New Zealand’s Joseph Parker Ready for Global Spotlight
As Joseph Parker prepares for the fight of his life, his home country suffers through a futile fight with its own uncontrollable landscape. New Zealand was hit by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake on Monday, triggering aftershocks and landslides and stranding thousands of citizens. A world away in Las Vegas, New Zealand’s fighting son watches with a heavy heart but knows the path he must remain focused on.
"To see everything that is happening in New Zealand, I hope and pray everyone is safe and they get out of it one piece,” Parker said. “I’m still focused on Dec. 10. It’s a great opportunity for me to showcase my skill set and make history.”
The history Parker refers to is his chance to become New Zealand’s first heavyweight champion, and he’ll look to do it at home. Parker fights Andy Ruiz for the vacant WBO heavyweight title in Auckland, New Zealand on Dec. 10.
Parker (21-0) has fought the majority of his bouts in New Zealand and Samoa, where he is a household name. While there is little precedent for a Kiwi boxer making a name in the heavyweight division, Parker has ambitions beyond his status as a hometown hero.
"It’s been a dream ever since I was a young boy," he said when asked about the title shot. "The feeling that I get when I fight in New Zealand, and the support that I get, is amazing. And that’ll be the difference, fighting in front of my home crowd and feeling the support. It gives me extra motivation to push through when times do get hard, as they do in a fight.”
Despite the usual comfort of New Zealand, this is no typical hometown bout. With the WBO world title on the line, there will be more eyes on Parker than ever before, and potentially more pressure to perform on the level that is expected of him.
Parker, however, has the type of steadfast trust in his abilities that expels pressure ahead of a fight. Parker’s mind is what he believes to be his greatest weapon, such an important tool that he hired the All Blacks rugby team’s mental skills coach Ceri Evans to work with him throughout his training camp. He will enter the fight on Dec. 10 with the calm and focus that a title fight requires.
"I see this as another opportunity to prove what I’ve been showing in training. When you do put in the work in training camp, you don’t feel pressure. You’re ready for the occasion, you’re ready for what’s to come.”
The stakes are higher than in any of Parker’s recent bouts. When Tyson Fury vacated his heavyweight titles earlier this fall, the New Zealand-born boxer recognized that his chance to expand his small following could come sooner than expected.
"This the start of getting myself known in other countries and building my profile. Everyone in New Zealand already knows us and supports us so that’s a great thing."
Parker’s opponent is not an entirely unfamiliar one. In 2013, only a year after Parker had gone professional, he and Ruiz sparred together. The Kiwi fighter was significantly inexperienced compared to his Mexican-American opponent, but he did take note of Ruiz’s strengths at the time.
"He had some great power, great speed, he cut off the ring really well," Parker said. "But this is 2016, I believe I’m a totally different fighter than when I did spar him. I’ve gained a lot of experience each fight. I keep learning new things every time, and when I get in the ring I’ll be the best I’ve ever been.”
Now that he has the chance to capture one of Fury’s vacant belts, Parker can set himself up for the big heavyweight names that a competitor of his tenacity seeks out. British heavyweight David Haye has already been pegged for the next opponent for Parker if he can defeat Ruiz.
"The heavyweight division is exciting again," he said. "The best thing that has happened the previous year is that Tyson Fury beat Klitschko….I think Joshua vs. Klitschko is a very exciting fight. Klitschko ran the heavyweight division for a long time, and Joshua is a new champion so it’s a fight that I’m interested in watching.
"I believe I will get the opportunity to fight one of those guys down the line. I believe in my ability and like I said before if I have a great training camp I know I’ll beat anyone in the world.”
In a sport where many fighters seek the easiest potential road to big paydays, Parker holds a hunger to achieve greatness that is palpable in his voice. While he keeps his head down deep in training in Las Vegas, he does so knowing that when he returns to New Zealand he will bring them something to cheer for again. He may be headed for high-profile events and global exposure, but Joseph Parker will always know where his purest support resides.
"It’s great to have the whole country supporting and wanting me to do my best. It makes me want to go out there and do well not just for myself and my family but for my country.”
Joseph Parker fights Andy Ruiz (29-0) on Dec. 10 at the Vector Arena in Auckland, New Zealand.