As the weeks wind down to his upcoming clash with Dereck Chisora so the winds of change also blow through Joseph Parker’s entire career. Despite coming off a solid if unspectacular win against local rival Junior Fa, Parker decided to make what is perhaps the toughest call of his professional career in parting ways with longtime trainer and mentor Kevin Barry. As if that decision wasn’t difficult enough it was made in the midst of Team Parker negotiating his high-profile clash with Chisora and done without Parker really knowing where his next training base would be, not to mention facing the logistical aspects of negotiating Covid-19.
It all feels a little bit like a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants/choose your own adventure style journey that Parker is currently on, but it seems to have reenergized and excited him simultaneously. Sitting down to chat with him about his new trainer Andy Lee and the fight ahead we first take the time to recognize and pay respect to the tremendous run he had with former trainer Kevin Barry.
In the cutthroat world of professional boxing too often when a trainer and fighter part ways there are nasty words traded, along with accusations of greed and ego. Parker and Barry chose a different and altogether more pleasant route, both very complimentary about the other and choosing to accentuate the positives, it made for a refreshing change.
I ask Joseph how anxious he was about having to discuss parting ways with Barry, something Parker freely admits made him so nervous his hands were shaking when he went into their meeting,
‘The relationship we’ve had, all that we’ve accomplished such as winning a world title, we sat down and we both understood each other. For us it’s more than just a fighter and coach. I was living at Kevin’s house. I’ve been treated like a son and welcomed into his family. Sitting down and talking to him was about the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make personally; I was very nervous. I didn’t want to upset him, and I didn’t want it to change anything between us and the nice part is I don’t think it has changed anything. We’ve still got a great relationship and we’re still great friends and we’ll always have each others backs.’
I wonder outside of the night they won the world title together what Joseph believes will be the enduring legacy of what Kevin has taught him,
‘I remember years ago when we first started working together, him telling me that as we spend time together and as the years go by, I’m going to be a totally different man and, in the future, I’m going to be in control of everything. And what he has said has come absolutely true.’
It seemed like as a young New Zealand fighter, based abroad and attempting to navigate the choppy waters of professional boxing that Barry had played a role not just of coach but mentor to Parker as well. It’s something Joseph agrees with.
‘Yes, he’s done a lot not just for me as a fighter but also for my career. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for him, he guided me to become comfortable in making the big calls.’
Ironically one of those big calls was the choice to refresh his corner and change things up. I put it to Joseph that as a former world champion and still a current top ranked heavyweight finding a new trainer wouldn’t have been difficult. Names being thrown around at the time included Abel Sanchez and Ben Davidson. However, Parker eventually settled on the lesser known and less proven Andy Lee. How he arrived at Andy Lee makes for an interesting story in and of itself, adding another wrinkle to his well-known friendship with Tyson Fury.
‘I texted Tyson Fury and asked for his honest opinion when it comes to training and who he thought would make a good fit for me as a coach. He video-called me, and we chatted some more, and he told me that outside of Emanuel Steward and Sugar Hill the best person he’d ever trained with was Andy Lee. He said that Andy was not just a pad holder but a great teacher as well. He then put Andy and I in touch and we set up a Zoom call and discussed what a camp would look like. Six days later I hopped on a plane to Ireland to go and start training with him.’
I wonder what sort of differences he has noticed with a new trainer and a new regime, for Parker it seems like the emphasis is on tweaks and maybe a fresh new voice in his corner rather than looking at wholesale changes,
‘To be honest not a lot has changed. We aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel. Diet is pretty much the same, the gym is the same but if anything, this time around we are keeping the sessions shorter and sharper and a little more intense which does seem to have had the benefit of keeping me a little bit fresher.’
We talk about the strangeness of having a new and different voice in his corner after so long with Kevin Barry, Joseph admits that it has taken some adjustment, but he looks to the upsides,
‘For sure, it will take some time, but I feel like it is going well, and we are learning how to work with each other everyday. It’s exciting.’
But despite such changes there has been one familiar voice in camp, one of the most recognizable voices in all of boxing, Tyson Fury. Not content just to help Joseph with training advice he has also opened up both his home and his gym to his fellow pugilist as Parker explains,
‘Tyson flew out to Vegas last weekend, but he was here for the first two weeks I arrived, we went for runs together, trained together in the gym. The energy he brings certainly helps. The way he trains is next level.’
This being the first time Parker has ever based an entire camp in the UK and with the added strangeness of a new trainer I suggest to Joseph that it must have been nice to have a friendly and familiar face around. While he doesn’t disagree it seems to be more the excitement factor of a change of scenery that is driving him most,
‘It has certainly helped having that type of experience around but overall, the feeling I have felt most is just excitement. It’s the type of feeling I had at that start of my career when I moved all the way over to Vegas to start with Kevin. All these questions you have; what am I gonna learn today? What type of training will we do? What is he gonna teach me?’
Having talked about changing trainers and training bases we move on to discuss what he makes of his next opponent, the always colorful Dereck Chisora. An enigma of a fighter sometimes looking like a washed-up journeyman, then next fight a world caliber challenger. I ask Joseph how does he go about preparing for a fighter like that?
‘I see he is putting in some good work, he always backs himself and he is so experienced. You can never discount someone like that. And the good part about Chisora is that he is very much a pressure fighter, which should make for a great fight. He throws shots with bad intentions, lots of combinations and hooks. He tries to make a fighter fold under that pressure.’
While they are fighting in Chisora’s backyard, the hometown advantage will be largely negated as the fight won’t have a live gate. Parker is actually looking forward to the experience of fighting without the roar of the crowd.
‘I’d say this does work to my advantage, a lot of fighters do feed off the crowd, and he’s not going to have that. For me I don’t really care. Of course, to have a crowd there would be awesome, but at the end of the day I’m just there to take care of business.’
And for the foreseeable future the UK is where Parker would like to remain,
‘If I get past this fight there are so many options out there for us, Dillian Whyte, Joshua, Joe Joyce. We have a great relationship with Matchroom, I think they are the best promoters in the world, and we’d like to stay with them if we have the opportunity.’
It’s certainly a crossroads fights for Joseph Parker, with a new trainer and his deal with Matchroom at an end. A big win, an impressive win and Parker looks set for a relaunch, potentially using the UK as his liftoff point. A loss and it will be back to drawing board, perhaps even contemplation of retirement. Expect to see this reflect in Parker’s performance, sometimes the desperate fighter is the most dangerous.