By Declan Taylor, courtesy of The Daily Star
IN 17 days, Joseph Parker will walk out into the Principality Stadium in front of 80,000 screaming fans for the biggest fight of his career.
The WBO world champion from New Zealand takes on Anthony Joshua for his IBF, IBO and WBA titles in the first clash on British soil between two undefeated world heavyweight champions.
And the stadium is certainly a far cry from the sort of places where Parker cut his teeth back in his hometown of Auckland, starting his career fighting in dingy, smoky rooms in pubs.
But he believes those experiences will stand him in good stead when he takes on Joshua on March 31.
“When you’re first starting off, you’re basically fighting in pubs. There were always little tournaments upstairs in pubs and the smoke from the bottom level would find its way up into the second,” said Parker.
“That was all part of the learning process and it means that now, when it comes to the big stage, I’m more than ready. I’m confident I can beat Joshua.
“There was a venue where there was no space and they jammed up chairs for the people to come and watch.
“But they put so many chairs in, there wasn’t a walkway for the boxers. We actually had to creep through the chairs.”
Parker, a 6-1 underdog, has been based in Las Vegas for the past five years and believes his decision to leave Auckland and a ground-floor bedroom at his trainer Kevin Barry’s family home will pay off.
He has taken his record from 5-0 to 24-0 under Barry and will pocket £7m for his clash with Joshua. But it has been tough for Parker, leaving his high-school sweetheart Laine and daughter Elizabeth behind for every camp.
But he believes that setting up shop 10 miles east of Sin City has been the secret to his success.
He said: “Kev and I are in tune with each other every day – the relationship is strong. That’s totally a result of the arrangement we have where I am the adopted son – and the favourite son! If I was living in a hotel, it wouldn’t work. I wouldn’t have that relationship.”
Instead he has been taken in by Barry and his wife Tanya, the former Olympic gymnast who runs the house and is in charge of Parker’s meals.
The 26-year-old is on a strict diet to shed fat ahead of his showdown with Joshua, who famously labelled Parker the ‘King of Pies’.
Parker said: “When I’m in New Zealand for a long time I feel like I don’t have structure and I need that. The way it is here means we don’t cut any corners with diet or training and you will see the results when I step on the scales in Cardiff.”
Although Parker is focusing on tangling with one British heavyweight, he is hoping Joshua’s compatriot Tyson Fury makes a swift return to the division.
Parker won the WBO belt after Fury vacated it in October 2016 as he fought against depression and drug problem.
Fury sends regular messages of support to Parker and the New Zealander has not forgotten the role the Morecambe man played in his title triumph.
“He’s the reason I got the opportunity to fight for the heavyweight title in the first place,” said Parker, who beat Fury’s cousin Hughie on points in Manchester last September.
“Tyson defeated the Wladimir Klitschko that nobody could defeat. He opened the door for us because it was locked into Klitschko for a long time. There is something missing without Tyson and once he’s back, the division will be on a different level.
“People get the wrong end of the stick with Tyson. Everyone makes mistakes and goes through hard times but he’s a great person. We know the real him.”