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.”
Boxing’s most overlooked division is set for a rare turn in the spotlight when the $50 million (Dh183m) World Super Series gets underway later this year.
The new tournament, created by former Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer and Kalle Sauerland, will feature a supermiddleweight competition, but more interestingly, a cruiserweight section.
The 200lb class rarely gets much attention, and serious contenders don’t usually hang around there for long. A small cruiser would prefer to shed weight and enjoy physical advantages at light-heavyweight, while a big cruiser will pile on the extra muscle and chase the pay days on offer in the more glamorous heavyweight arena.
Historically, it has been a poor division, a fact demonstrated by Evander Holyfield being widely considered the greatest cruiser of all time despite having only 18 fights there before moving up.
However, the current crop is as talent-rich as it has been in living memory, with the section clearly benefitting – as boxing has done as a whole – from an influx of Eastern European talent with formidable amateur pedigree.
This is evidenced by the quality of the eight-man field for this tournament, which features an Olympic gold medallist, all four current major belt holders plus two former champions.
And if you delve into their past fights, you’ll discover an exceptionally violent highlight reel of knockouts and start to understand why boxing fans are getting so excited. The combined record of the eight boasts 193 wins and just 10 losses – 164 of the wins have been by KO.
These men hit almost as hard as the heavyweights, but being that bit smaller and more agile means they throw and connect with far more shots. The potential for action-packed fights is clear.
Schaefer said: “I really believe this has an opportunity to become the brand in the sport of boxing, the kind of tournament fighters really want to participate in because it will elevate their exposure and their careers.”
Indeed, boxing hasn’t had a major tournament since the 168lb Super Six World Boxing Classic between 2009 and 2011. It says a lot about the appetite for this kind of format that an event as fundamentally flawed and riddled with scheduling issues as the Super Six is remembered so positively by fans.
There’s also no doubt that it had a profound effect on the careers of its combatants. Eventual winner Andre Ward had entered it as a virtual unknown, while Carl Froch also emerged with his reputation significantly enhanced. It boosted their bank balances too, as this tournament will do for the cruisers.
The winners of the quarter-finals are all guaranteed $1m (Dh3.7m) and, to put that in perspective, the outright favourite for the crown, Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk, earned just $75,000 (Dh250k) for beating Thabiso Mchunu last December.
After the field was finalised, the top four fighters were given seedings and allowed to pick their opponents. The quarter-finals will start in September, with semis early next year and the grand final in May 2018.
Usyk, the No1 seed, used his pick astutely to set up an opening skirmish with Marco Huck, one of the most decorated cruisers of all-time but now firmly in decline.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Murat Gassiev takes on Poland’s former two-time belt holder Krzysztof Wlodarczyk. The wild card among the group is the Cuban defector Mike Perez. He at least has some experience of shark-infested waters having swam to freedom in the perilous stretch between Havana and Florida before being picked up by a boat.
There’s nobody to rescue him this time and the former heavyweight is in deep from the off against the unbeaten Latvian Mairis Briedis, who has knocked out 18 of his 22 victims.
The opening stage is completed by another Cuban, the No4 seed Yunier Dorticos, and his opponent Dmitry Kudryashov.
All four opening bouts are compelling match-ups and virtually guarantee fireworks, while if the intended schedule can be maintained there will be a steady flow of great fights leading up to the ultimate satisfaction of seeing an undisputed champion crowned.
Such scenarios have been rare in boxing and is exactly why so many are embracing this tournament.
Chris Eubank Jr The Brit put on a mature display to widely out-point Arthur Abraham at Wembley Arena and book his place in the super-middleweight section of the inaugural World Boxing Super Series.
The 27-year-old never looked in trouble as he out-worked a man a full decade his senior, landing consistently around the sides of the German’s high guard and piercing it through the middle with uppercuts. He will now face Turkey’s Avni Yildirim in the quarter-finals.
Joe Smith Jr Smith Jr had been one of the breakout stars of 2016 with emphatic wins over Andrzej Fonfara and Bernard Hopkins, but he couldn’t cope with Cuba’s Sullivan Barrera on Saturday night.
Smith had wiped out Fonfara inside a round then clubbed Hopkins clean out of the ring, and his power was evident in the opening session as he clipped and dropped Barrera.
But after that it was all one-way traffic as the Cuban’s superior skill proved decisive. His unanimous points victory sets up a clash with Sergey Kovalev later this year
End of the road for Khan & Roach – It was a familiar story for Amir Khan in Las Vegas five years ago this week when his defensive frailty and poor punch resistance came back to haunt him against Danny Garcia.
Khan’s fast start had Garcia chasing shadows, but the Brit got greedy in the pocket and one big looping left hook changed everything. Dropped three times and stopped in the fourth, Khan predictably split from his Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach after the fight.
Tyson Fury could be set for a sensational title comeback in September – if he gets his boxing licence back.
The controversial Briton hasn’t fought since dethroning heavyweight legend Wladimir Klitschko in 2015.
Having tested positive for cocaine while in America, Fury was charged by UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) and stripped of his licence by the British Boxing Board of Control.
Great sparing with @JoeJoyce_1 this week, really top bloke. & great athlete. Hope to do some more work.😎😎👍🏼👍🏼— TYSON2FASTFURY (@Tyson_Fury) June 23, 2017
But Peter Fury, Tyson’s trainer and uncle, is hoping an imminent decision will allow the 28-year-old to join the undercard for cousin Hughie Fury’s bout on September 23 for the WBO crown held by New Zealander Joseph Parker.
“What we are looking at (regarding the decision) is the next couple of weeks and if that’s the case, all being well, he will join Hughie on this bill,” said Peter. “And we will look to get him some form of title too, so it won’t be just a journeyman against him, or a run out, because he is training at the moment.
“He’s ready. I’ve always said if you can fight you can fight. This guy is unique and when he fights he will have sparred 5-600 rounds.”
Tyson made an appearance at Hughie’s press conference with Parker on Tuesday to promote their showdown at Manchester Arena and Peter is hoping he can now put the troubled times behind him and focus on proving he is the best heavyweight, despite Anthony Joshua claiming the WBA, IBF and IBO belts after beating Klitschko himself in April.
Tyson Fury sparring Joe today👑 pic.twitter.com/AuiRKg9FYx— Boxing planet (@boxing__planet) June 19, 2017
“I can’t speak for what was going on in Tyson’s mind and he’s had a fair few issues to deal with,” added Peter, who also trains son Hughie.
“But it’s over now. Boxing is where he belongs. I think he’s the best heavyweight in the world. I wanted him to defend that belt and keep on defending for the next 10 years and build a massive legacy for himself.
“But I also think everything happens for a reason and this was meant for him. I think he will come back a stronger person and a better fighter as well.”
And should Tyson be cleared to box then a much-anticipated clash with Joshua could be on the cards in 2018.
“Probably September, October time next year, that’s a real possibility for him against Joshua,” added Peter. “I think it’s what the public want to see absolutely. It will be in Britain, it’s a fight for Britain.
“Joshua can fight and has been brought on well and done his job. But the applause, I’m in this job for one thing and that’s proving my fighters are the best in the world – and the only way of doing that is slicing through the division. Tyson has had enough of a lay-off now and am looking to get him back in September and next year it’s full on for him.”