ON both sides of the Atlantic, the heavyweight division is alive and kicking. After years in the doldrums, boxing’s giants have now awoken from their slumber, and the world finds itself captivated by the sport’s big men once again. Across the globe and under the radar in New Zealand, a storm has been brewing for some time. With each passing year since its inception in mid-2012, this tempest has gradually gathered momentum. And now, in 2016, a severe storm warning has been issued for the heavyweight category on a worldwide scale. The name of this violent hurricane that is threatening to wreak havoc in the sport’s glamour division? Joseph Parker.
Prior to descending upon the professional ranks just over three-and-a-half years ago, the genesis of Storm Parker began in the unpaid code, where Joseph compiled a record of 50-8, and claimed medals at both the Youth Olympic Games and the Youth World championships in 2010. He has subsequently carried this success over into the pros, winning all 18 of his bouts so far, including 16 inside the distance. It is clear from these statistics that the 24-year-old Kiwi packs a serious punch, but as the man himself explains, power is just one aspect of his game: “My best attributes are my fast hands, confidence, mental toughness and ambition. Plus I’ve got a chin that has never let me down.”
Parker’s rapid rise up the heavyweight ratings – he is highly ranked by all four of boxing’s major governing bodies (WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO) – has been assisted by his trainer and countryman, Kevin Barry, who earned a silver medal at the 1984 Olympics, and has coached Joseph since his fifth pro fight. The 56-year-old resides in Las Vegas, which is the chief reason why his charge decided to base himself in Sin City too.
“I live in Las Vegas primarily for the quality training with Kevin, as well as the good opportunities for sparring,” Parker states. “There are no distractions for me there. It’s ironic really, as Vegas is the party capital of the world, but I’m fully focused on healthy living, good nutrition, and learning in the gym.
“[Having previously trained world-level fighters such as David Tua, Maselino Masoe and Beibut Shumenov], Kevin is a very experienced and knowledgeable coach. Our partnership is working well, both inside and outside the ring. Together, we’ve made great progress in a relatively short space of time. I feel safe, confident and relaxed during fights, knowing that Kevin has my back.”
Despite having made a home for himself in America, all bar four of Parker’s pro outings have been staged in his native New Zealand. Fighting on home turf, the Auckland-born puncher has secured some recognisable scalps. In only his sixth bout, he swept aside veteran three-time world championship challenger Francois Botha inside two rounds, while seasoned ex-global title contestants Brian Minto and Kali Meehan were also dealt with early.
Parker went back to his ancestral roots by competing in Samoa, where his parents hail from. On a personal level, it was a proud moment for Joseph and his loved ones. It was also an important milestone from a professional standpoint, as it marked the first time Parker had opposed a southpaw as a pro.
“I stopped [then-25-11-2] Jason Bergman [in eight sessions] in Samoa,” Joseph points out.
“It was certainly challenging adjusting to a left-handed opponent, especially as Bergman was defensive and durable. But I’m happy I overcame the challenge, and learned more in the process.
“The fight meant a lot to me, my family, my team and the nation of Samoa. It was a truly historic event – the first major, internationally televised, high-level boxing event staged in Samoa. It’s great that my promoters, Duco Events, could make it happen.”
With the heavyweight scene currently booming in both Britain and the US, Parker is aware that he will soon have to leave the nest in New Zealand, in order to showcase his talents to a wider boxing public.
“Fighting in the major boxing centres of the world is part of my plan,” Parker reveals. “It’s no secret that the UK is on the verge of a very exciting era in heavyweight boxing, whereby great rivalries will play out between the likes of Fury, Joshua, Haye and perhaps [Dereck] Chisora. It’s likely that I’ll fight in the UK or the US this year. My promoters have reached out to Joshua’s promoters, and I can confirm that I’m ready to fight whenever he is. So far though, Joshua’s promoters have shown no interest in the match-up.
“I’m ready and willing to pursue a world title the old-fashioned way, by taking tough and risky fights that are necessary… These days, there’s too much record-padding and politics in boxing, which often prevents the fights that the public wants to see from happening. I hope a new post-Klitschko era in the heavyweight division will see great rivalries play out, like during the Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield-Riddick Bowe era. I’d be proud to play a part in a revitalised heavyweight division, where the best fighters face each other.”
While Parker mentions many names as possible future opponents, one senses that a certain clash in particular appeals to him more than any other – namely a mouth-watering meeting with fellow unbeaten Joshua. There are similarities between the two top prospects, with both men possessing pulverising power, and each being around their mid-20s. Nevertheless, Joseph feels that he is further advanced than “AJ”, having taken part in more than twice as many pro rounds as the Briton.
“I believe I’m ahead of Joshua in terms of my development as a boxer,” Parker opines. “I’d love to fight him. It’s a fight I’ll absolutely take if the opportunity arises. I respect him and his team, but like any opponent, he has both strengths and weaknesses.”
Although the potential career-defining contests for Parker seemingly lie in the UK and/or US, there are still some marketable matches to be made much closer to home for the 6ft 4in New Zealander, including an Auckland derby against rugby star-cum-boxer Sonny Bill Williams. “I’m vastly more experienced than Williams, so I don’t think it’s a match-up that his team would ever really consider,” says Parker. “Whilst it might generate headlines, I don’t think it’d be a successful event, because the boxing media and educated fans wouldn’t take it seriously.”
Following five appearances in both 2014 and 2015, Parker is planning to maintain his impressive level of activity this year. By the end of the annum, he hopes to have manoeuvred himself into a position to box for the richest prize in sport.
“I want five fights again this year, stepping up the level of opposition steeply throughout the year,” Parker confirms. “There’s no fight I’d avoid if it gets me to the top.”