By Bryce Wilson
With only a matter of weeks out from the biggest fight of his career BoxingScene.com caught up with WBO champion Joseph Parker to get his take on how camp has been progressing so far and how he is feeling as the clock winds down to April 1st and his meeting with British juggernaut Anthony Joshua.
Having interviewed Parker a number of times he always makes for an amiable and laid-back interview subject, nothing too much seems to phase him or raise his ire in any way. And in getting to know a fighter, you begin to notice the little things, subtle changes in demeanour, different energy levels that perhaps lend themselves to a small ‘tell’ as to what sort of camp the fighter is having.
In the past it hasn’t always been the easiest to get a hold of Parker. Sometimes he can be a little less than punctual to our prearranged catch-ups, sometimes its required a phonecall to trainer and mentor Kevin Barry to get Joseph on the line, with Parker good naturedly explaining that our pre-appointed interview had slipped his mind. However, with this camp, on every occasion a slot has been set up to talk, Joseph has been on time, ahead of time in fact, and very very relaxed and ebullient in his manner. The mind seems clear and organised and focussed with a purpose that we haven’t seen before.
Maybe it will amount to nothing in the ring, this is the heavyweights after all and as we know one huge right hand from Anthony Joshua could end the contest at any moment, but one does get the sense that Joseph Parker is ready to produce a career defining performance that will far surpass what many of his detractors believe him capable of.
I catch Parker just as he is coming off 12 rounds of sparring, a session where he found his energy levels to be strong, the motor turning over nicely. And if recent video footage is anything to go by the weight seems to be melting off as well, the benefits of which Parker readily acknowledges.
‘I’m walking around at around 109kgs right now, I weighed 112kgs for the Hughie Fury fight. I’m now a lot leaner, I’ve got more energy, I’ve got more power and I’m moving a lot better. When you’re following the plan, when you’re eating well and you’re getting your rest everything just clicks and the mind is affected big time. When you don’t follow the plan one hundred percent you have this little bit of doubt in your mind, but for this fight I don’t feel any of that. I know I’ve done everything possible and now I’m just looking forward to fighting and handing out a whipping!’
I put it to Parker that it is most likely the challenge (and danger) of facing someone like Anthony Joshua that is bringing out the best him. Come in anything less than perfect shape and you could seriously hurt, it’s something he agrees with,
‘It’s certainly fair to say that this challenge of Joshua is bringing something out in me that I haven’t felt previously. I didn’t know if it was true before, that facing someone so dangerous changes something within you and takes you to a higher level, but I can definitely say that it does. Everyone knows I’ve got the ability to fight 12 rounds but now I want to show people that I can fight at a hard pace as well.’
It’s an interesting comment to make, because while much has been made of Parker and his team goading Joshua about his alleged glass chin perhaps the real key to this fight may actually lie in testing Joshua’s stamina, something which has looked a tad vulnerable in the past. It would appear that Joshua and his team have made a concession to this vulnerability in acknowledging they plan on coming in lighter than in previous fights. Parker agrees that it may be key to upsetting the odds,
‘Yes, I’d say that he is aware that he has some stamina issues, why else would they plan on coming in lighter for this fight? I’ve heard he is already weighing less than he did for his last fight which is good. It shows that he’s also training the house down and taking this fight very seriously.’
I wonder if as the fight now draws nearer Parker’s emotions are beginning to change but the answer is typical of the always relaxed Parker.
‘No not really, there is still work to be done, that’s all I’m concentrating on. The only real difference is my body is feeling fitter, I can work with more intensity, I feel like there is some magic that is going to happen.’
It’s interesting to compare the state of mind of Parker now, as opposed to when he faced Andy Ruiz and fighting for his first world title, a camp that trainer Kevin Barry informed me before the fight and off the record as being one of their worst.
‘Oh, the Andy Ruiz camp was horrible! Mentally that fight was very very tough, approaching what was the biggest fight of my career and knowing we had had such a bad camp. In some ways it had me in the frame of mind that I didn’t want to fight. This camp I have none of that, if I come into the fight and he beats me then it is because he was the better fighter. But trust me, he won’t beat me because I feel great!’
Earlier in the week footage appeared online of Joshua and Parker having their first proper sit-down, face-to-face meeting in an episode of The Gloves Are Off.
I asked Parker what he made of the event and what was it like being able to finally eyeball Joshua.
‘You can tell he’s confident but in some ways it felt a bit too respectful, which isn’t a bad thing, but I thought there might have been a bit more bite due to what we’d said about him previously. But he’s very professional, he’s done this a few times now and I respect that.’
It is certainly true that Joshua has been in this type of spotlight before, pretty much since winning Gold at the London Olympics. It’s also equally true that fighters coming to the UK shores have at times looked overwhelmed by the media, the hype and the audience size that follows Joshua’s every move. I ask Parker why he thinks he won’t fall victim to the same trap.
‘It’s a combination of things; you have to prepare for it, but I’m also very relaxed by nature. It’s the way I’ve been brought up, the way my parents have raised me. Church and faith also play a role. I’ve been through some dark moments in fights, the busted eardrum against Nascimento and a nasty gash from a headbutt in the Tatupu fight and come through the other side. It all gives me confidence that I can do this. Honestly I don’t care about the size of the crowd, I don’t care about anything else but me and him once the bell rings.’
Speaking of confidence, I note that while many of Joshua’s fans have been writing Parker off, he does have significant support from his peers, most notably, Deontay Wilder, Jarrell Miller and Tyson Fury all giving Parker a very real chance to win this fight. It’s a curious phenomenon with Parker, that in the age of smack talk most other heavyweights only ever have nice things to say about him.
‘With my fellow professionals, they know what to look for in the ring, so its certainly nice that they recognize this as a 50/50 fight. For some of the public to give me no chance, that’s fine too, they’re allowed their opinion. As to why other fighters don’t bag me I honestly don’t know! (laughs) Maybe they recognize us as a real team. For instance, Tyson Fury has always been very supportive, we connected via social media, I’ve always respected him as a fighter, I’m excited to see him come back and bring a lot more excitement with him back to the division.’
Leaving nothing to chance, Parker’s team will arrive in London a full two weeks before the fight, acclimatising for the weather, training out of David Haye’s gym, sparring a few rounds to stay fresh and then taper off. Trainer Kevin Barry has made a point of saying that the Joseph Parker he sees in the gym is very different to the one we’ve seen in the last couple of fights. Now would be the perfect occasion for Parker to finally showcase to the public what his trainer swears he sees in private.
‘Well I don’t believe Joshua has ever seen a style like mine so yeah one hundred percent, now is the time to deliver my very best performance. Against an opponent like Joshua I’ll certainly need it. Right now I’m very happy in camp and you know the saying, a happy fighter is a dangerous fighter. It’s also time to show everyone that Kevin isn’t talking crap. I want to back up what he says and show the public the fighter that he sees in the gym, otherwise they are going to think New Zealanders are crazy! (Laughs)
Moving off the topic of himself for a moment I ask purely as a boxing fan what he thought of Deontay Wilder’s dramatic win over Luis Ortiz. I also wonder what he made of both Klitschko and Ortiz as underdogs having a window to cause the upset in both fights against Joshua and Wilder respectfully, yet not being able to take it.
‘A lot of questions were answered with Wilders chin but I’m not sure that Ortiz had the power to finish him off. Wilder showed the heart of a champion to come through such a tough moment. Ortiz was very tricky; however I remember saying to Kevin at the end of the 7th when he couldn’t finish off Wilder, this is just going to be like the Klitschko/Joshua fight and it was. Rest assured if I get the chance to finish off Joshua I’ll make no such mistake. ‘
Which seems like a fitting place for us to leave it. Talk can be cheap, particularly when facing a fighting machine like Anthony Joshua, a spectacular knockout artist whose 20 previous opponents have all tried yet failed to see the final bell. Yet in Parker, Joshua is facing an adversary who also holds a world title, an adversary who maybe doesn’t punch with quite the same power yet also possesses some unique weapons of his own: Speed, stamina and a granite chin being chief among them. And perhaps most crucially is the self-belief; Joseph Parker will start his championship fight with Anthony Joshua a heavy underdog, yet all the indications are that he might just end up providing ‘AJ’ with his toughest test to date. This unification battle has the makings of an explosive type of fight, a fight where the winner has to walk through fire to get the win on the other side. Talking to Joseph Parker you get the sense that he wouldn’t want it any other way.