Last year while I spent months watching Joseph Parker train and prepare for his fight with Carlos Takam, I got to see the intense ambition required to succeed in the violent world of boxing. After his victory over Solomon Haumono Parker made a bold prediction.
“One year from today, Joseph Parker will be champion of the world, and a very happy man,” he told me.
He was right, but it took much less than a year. In December 2016, Parker became the first New Zealand born world champ when he won the vacant WBO belt by majority points decision over Andy Ruiz. And last month he defended the title in a majority points decision against Hughie Fury in Manchester.
In between his shoot for Barkers, I had a chance to talk to Joseph for the first time since he became champ about waiting for decisions, and what the future holds.
It’s been awhile since we last spoke and now you’re a world champion. Looking back at that world title fight with Andy Ruiz, he was a super tough opponent who a lot of New Zealand underestimated. As the judges rendered their decision, were you nervous? Did you think you’d done enough?
I didn’t think - I knew I did enough to win. You just have to take into account the judges and they’re all judging different ways - you’re never quite sure which way they’re heading because maybe they saw things from him they liked and maybe they saw things from me. So I knew that I did enough, I just didn’t know what the judges saw.
It’s always a bit dicey with the judges. It was a hard training camp and a hard fight. Looking around the arena how did you feel? It was such a long journey and then to go to a decision, were you nervous?
I was nervous because it’s the moment I’d been waiting for. Either you achieve your goal or you don’t get the result that you wanted. The crowd was around me, everyone was waiting for the decision, and as soon as they called it everyone started jumping on me and we all started celebrating together and it was amazing. I did it for myself obviously, I did it for my team, I did it for Samoa, but most of all I did it for my parents. There was a lot of emotion.
What did they say to you once all the cameras were gone and you were back to being their son and not the man of the moment?
The first thing we did after the fight was a family prayer. The spiritual side is very important to us. Then we sat down and they said ‘We’re very proud of you, hard work pays off’, and they were just really proud of what we’d achieved and that I was a world champion. They were very happy for me.
Obviously John won his fight on the same night, he’s essential to your pre-fight routine, he moves in with you and so on. What was his reaction?
John’s my best friend, he’s the one who’s seen everything from the start until now, he’s there from the first bell, and so he was very excited, very happy. He showed a lot of brotherly love, he said ‘you made it, we talked about this a long time ago and now you’re here.’ I told him it was our victory, and that he could achieve the same thing.
It was a big moment for you but also for him. The pride goes both ways. That must have been encouraging to see him successful on the undercard.
Very much so. We make a great team and with hard work he can achieve the same things. It’s a hard journey and a hard road ahead but if he puts his mind to it he, it’s achievable.
How did life change in the immediate aftermath of winning your title?
After the fight we had a celebration in New Zealand but when I moved back to Samoa they put on a massive parade and they celebrated this achievement. A lot of people recognise me and there’s a lot more photos but life is mostly still the same. I still see my same friends, I still hang out with my family, still hang out with my parents, drive the same car. But the recognition is cool, it’s great to have my own people recognise what I’ve achieved.
It’s a cliche that getting the title is the easy part, it’s defending that’s difficult, but for you the next two fights were really difficult inside and outside the ring. After your fight with Răzvan Cojanu you got a bit of grief internationally for not delivering some spectacular knockout, but it was a last-minute change of opponent. Did any of that matter?
Na, they can say whatever they want, it doesn’t affect me. I don’t care what they say, I focus on our team and what we’ve achieved. And nobody knows the full picture of what happened before the fight, all the changes, and things that went on in the background, nobody really understands all that. I also felt that getting in there and fighting was important, we got the win, that was the main thing and we just focused on finding a bigger fight. Of course we got stuck with Fury, but now that we’ve finished with Fury we can move on and look ahead to some bigger fights like Wilder, Joshua and all of those guys.
That build-up to the Fury fight was chaotic again. Some of those press conferences got a bit crazy, there was all sorts of drama around potential corruption, dodgy refs and so on. How did it feel getting to the end of that fight, which was even more difficult to score, and knowing that you were in his hometown?
It was the same thing. I knew I put on the pressure and landed the bigger shots, and I knew that I’d won. But I was in his hometown, and they’re reading the scores, 114-114 I thought ‘here we go, they’ve taken the win from us,’ but when they read out the winner, I was very, very happy, and excited to be at the point where I could fight in his hometown and get the decision. It was good, and it showed that sometimes the judges in boxing do get it right. They made the right decision.
It was a win for you and a win for the legitimacy of boxing. This weekend your former opponent Carlos Takam fights Anthony Joshua. I assume you’ll be watching, but how much can you take from the result of that?
I will be watching but remember when we fought Takam, he was given three months notice. Takam had time to prepare, he came into the fight in the best shape he could be in. Takam got given 12 days notice before this fight. Eddie Hearn is saying they gave him plenty of notice and told him to be prepared but that’s an excuse. Money talks, if you offer someone big money they’ll take it, and that’s what has happened.
Assuming AJ gets past him fairly handily, is he on your radar next? Is it Wilder? What’s the next move?
Listen, Joshua has been on the radar for ages, but he’s never accepted the challenges we’ve given. They’ve never taken the fight. There’s no point chasing the guy if he doesn’t want to fight. So I’ll fight whoever’s keen. Those who don’t want to, they can go carefully choose their opponents.
At this stage in your career you’re willing to fight anyone and back yourself to win. Do you consider that a strength?
I do, I think it is a strength. It’s a strength to not run away from opponents. I know a lot of people that pick fights that are easy. If I have to fight the best in the world, I want to fight them now. I want to see who’s the best. That’s why I want to challenge Joshua, I want to challenge Wilder, because then we’ll see who’s the best.
We want to fight at the end of the year, but if that doesn’t go ahead then I’ll be in New Zealand with my family and friends. I’ll still be training so I don’t put on the beef, summer is coming and a beach body would be nice, and hopefully I’ll fight early next year if a credible opponent steps up.