THE FORMER WBO heavyweight champion of the world perches on a kitchen stool while aggressively dispatching his first meal of the day. Beside him on the work surface stands a box of oatmeal crudely labelled ‘JOE’S’ in permanent marker. Joseph Parker is back in Nevada and back to business.
His boxing life has followed much the same pattern since he decided to up sticks and move in with long-time trainer Kevin Barry in Henderson, just a few miles outside Las Vegas and only a few minutes away from the gym in which he trains. Back home in New Zealand, however, his life is changing at a rapid pace. “I’ve got three children under three now,” he tells Boxing News with a smile. “That’s crazy.”
As he thumbs through the hundreds of photos of his young daughters that fill up his phone, the quiet and unassuming 27-year-old does not necessarily seem like a man capable of winning a version of the world heavyweight title, much less reclaiming one. But that is the goal now for the former WBO titlist, beaten twice, who takes on Dereck Chisora on October 26 in a fight which will shape which way his career goes from here on in.
This interview had meandered over the usual ground of how training has gone and around the houses of the heavyweight scene following Anthony Joshua’s shock defeat to Andy Ruiz before arriving at the two sticks which have been used to beat Parker since he lost his belt to AJ in Cardiff 18 months ago.
Firstly, that he is simply too nice for this game. In a division where the current WBC champion speaks openly about his desire to kill an opponent by way of his fists, Parker’s demeanour does not quite fit. He flashes another smile at the suggestion. “Look, I can’t curse,” he says. “Whenever I do I have my mum on the phone telling me off.
“But really it doesn’t affect who you are in the ring does it? I’m a boxer, I’m an athlete. I go out there and I do my job. How I interact with people on the outside does not change what I can do in the ring.”
The second accusation levelled at Parker provokes a more impassioned reaction. It was first suggested in the immediate aftermath of that defeat to Joshua in Cardiff but really ramped up when he was beaten on points by Dillian Whyte in London just four months later.
The pair served up a thrilling 12-round war during which Parker was dropped twice, once via what looked like an illegal headbutt, before he regrouped, dropped and nearly stopped Whyte in the final stanza. From his point of view, he had given everything but been denied by the judges and a fight-altering foul. Still he smiled and spoke in positive platitudes during his post-fight interview. Parker, worst than being too nice, suddenly looked like a ‘good loser’.
“We train hard for a fight, we give everything in camp and then leave it all in the ring,” Parker says when asked about the accusation.
“What’s the point of being angry if you lose? As long as you’ve done everything you can in the ring that day, you just have to move on. If you dwell on it, what’s the point?
“Imagine being down and angry and sad, it wouldn’t be good for the comeback, it doesn’t help. You have to choose – be miserable, angry and sad or happy, enjoy life and look forward to the next challenge.
“It’s like that’s what people want to see, they want to see somebody who is pissed off. There are a lot of examples of that but there’s no point in being upset. What are you going to gain from it?”
Instead what Parker has gained from his one-man mission to prove nice guys don’t finish last is a big-money deal with Eddie Hearn and DAZN, which started with a routine victory over late stand-in Alex Leapai on June 29.
Now his route back to potential world honours is blocked by the revitalised Chisora, who has bounced back from his December knockout at the hands of Whyte with victories over Senad Gashi and Artur Szpilka so far this year. Parker has been made a slight favourite for the fight which forms part of Matchroom’s pay-per-view show that includes Josh Taylor’s mouth-watering light-welterweight unification with Regis Prograis at the O2 Arena.
Parker remains the only man to have beaten current WBO, WBA and IBF champion Ruiz and is also the only man to step into the ring with Joshua and avoid getting hurt at any point. He was widely criticised, however, for his performance that night at the Principality Stadium, where his slipping and sliding kept him out of trouble for 12 rounds but also precluded him from making a dent in Joshua. He can understand why.
“If I could turn back time I would definitely do a lot more than what I did,” says Parker. “I don’t think I did enough to win. I was doing really good, we worked well in defence, slipping and moving but I didn’t counter off of those moves and opportunities.
“I was never in any trouble. I could have done more – I should have done more but I don’t regret anything. I gave it the best I could that day and he was the better man. But I know if I face him again in the future we can adjust to change a few things in the ring and make sure we are victorious.
“The most important thing is that I learned that our team is on the right track. If we can fight at that top level and put on a pretty good performance, ok we could have done more, but it showed me that our team works well together.
“Coming off that loss and then fighting Dillian Whyte, and losing in a close fight, showed we can mix it at that world level. I think we belong with the best but now it’s a matter of building back to the top.
“I’ve been at the top but I’ve dropped down a bit now. We all have the goal that we want to get back to the top again but I have all the experience I can take with me into the second phase of my career.”
In the immediate aftermath of that Whyte fight, when the team emerged for the post-fight press conference in a side room at the O2 Arena, a member of the travelling New Zealand press pack had suggested that now, after back-to-back defeats, might be the right time to split with Barry and get a new trainer. It seemed knee-jerk and, for Parker, the idea is unfathomable.
So entwined is the heavyweight’s life with Barry’s, it is not as simple as just choosing a new coach. Parker lives as a surrogate son to the coach and his wife Tanya and genuinely considers their son Taylor, who assists Barry in the gym, as a brother.
“Nobody understands,” Parker says of his relationship with Barry. “All people see is the result, what you do under those lights. Again, an example was when Joshua lost people said ‘get rid of McCracken’. He’s only lost one fight. For me, I trust my team.”
It was the Barrys who decided that Parker needed to engage in a serious strength and conditioning programme ahead of his fight with Joshua and it has been stepped up since. Now, he pushes a weight-laden sled up and down the Philippi Sports Institute, under the watchful eye of its owner and his coach Mark Philippi.
Once officially America’s Strongest Man, the 54-year-old has helped strengthen the likes of Samuel Peter and Ruslan Chagaev in the past and Parker is the latest elite heavyweight through his door. “We are working on all types of things with Joe,” Philippi says. “We want him to be explosive.”
Parker trains in Philippi’s gym three times a week and this workout comes before a full sparring session planned for the evening. There is also time for yoga twice a week.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been as motivated as I am now,” Parker says, mopping sweat from his brow as he rests between sets. “My whole career, even being champion, I was motivated and I loved boxing but I feel like I’m more motivated now than I ever have been in my whole life. I don’t know why. It’s not something you can turn on or off.
“It is getting to the point where I’m just doing everything right now. There are no mistakes now, I won’t go off track, I do everything right and I have given myself four or five years more in boxing.
“We want to be involved in the best fights. We want people to say ‘oh, remember that team – they took on any challenge, they didn’t care, they would fight anyone’. It matters to me what people say about us in the future. I want them to say that we were the team who didn’t shy away from challenges.”
But more than that, Parker is fighting to justify his decision to spend huge swathes of his adult life away from partner Laine and daughters Elizabeth, Shiloh and Mikaela. He is driven by the feeling that, if he is not successful, all those hours in the box room at Casa Barry and the thousands of videos calls to New Zealand will have gone to waste.
He adds: “I think my motivation comes from having my young family. I’m doing it for them. Before I did it for a lot of other people; I did it for my dad, to make him proud. I’ve made him proud now and looked after a lot of people but now I want to do it for myself.
“The best thing is that I’ve got a supportive partner and family.
“There’s never any friction with my partner, never has been and never will be. She’s moved back in with her parents back home so she gets a lot of help. She’s got three under three. She moved back in with her parents, my parents hang out now and then but it just wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t have that support.
“We’ve discussed another four or five years in boxing and she says she will be very patient. Then we can live our lives, we can have fun.”
With that, Parker hauls himself back onto his feet. Philippi is waiting ominously for him with a medicine ball. “Four or five years,” he says, draining a bottle of water. “But then again if we’re dominating and knocking everyone out – let’s go for 10.”