Once a World Boxing Organisation heavyweight champion and with his sights set on reclaiming the title he lost in 2018, Joseph Parker reflects on his career highs, and the challenges that wonāt stop him getting back in the ring.
The first thing you notice about Joseph Parker is the way he fills a room. Not physically, although he is obviously a supreme athlete standing 6ā4ā and tipping the scales at more than 110kg, making him quite comfortably the biggest man in most spaces he occupies. No, his presence is something else. Itās the warm, quiet confidence he naturally exudes. A kind of innate charisma or energy that says without saying: I am the former and soon-to-be-again World Boxing Organisation heavyweight champion of the world.
This confidence is not the same cockiness weāve come to associate with the sport. In fact if all you saw of Parker were the pre-fight weigh-ins or press conferences, in which he tends to come across as much gentler than his brash, trash-talking opponents from the other side of the world, you might even think him shy. In reality, Parker is anything but.
You donāt fight your way from a gym in South Auckland to the WBO world heavyweight title at age 24 by being a wallflower. And his career itself has required no shortage of grit and determination from the now 29-year-old.
After winning the WBO title in 2016 and successfully defending it twice in 2017, Parker relinquished it the following year in a fightthat went the full 12 rounds against the UKās Anthony Joshua, in front of a massive live audience of 78,000, and with a television viewership in the millions. He then suffered a controversial follow-up defeat to another Brit, Dillian Whyte, whose arguably illegal second-round head butt is thought to have heavily influenced the outcome of the fight.
Asked today if he still believes he is the best fighter in the world, Parker is unequivocal. āI back myself 100 percent. I donāt care about those two losses. Iāve been champion of the world before and I have the goal in my head to be champion again. And as long as I have that goal, I have to have the belief. So yes, I still think that Iām the best in the world.ā
His tone isnāt braggy; thereās no showmanship here. He is utterly, compellingly sincere and itās the kind of palpable self-assuredness that we nine-to-fivers with our cornucopia of mundane do-my-colleagues-like-me and why-doesnāt-the-dog-come-when-I-call neuroses would kill for. But, says Parker, itās the only way to survive in a sporting code in which millions of would-be champions are whittled down to a pool of perhaps 10 contenders, each ready to step into the ring and push themselves to their mental and physical limits in a bid to secure that illustrious title and all the glory that comes with it.
āI donāt dwell on my losses,ā says Parker. āI treat them as bumps in the road and I learn from them. The Joshua fight, I came into training like a fat slob, thinking I could use camp to prepare for the fight. My approach now is to stay in shape all the time. Iām not coming into camp at 125kg looking to get down to 110. Iāll come in at 112.ā
Following his two major losses, Parker has spent the past two years rebuilding his reputation, stringing together a flurry of wins against some not quite elite, but handy enough fighters to get his name back on the lips of major fight promoters. He was on the verge of a comeback when the global COVID-19 pandemic stopped everything in its track.Ā Throughout the lockdown, which saw Kiwis confined to their homes for two months, Parker maintained a dedicated, at-home training regimen.
But training wasnāt the only thing that had been keeping him occupied. Having shutdown borders, whole industries and, consequently, live sport, the pandemic unveiled a side of Parker that fight fans hadn’t seen before, and introduced him to a whole new audience. Working with longtime friend and sports documentarian Kerry Russell, Parker released a series of movie parody videos on social media, racking up millions of views and making headlines in sports bulletins around the globe, with media outlets eager for any kind of sporting content.
Drawing on films such as Love Actually, Superbad, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Back to the Future, and featuring high-profile collaborators such as Mike Tyson, WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, and Kiwis rugby league international Shaun Johnson, the videos were for many a delightful distraction in a time of deep uncertainty. āTo be honest, itās who I really am,ā Parker says of the videos. āI love to have fun, but with boxing you canāt really display that jokey, playful personality. Itās a serious sport where youāre supposed to be focused on the job and very serious leadinginto the fight.ā
This new side of Parker brought some high-profile fans out of the woodwork, with Oscar-winning Kiwi film director Taika Waititi among those who tweeted that the videos were āthe highlight of [his] dayā. But it hasnāt just been celebrities singing his praises. āI got a few messages during lockdown that were like, āThank you so much for lifting our spirits. I woke up feeling crap and you changed my mood,āā recalls Parker.
Now that heās on a roll, Parker sees no reason to stop creating entertaining content. āIt made lockdown enjoyable and really brought everyone together. We had the whole family involved in the Grease oneā I think Iāll keep going with it because itās such a good time.ā
Aside from continuing to show off his comedic chops, Parkerās post-lockdown sights remain squarely set on his unwavering goal: reclaiming his WBO heavyweight title.āIād love it to be a top-10 fighter. Iād love to fight Dillian Whyte again,ā says Parker.āBut Iāll fight anyone. Iām ready.ā
As he outlines his teamās challengesā attracting sponsorship, making the numbers add up for big-name Northern Hemisphere fighters, keeping TV networks happy ā you realise that Parkerās whole career has been a fight, both in and out of the ring. After all, who wants to risk defeat going up against a young man at his peak, when there are easier, more lucrative fights to be had elsewhere? For the seriousoverseas contenders, fighting Parker is high-risk and low reward.āI just have to go with flow,ā reflects Parker, who remains undaunted by the challenges he faces in locking in a fight, and open to all opportunities.
And despite boxers typically hitting their prime well into their thirties, heās not mucking around ā focused on becoming champion and retiring on top within the next five years. Does this mean that 2025 is the year Parker hangs up his gloves? āIf Iām world champion and smashing everyone, I might have to add another year,ā he jokes. āAnd then when all the big sponsorships start coming in…But nah, in all seriousness, I want to be finished in myearly thirties.ā
Whatās clear is that when he does hang up the gloves, a man of Parkerās talents won’t be short of job offers.āI think there are so many paths I couldgo down, and Iām willing to try anything. Whatever works, Iāll go for it.āI actually flicked Taika Waititi a text,ā he laughs, āI said, āHey if youāre looking for a stormtrooper or a funny looking alien with no makeup needed, let me know.āā The response? āI donāt see why not!ā