Joseph Parker Interview: Out with the old and in with the new

When Joseph Parker walks into the gym you can clearly tell he’s been in beast mode. At 23 he is still clearly growing into his body while in the last 12 months the chest the lats and traps have become noticeably bigger. Parker has been posting up various clips on his social media accounts, performing a multiplicity of pull-ups and press-ups; his trainer Kevin Barry opting for the old school bodyweight drills of yesteryear as the favoured way to build his charge’s strength and conditioning.

The result? Parker now resembles something close to a tank, but reassuringly if his pad and heavy bag work are anything to go by, he hasn’t lost any of his speed.

It has been a busy year for the young heavyweight contender, his October 15th bout with Kali Meehan will see him clock up his 4th fight of the year with one more planned for December as well as a January showcase bout in his parent’s country of birth Samoa close to being announced.

As busy as that schedule has been Parker has made short work of his previous 3 opponents in 2016 despatching them all, in 4 rounds or less, with his last opponent Bowie Tupou not making it past the first round. That was a fight that saw many casual fans questioning the authenticity of the knockout; although to more seasoned watchers of the sport it was obvious from the way he crashed face-first into the canvas that Tupou was legitimately out for the count.

Joseph is philosophical about it, ‘the public expect more of the fight, but it was a clean punch and I felt the punch. It was an unexpected punch which he walked into, but we got the win, training hard paid off and it’s on to the next fight.’

I wonder whether that power can now be something of a double edged sword to a young fighter. On one hand it’s nice to knock people out, you get noticed, but does it mean they are getting the rounds they would like under their belt?

‘Going into every fight we are always prepared to go 12 rounds. So if it’s a shorter night at the office great, but you have to understand that in training camp we are getting a lot of rounds in sparring. For me I have great training partner in Izu (Ugonoh) and we’ve also had the opportunity to spar Bermane Stiverne this time around as well. ‘

Kali Meehan is a durable 25 year veteran, a man that has fought for a world title against Lamont Brewster in a fight that many people believe he won. However it would also be fair to say that he has seen his best days. Being so I ask Joseph as to what it was about Meehan that made him an attractive opponent to face.

‘He’s an experienced fighter who knows what he’s doing in the ring. And for us looking at fighting taller opponents in the future you’ve got to start somewhere and I think Kali is the perfect opponent for me to learn and practice against for what we’re trying to do. The height and his experience were really the two most attractive qualities. I mean look at the heavyweight division. Most fighters are tall, taller than me, so we’ve got to experience facing this type of opponent.’

The reality is that even though Parker stands at 193cms, tall by normal standards, in this division of burgeoning giants he will be the shorter man in many potential match-ups with other contenders and champions. I wonder if it is a different mindset having to look up at an opponent in a life where you are normally the taller guy.

‘It’s a bit different for sure. It is a challenge. It’s definitely a new challenge and requires a different mind set but hey it’s what we training for and it’s why this fight is perfect for us.’

Meehan recently made the rather odd pronouncement that his son Willis, whom he has used for sparring in the lead-up to this fight, hits harder than Parker, which was strange inasmuch as he has yet to face Parker either in the ring or in sparring. What does Joseph make of that and does he enjoy a bit of trash talk before a fight?

‘I don’t really care either way to be honest. I think maybe he was attempting to give his son some confidence as he is fighting on the undercard. I don’t pay too much attention to it.’

This is certainly the type of fight that can be viewed two ways. On one hand it would be nice for Parker to get some rounds in against a big durable experienced guy, but on the other hand if he doesn’t put Meehan away in two or three rounds people will say he hasn’t done his job.

‘For sure. I have a lot of respect for Kali. Kevin and I have been watching his fights and we know what to do to get to him. He’s experienced, he’s been many rounds. We train to go 12, but if the early knockout comes it comes.’

It’s fairly obvious that Meehan will favour a slower paced fight and will look to turn it into a grappling, mauling affair. Facing a bigger man who knows how to use his reach could pose some new questions for the younger man? Parker agrees but feels confident in the blueprint they have laid out in camp.

‘Kevin has taught me how to counter someone with those kinds of moves and what they are going to do. But we have a game plan that I have a lot of confidence in. ‘

Joseph even seems keen to unveil a developing inside game to compliment the ramrod jab and lightening speed we’ve seen from the outside. We both discuss how good Lennox Lewis’ uppercut was and what a good addition to his arsenal a punch like that would make. ‘Lennox threw a lot of uppercuts but when you saw it even though he was a big guy it was really accurate and crisp. We’ve definitely been practising it in camps it just hasn’t been available so much in recent fights.’

Outside of the technical add-on’s, coach Kevin Barry has introduced a mixture of old and new strength and conditioning techniques into their pre-fight preparations. Recent additions have included swimming, something they picked up off Wladimir Klitschko when Parker was in camp sparring with the champ, yoga plus some old school bodyweight training; all of which Parker has enjoyed and embraced.

‘I see a lot of benefits not only in how my body feels but how I feel overall. For instance with pull-ups I think when I started it was around 15 and now it’s over 30. I’ve been doing extra push-ups and sit-ups every morning. I notice it in sparring; when I’m landing shots I can see my opponents are feeling that power.’

Talking of power the heavyweight scene is really starting to heat up with more than a few big punchers staking their claims as best in the division. As a fight fan first and foremost I wanted to get Joseph’s take on some potential up and coming clashes, namely Povetkin/Wilder should it get signed, as well as the upcoming title clash between Tyson Fury and Wladimir Klitschko plus the looming British domestic dust-up between Anthony Joshua, a fighter that Parker is often compared to, and bitter rival Dillian Whyte.

‘With the first fight you mentioned I like Povetkin, he’s just a bit more skilled and experienced. Wilder’s a heavy hitter but in his last couple of fights you haven’t perhaps seen a step up. With Fury/Klitschko, Tyson has the height but Klitschko has been undefeated for 10 years, it’s hard to go past his record but I’m excited to watch that one. With the last one I like Joshua. In his previous fight with Minto, Whyte got caught with some shots that perhaps he shouldn’t have taken. What happens if he gets hit with the same shots from Joshua?’

Whichever way you dice it, the heavyweight division has finally got interesting again and although at 23 he is still incredibly young in heavyweight terms and still very much learning his craft, one suspects that Joseph Parker will very soon be edging his way into the frame of the heavyweight landscape.

It’s not any secret that Kali Meehan will attempt to play the spoiler in this fight. He’ll look to slow up the pace and draw the younger, stronger man into a brawling mauling type of contest. Expect to see Parker come out fast though and never relent. The jab will obviously be a weapon and you would also expect Parker look to the older man’s body as a way to break him down. The verdict: Parker by either early or mid-fight stoppage.

Joseph Parker 15(13)-0 faces Kali Meehan 42(32)-0 at Trusts Arena, Auckland on October 15th.