WHEN Joseph Parker stepped out of the lift, walked into the restaurant and sat down opposite Derek Chisora on Thursday morning, it was clear one of the most polite and laid back figures in boxing was on guard.
“It was the most bizarre thing I’ve ever been involved in,” Parker says. “I’ve never had breakfast with my opponent before. It went from being nice and respectful and we started talking about boxing, he wants to knock me out, I want to knock him out, and then back to ‘how are things with your family?’ And ‘how’s life?’ It was very bizarre.
“The only concern is that he goes from one extreme to the next. When we’re being nice to each other he could have flipped and did something else. But I think he’s changed from what I’ve seen [in the past], a lot better in terms of leading into fights, he only puts it on on fight night. It’s nice to see a good change in someone.”
Chisora has slapped, bitten, punched, kissed and thrown tables at opponents before. There has been nothing of the sort from the veteran inside the bubble this week, at least not yet, but Parker, particularly after listening to Chisora’s trainer Buddy McGirt promise a dirty fight, is bracing himself for some classic “Del Boy” rough and tumble in the ring.
“If they make it dirty, the ref’s going to be there to do his job which is to look after both fighters, but if he does I’ll do it straight back,” Parker explains. “He’s going to do everything he can to win, that’s the same as me because this is a very important and big fight for both of us. If I want to be champion again, I have to beat this guy and get in there and do everything.”
Parker senses he is at the crossroads of his career. He’s won a WBO heavyweight belt and, with this being his fourth pay-per-view appearance in the UK alone, he’s financially secure. But he feels he still has a lot to prove.
After outpointing Hughie Fury in 2016, he lost back-to-back bouts with Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte the following year. In boxing terms, that was his lowest point. He questioned his place in the sport as he came to terms with being an unbeaten champion to a former titlist with two defeats inside four months.
“That was pretty hard,” he admits. “You never want to go into a fight and lose and then having back-to-back losses, I think at that time I was like, ‘Do I really have enough to give everything in boxing? Do I have what it takes to be good’.
“You start questioning yourself. After the Dillian Whyte fight, I rested a bit, spent a lot of time with family and then I know deep down that I can do good in boxing. But there were a few things I had to change up and it took me a while to change it up and now I’m here.”
Parker has won four fights since being outpointed by Joshua and then Whyte. He has left his old training team, headed by Parker’s long-term charge Kevin Barry, and joined forces with Andy Lee.
The pair spent two weeks training in Ireland before heading to Morecambe to complete the last month of camp. Parker yearns for his young family in New Zealand but accepts this is a sacrifice he had to make. The transition from Barry to Lee, though quick, meant Parker was forced to say goodbye to some dear old friends.
“That was probably one of the hardest decisions in my whole life,” Parker reflects. “You miss the people but in terms of the training, I feel great because I’m learning. When you’re with someone for seven or eight years, you can try so much but sometimes you’re not trying new things.
“But Andy and I gelled straight away. I feel like it was an instant connection. I think he’ll say the same. Meeting him at the airport and then just started chatting straight away, talking about families, boxing, training, programme, everything that we’re going to do together.
“The thing with Andy is I’ve gone into this new camp with a new trainer and I keep learning every single day, not only skills and techniques but moves, training schedule, programme, what to eat, when to rest. I haven’t tried to make any sort of weight, I’ve been eating way more than any other camp and my weight’s just right down, it’s strange because I’m trying to put on weight. The struggle at the beginning of camp was putting weight on, I’ve never had that problem before, it’s always trying to lose. The adjustments of training at a certain time and all this kind of stuff has helped.”
Parker believes his worst habit has been switching off at crucial times in fights, costing him rounds and ultimately victories.
“Andy’s made a few adjustments which I feel are very beneficial and positive and I feel I’ll be a lot sharper, my focus will be a lot better. Sometimes I do drift off in fights but I feel like I’m going to be focused for every second of every minute of every round.
“What causes it? Just laziness or boredom. Maybe the fight’s going well and you get bored of it, I don’t know, I can’t really put my finger on it but Andy’s helped me go back to the basics. I think in boxing when you become a professional and you learn the basics and you progress as a fighter, sometimes you forget what you learned in the beginning. But you have to keep up the basics and the fundamentals.”
What is left to achieve?
“It’s not so much the financial side of things now, it’s just about leaving a legacy,” Parker says. “I know I can do a lot better in the sport than I’ve shown in my last three or four fights since Dillian Whyte. I haven’t shown what I can do. Maybe that comes down to the training that I was doing or mindset, I’m not quite sure. But this will be a great opportunity to show if I have changed from those fights that I’ve had. It’s about legacy and goals. I want to be champion again, I’ve given myself three or four years to try to achieve it, give it everything I have and then retire.”