Despite making history and achieving a lifelong ambition by the age of 24, Joseph Parker is ready to pen a new chapter in his fairytale story.
He may be one of the current incumbents of boxing’s heavyweight titles, but the New Zealander – his country’s first world champion when he claimed the vacant WBO belt last December – remains relatively unknown and unheralded in comparison to Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder.
Where WBA, IBO and IBF king Joshua has the Matchroom machine to fuel his following, and American Wilder – who holds the WBC belt – attracts attention for his explosive style, Parker is somewhat low key on the global stage.
Yet the quiet man is eager to become a big noise.
“It’s alright,” says Parker, reflecting on being largely ignored as someone who could unify the division. “These other guys are fighting on that side of the world with all the exposure they get. New Zealand has got a small population to compare and for us to already have a world champion and now to start fighting, it’s a good step for us.
“It’s great to be a world champion, to achieve that goal that I set at a young age, but now I want to go on to do more, to create my own legacy. People don’t know me, but that’s all right. Hopefully they will soon.”
Having beaten Mexican Andy Ruiz for the title and then defended against Razvan Cojanu in May, he will face Hughie Fury, cousin of Tyson Fury, at the Manchester Arena on September 23.
It will be an opportunity for Parker to dispel doubts as he told Sport360: “I want to show skills, bring excitement, pressure, be the fighter that everyone will remember.
“This is my chance in the UK to show what I can do. And I believe things happen when they are supposed to happen.
“Like every other heavyweight fighter I want to unify the belts, it’s a goal for me. It’s going to give me the motivation to train harder and focus. Just because you win one title, that’s not enough.
“I back myself to beat anyone. I don’t fear anyone and will fight anyone. The focus is of course on Hughie now and after that we will sit down and look to fight the other best fighters in the world.”
Parker’s progress has been noticed by some, though, including former champion Tyson Fury, victor over Wladimir Klitschko but forced to vacate his titles after medical issues and testing positive for cocaine.
While he is hoping to celebrate a Fury family triumph, he praised Parker, unbeaten in 23 fights, for his attitude.
Tyson said: “He’s an all-round fighter, he’s tough, he’s strong, he’s fast, he punches hard and he doesn’t really care who he fights – so he demands admiration.”
Parker, now 25, is likewise an admirer of Tyson for ending the long reign of Klitschko – and another great Briton too.
He was eight when he watched compatriot David Tua, also of Samoan descent like him, fail in his bid to be a world champion, beaten by Lennox Lewis in a unanimous points decision in 2000.
“The fighters in New Zealand when I was growing up were David and another Samoan Maselino Masoe, a middleweight world champion who didn’t get the exposure,” he added. “But for David to beat three world champions and then fight Lennox was massive.
“Of course I wanted David to win, badly, but after that, I watched Lennox’s fights and started to see how he became so good.
“I really liked his style and modelled myself on him. He was smart, used his advantages well, the height, the reach. And he finished at the top.
“I also watched Roy Jones Jr., liked his style, and from every fighter I watch, I take a little bit of and see if it can help me improve. But you have to make it your own style.
“I remember one thing David Tua said to me was don’t try to be like me, but be better than me. Now I hope other young fighters in New Zealand can look at me and want to do the same thing.”
Out cold! 😱— Boxing Memes 🥊 (@Boxing_Memes) July 16, 2017
David Tua knocks out John Ruiz early in the 1st round of their fight... pic.twitter.com/aCGzsnzXUf
Parker’s trainer Kevin Barry also plotted Tua’s rise to the top. With “God-given power”, Tua had to wait 39 fights and eight years for his title shot, but notable highs included beating former champions Hasim Rahman, John Ruiz and Michael Moorer.
But Barry has said: “I had 12 years [working] with Tua and I believe that if he was as driven as what Joseph Parker is, he would have worn the heavyweight belt.”
Parker has learned to appreciate the value of hard work and focus, further helped by his friendship with stars from the all-conquering All Blacks rugby team.
“I’m good friends with Sonny Bill Williams, Jerome Kaino, Israel Dagg, Beauden Barrett,” he says.
“What I learn from them is the mindset. When they are in training there’s nothing else that matters, they make the sacrifices, and I believe that’s the reason why they are at the top of their sport.
“I played rugby, union and league, and have a cauliflower ear to prove it. I made the Auckland team. But one thing my father said to me is if you want to achieve something in one sport, you have to focus on one sport. We chose boxing.”
This has been a dilemma for the multi-talented Sonny Bill Williams. A star in rugby union and league, he also became the WBA International Heavyweight champion when he beat Francois Botha in 2013.
There has been past talk of a tussle between Parker and Williams, but he says: “Nah, Sonny’s a good friend of mine.
“We have sparred each other, but I don’t think a fight would happen now. I feel he’s an athlete who is good at all sports and if he focused on boxing he could get better, but boxing’s not a sport where you can give it half of your time.”
Parker’s dedication has been influenced by his father. Dempsey Parker was named after William ‘Jack’ Dempsey, a heavyweight who ruled the world almost a century ago.
“My grandma lived in Samoa and I think she heard it on the radio, probably Jack Dempsey fighting, and loved the name and named my dad after him,” says Parker.
“He gave me and my brother (John) little boxing gloves, bags to train and we watched video clips of old fights together.
“It was my dad’s dream to be a boxer, but he couldn’t box because of a disability. As a baby someone stood on his leg so one is normal, one is skinnier, he wears a brace on it.
“So when I achieved the dream of becoming of a world champion I did it for myself and him. This is going to be a home fight for Hughie. But to have my family here, they will be my crowd and my inspiration.”