Parker Will Have Two Countries In His Corner vs. Joshua
One of the more unique aspects of combat sports, which greatly differ from team sports, is that entire countries will get behind a fighter. In the case of WBO heavyweight champion Joseph Parker (24-0), he has two nations in his corner.
Parker, 26, will not only have his native country New Zealand cheering for him on March 31 when he takes on IBO, WBA and IBF champion Anthony Joshua, he’ll have Samoa in his corner as well.
“Every single person in Samoa will be watching and nearly all of New Zealand,” said Parker’s promoter and founder/director of DUCO Events, David Higgins. “The only people who know what that’s like might be a guy like Manny Pacquiao, who has the whole Philippines behind him. It’s almost on that level with New Zealand and Samoa. You can feel the support. He’s got two whole countries behind him. Joseph is excited by that.”
Parker’s parents, Dempsey and Sala Parker, migrated from Samoa to New Zealand in the 1980s, settling in South Auckland. Parker’s father was named after the late Jack Dempsey, the former heavyweight champion who held the title from 1919-1926 while becoming a cultural icon. It was during Parker’s formative years when Dempsey gave the future champion his first introduction to boxing, which ultimately set his future career path into motion.
It’s quite obvious the Kiwi boxer, whose honorary Samoan name is Lupesoliai La’auliolemalietoa, is extremely proud of his heritage.
“For me, it’s a very important part of my life and culture,” Parker said. “I speak Samoan fluently. I don’t know what it is, but there is some people from that side of the world … there is [an] extra drive for us as New Zealanders and Samoans, to try and do well. You know what I mean? There’s a lot of things that play a big part in my life: family, obviously, the culture, being born in New Zealand and being Samoan, and also spiritual, church. So I have to find a balance.”
A professional since 2012, Parker remains grateful for the life his boxing career has given him, and for being able to help out his folks, and provide for his girlfriend of 10 years Laine, and their 15-month-old daughter Elizabeth. His life has changed quite a bit since winning the title, and Parker has welcomed the overwhelming support he and his team have received from both countries.
“There is a lot of support and a lot of people respecting myself and the team for what we’ve been able to achieve and how we represent New Zealand and Samoa,” said Parker, who named David Tua, Lennox Lewis, Maselino Masoe and his second-cousin Mark Hunt, as fighters he looks up to. “There is a lot of love. There are a lot of people wanting us to do well. It’s helped me look after my family. It’s helped me look after my parents. I have a daughter now. Everything I’m doing I’m doing to try and give her a better future. Boxing has done a lot for my life, done a lot for my family, and it’s continuing to do a lot of good things for us.”
And his family and team continue to do good things for him too, he says, because they keep him grounded and humble.
“Everyone on my team keeps me in line, especially my parents (laughing),” said Parker, who defeated Andy Ruiz in December 2016 to win the WBO title. “It’s important to have family and friends and everyone keeping you in line just so you don’t go off track. Just remain the same. There are a lot of people that change when they do well and get success. I told them that I don’t want to change and they help me stay the same.”
The King of Pies
What’s a marquee matchup without some trash talk and insults being lobbed back and forth?
Back in January, Joshua was a guest on Graham Norton’s talk show on BBC Sport. The two shared a laugh after Norton poked fun at Parker’s appearance in a picture, calling him the “King of Pies.” Parker, who took it in stride, said he “looked a little buff” in the pic that Norton and Joshua were laughing at. He also said he may have a surprise regarding pies come weigh-in time.
“I might bring out a pie, or I might bring out a six-pack,” he joked. “I don’t know. I’ll see how I feel on the day.” All jokes aside, Parker said, “I do have a problem because I actually do love a pie.”
What kind of pies does he like?
“In New Zealand, I have this bakery that I always go to,” said Parker, referring to his go-to spot, the Graham Ave. Bakery, which is nearby where he lives. “It depends on the day. There is steak and cheese, there is bacon and egg. There are all sorts of pies. It’s just how I feel on the day on how I pick the pie.”
Higgins got the ball rolling for Team Parker early on during the first press conference by calling Joshua’s chin into question. Joshua, of course, was knocked down during his knockout victory over Wladimir Klitschko in April 2017. Parker, meanwhile, has never been knocked down in his career, which was a big point of emphasis from Higgins that day and throughout the entire lead up to the fight thus far.
Higgins, who along with Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport, nearly stole the show from their respective fighters by arguing with one another on the dais that day. Higgins explained how it was a planned strategy with the goal of garnering more attention for Parker and the upcoming fight.
“The British fans have been brainwashed for years by Sky Sport and the media that there is only one champion, Anthony Joshua, and he’s unbeatable,” Higgins scoffed. His goal, he said, was to “educate the UK market” that Parker was a worthy opponent with “real advantages” over Joshua.
“His chin is better on paper because he’s never been down,” Higgins said, continuing his praise for Parker. “He’s quicker in terms of hand speed. All that media build up was to make Joseph famous in the UK and build up the strengths that Parker has compared to Joshua, and it worked because after three months the UK fans are saying, ‘Who is this guy Parker?’ They started to look into him. Some of them thought our approach was disrespectful, but it wasn’t really respect based. We didn’t say anything that wasn’t true or backed by fact.”
What takes place inside the ring, Higgins said, is far worse than any trash talk outside of it.
“Some people expect fighters and the camps to be super respectful outside of the ring,” said Higgins, who mentioned he and Hearn have a good working relationship behind the scenes, and have promoted between 30-40 events together. “There is nothing more disrespectful than trying to knock someone’s head off in the ring. The fight itself can be brutal. The talk outside the ring pales in comparison to the brutality in the fight. The psychological aspect of the sport has been a big part of it for more than 100 years. It’s all gamesmanship and trying to get a psychological edge, analyze your opponent and get under their skin … anyway, Joshua’s team weren’t very used to that. They never really had an opponent take that approach to them before. I think Joshua showed signs of being a little rattled by it. As a result, fans were demanding Joshua/Parker.”