s a sentiment Barry echoes:
"It has to be a statement fight. Yes, the first thing is to always get the win, but we’ll be going for the knockout, make no mistake about that. This is a legacy fight for Joe, he’s the one who has made history for New Zealand when he won a title and defended it. He is the one who has been in some of the biggest fights in the past couple of years. If we don’t get everything right and lose then all those accomplishments will be for nothing, he’ll just be the guy who lost to Junior Fa. So, trust me Joseph is highly motivated."
As Joseph works the heavy bag, I ask Barry what he thinks the Fa camp will view as their advantages?
"I think they may believe that we’ve already seen the best of Joseph Parker, that he may have peaked early in his career. I beg to differ, I think the next three to four years we’ll see a Joseph Parker that we haven’t seen before. I honestly believe that when everything clicks into place that Joe is one of the most elite fighters in the heavyweight division. We’re not looking past Junior Fa, he’s a big strong guy with an undefeated record. He’s looked into Joseph’s eyes before in the amateurs and he’s beaten Joe twice. He’ll be calling on a lot of those memories in addition to using his height and his reach. The fact is nobody really knows how good this guy can be."
Whether it will be enough remains to be seen with Parker starting (rightfully so) a strong favourite in this fight.
Although fighters and trainers will always say they are not looking past their next fight, in this Covid-crazy world it is hard not to wonder what might come next. Being in New Zealand with life fairly normal, would Parker like to possibly see another big-name opponent make their way down under to face him?
"That would be awesome, certainly it’s something that I’d like David (Higgins) and Eddie (Hearn) to look into. We are always happy to travel, but right now down here with things pretty much normal it may be that a fight here would work better."
I ask Kevin Barry what he makes of it to,
"We’re hoping with the vaccine that many countries will be able to get back to normal, but at this stage we can only hope, we don’t know that for sure. The reality is, in regard to the virus the UK is still a bit of mess as is America, and we are really lucky down here in New Zealand to not be going through something similar. Junior Fa is our immediate focus, but should we get through that well we’d absolutely look to see if we can bring a big fight down to New Zealand."
While the Fa fight will certainly provide fireworks on a local level, it’s the likes of Joe Joyce, Oleksandr Usyk or even a potential Dillian Whyte rematch down the line that makes this an appetizing entrée to what one hopes will be the main course of Joseph Parkers career. Expect to see Parker start fast and look to break Fa down in the mid rounds for a strong knockout win.