New Zealand, made up of two small islands, the shaky isles as it is sometimes referred to, isolated and diminutive in population, can be both a forward thinking yet deeply conservative country. Paradoxically everyone loves a winner in New Zealand so long as the winner in question remains both humble and unassuming.
When placing its winning bid to host the 2011 Rugby World Cup, a foundation of the countries’ successful tender was a pledge that the tournament would be played in ‘a stadium of 4 million’ and so it proved to be. The comparatively small size of New Zealand, where almost everyone knows someone, means that when their sports stars excel they often do so carrying the weight of a nation on their shoulders.
And despite an anaemic output of champion pugilists, New Zealand has an enthusiastic history of supporting the rare few that do make noises on the international stage. Kiwi’s, they love to watch a decent scrap.
Such was the excitement surrounding David Tua’s tilt at the heavyweight crown, fighting Lennox Lewis in 2000, that it remains one of the most watched broadcasts in the history of New Zealand television, beaten only by 3 matches in the 2100 rugby world cup.
Similarly in 2009 when Tua fought Shane Cameron in a heated local derby, the PPV figures generated the highest number of sales per head of population, in the history all pay per view events globally.
Fast forward to 2014 and New Zealand once again has a rising star within the heavyweight ranks, and like Tua before him humble in demeanor but also armed with fists of fury. It is a story that contains a few new faces and one reassuringly old one.
Joseph Parker grew up in the modest environs of South Auckland, son to father Dempsey, named after the late great Jack Dempsey, it seems boxing ran in the Parker blood.
In a country where every boy grows up dreaming of becoming an All Black, Joseph chose the lonelier more solitary path to the centre of the ring. A place the ring is cleared and the bell sounds you stand, devoid of teammates and armed only with your own two fists as your chosen tools of trade, to shape your destiny, to chase greatness and change the outcome of your life.
An interest in boxing soon turned into a promising amateur career which reached its apex when he represented New Zealand at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Although he didn’t medal at those games Parker’s emerging talent was enough to raise Kiwi expectations that potential Olympic glory beckoned ahead. The reality though was with his size and speed; Parker’s abilities were best suited to the potentially far more lucrative professional ranks.
Joseph quickly signed with Duco events, the promoters responsible for putting on the aforementioned record breaking Tua/Cameron PPV event. Being an event management company specializing in high end corporate functions but reasonably new to the business of boxing promotion Duco turned to the one man in New Zealand they knew had been there, seen it and done it all before. Kevin Barry.
Barry was well known to New Zealanders for his long partnership with David Tua. After a well publicized and acrimonious split with the Tuaman, Barry relocated with his family to Las Vegas, looking to escape the fishbowl of New Zealand, concentrating on building a highly successful corporate boxing business. He was also approached to train light heavyweight Beibut Shumenov, guiding him to the WBA world title in record breaking time. After a tough and trying five years times were good again for Kevin Barry.
As happy and contented as Barry was a piece of the puzzle remained missing, a sense of a mission uncompleted for the tough kiwi trainer. Initially reluctant after an approach by Duco to train Parker lest history make that odious mistake of repeating itself a meeting was organized for both sides to assess the chemistry between the fledging pro and the veteran corner man.
The relationship between a boxer and their trainer is perhaps the closest and most intense in sports. The long hours spent in camp away from loved ones, away from the bright lights and noisy distractions, weeks and months spent training in solitude, side by side in search of a singular pursuit. And then on fight night during those potentially brutal 36 minutes the fighter literally with their life that their trainer will see the things that they do not and guide them through the tsunami of punches and bad intentions that rain down upon them.
If anyone was ever in doubt as to the kind of bond that can be formed between a trainer and fighter you only need read a few illuminating chapters of Mike Tyson’s recent biography to understand they type relationship that can form.
The early meetings went well, Barry seeing in Parker enough raw potential to believe that perhaps lightening really can strike twice and Parker along with trusted input from his family putting their faith in Barry to guide him through the pro ranks and develop those raw skills from pretender to contender to potential champion.
The results of the collaboration were almost immediate with Barry adding bulk to Parker, the baby fat of a young man’s body melting away into the muscle of a professional athlete. The speed which had been a signature of his amateur career was now complimented with the one precious commodity that sells more tickets than anything else in the heavyweight division. Power.
Parker for his part has the makings of a likable and engaging champion. Amiable outside the ring he possesses the killer instinct inside the ropes and is not shy to trade when the occasion presents itself (though not always to amusement of Barry.) And while he presents the same nice guy persona as fellow Kiwi legend David Tua, there appears to be something of a more diligent work ethic, the ability to maintain his discipline in between fights and the desire to go that extra yard, that extra one percent which is perhaps all that separated David Tua from a world title.
Duco have made it clear that Parker’s will not be a slow development spent fighting tomato cans and part-time taxi drivers. They believe in Parker’s talent and Barry’s tutelage enough to move him swiftly along with almost every fight. Next up will be an October assignment facing the very tough and durable Sherman Williams in what will only be Parker’s 11th fight as a pro. Talks of facing a top ten opponent within the 12 months are not idle words but statements of serious intent.
A heavyweight division which for so many years has seemingly idled in cruise control held hostage to the abilities and domination of the Klitschko brothers now appears to be on the brink of heating up again.
British Olympic gold medallist Anthony Joshua who appears on a similar career trajectory to Parker is currently 7 and 0 and looking set to make a big run at the division. Perhaps a super-fight remains down the road for these two in the future.
And while these young men have some way to go before they are the finished article, finally the landscape in what has often been derided as a dull and bankrupt division, now appears to hum auspiciously with the excitement of these future prospects.
Which brings us neatly back to the start as Barry and Parker begin their journey negotiating their way through the myriad of the professional ranks and living the dream, at the same time a small nation of four million people at the bottom of the world collectively inhales as they once again prepare to begin the journey with them. The (heavy)weight of great expectations.