We asked 12 Rugby World Cup winning All Blacks for their Kiwi sporting hero of 2015. Six of them – Liam Messam, Victor Vito, Jerome Kaino, Beauden Barrett, Dane Coles and TJ Perenara – picked heavyweight boxer Joseph Parker. So, in the first of our All Blacks’ Kiwi Sporting Hero selections for 2015, Scotty Stevenson takes a look at Parker’s year, and ponder his next steps.
Whatever your thoughts on the sweet science, Joseph Parker has given New Zealanders a reason to be excited about heavyweight boxing – not the easiest thing to be excited about given the fact the heavyweight division is a shadow (boxer?) of its former self.
Parker has been this year’s main attraction in the seemingly ceaseless Duco Events circus of corporate and charity fight nights which have featured a host of well-known New Zealand sporting and entertainment stars, from giant netball greats to reality dating show winners. Last week’s Hamilton extravaganza even featured a Tongan Bear against a Brown Buttabean, which sounds completely insane, but was in fact one of the best bouts of the night.
At times controversial, generally gauche and not a little bit seedy, the standard Parker undercards of Television Bachelors and All Blacks and League Players and rare Pacific Island Bears are all PT Barnum amusements here. It was, after all, the great circus man who once said, “without promotion something terrible happens: nothing!”
You can’t say the Duco team, whose larger than life and largely shameless spokesperson Dean Lonergan has shown a masterful grasp of the showman vernacular, has failed to put on a show; the Great Joseph Parker People’s Pageant has pitched its tent in Auckland, Palmerston North, Hamilton and Invercargill this year, and has been extremely well-received in every venue.
You cannot say nothing is happening when it comes to Joseph Parker, either. Duco has invested heavily in the great Las Vegas gamble that is the promising prize fighter and, under the tutelage of Kevin Barry – who has found his own PR redemption after the ignominious and disheartening collapse of his relationship with the last big kiwi heavyweight hope, David Tua – Parker’s fame is spreading through the byzantine world of boxing.
Former world champion Evander Holyfield (whose association with Barry dates back to one hell of a dubious light heavyweight semifinal bout at the 1984 Olympic Games) has placed his considerable cred behind Parker, and that kind of endorsement has been matched by top ten rankings from the WBO (4th), IBF and WBC (both 10th).
Parker added five victims to his growing tally this year, and none made it past the fourth round. Jason Pettaway (ranked 177th) went down in four back in March, Yakup Saglam (89) was stopped in the second in June, Bowie Tupou (140) lasted just 63 seconds in Invercargill in August, Kali Meehan (51) met his match in the third round in West Auckland in October, and Daniel Martz (122) was crushed in less than two minutes this month in Hamilton.
Five fights, five venues, five complete annihilations – that would be the simplest way to summarise Parker’s year, if we allowed only for what happened inside the square circle. However, what happened outside the ring must also be factored in if we are to adequately account for his increasing popularity.
For the truth is this: Parker has an endearing genuineness that is rare in the boxing world, and he is happy to let others do the talking while he does the hitting. That’s not to say he has been shy of the media. On the contrary, he has been accessible, candid, and altogether expert at the kind of subtle and gently self-deprecating self-promotion that wins fans and infuriates opponents. Even on fight nights he works the room, glad-hands the high rollers and stops by tables for pre-bout chats. He wins fans by stealth; he wins fights by knock out.
He knows, though, that with Lonergan and Barry in his corner – one promoting, the other training – he has a well-resourced and well-connected marketing machine that can do the hype and the explaining while he knocks down whatever and whoever is put in front of him.
He will need that team to be at its best in 2016 and here’s why: there are only so many rank outsiders he can knock the fuck out of at home in order to build his record before the fans start demanding a better class of opponent. Duco knows this, Kevin Barry knows this, and Parker himself knows this.
There is a necessary tension between a boxer’s marketability and his requirement to build the record and the skillset needed for a shot at the title, and Parker’s latest first round demolition job has only heightened that existing tension. He will face southpaw Jason Bergman in Samoa in January (a fight marketed, apart from by its location, as the first real test for Parker against a lefty) but even though Parker will be hailed by the Samoan audience, the reality is Bergman is ranked just 76th in the world. Parker will win that fight.
In the end, it doesn’t matter who Parker has fought. What matters is that at just 23 years old, and with just 17 pro fights under his belt, he is genuinely considered one of the hottest heavyweights on the planet. He has speed, he has power, he has resources and he has a team around him that allows him to be him: a gentle and genuine man who has boxed his way to six titles and many more admirers.
But that’s Joseph Parker for you: 17 and 0 and only just getting started.