A long way to go
The car journey with his son and brother out of the Vodafone Events Centre in Manukau City, New Zealand was one of mixed emotions for trainer Kevin Barry.
He had just seen his still raw, and untested 24-year-old heavyweight Joseph Parker (19-0, 16 KOs) go 12 rounds in an IBF world title eliminator against Carlos Takam (33-3-1, 25 KOs). A 35-year-old French-based Cameroonian heavyweight who has taken his seat in the ‘Who needs him’ club for the last couple of years.
Parker, after some rocky moments against Takam, particularly on the ropes, came through with his hand raised, and tank admirably emptied. After an occasionally gruelling and entertaining affair, Parker was awarded a unanimous verdict from the judges.
This was the Las Vegas-based fighter’s litmus test to date. He passed. An IBF world title eliminator won. A move from four to one in their rankings.
“All I could think of was everything we did wrong in the fight, and I should’ve been thinking this is frigging awesome!” Barry told Boxing Monthly from his base in Las Vegas two weeks ago.
“The number one [IBF] spot in just over three years. No-one ever thought we could do this. And I said: ‘He was standing up too tall’. ‘He knew to stay off the ropes. Why was he on the ropes?’ We had all these drills that we spent 12 weeks training on and he did them occasionally, but not as often as what we needed to do. I know, though, we potentially have a terrific fighter who has enormous talent, and who has possibly the fastest hand speed in the division.”
“I was so proud of him,” Barry added.
“There was an easier path for us than taking this fight. We took a guy that ticked most of the boxes. We took a guy that [WBC champion] Deontay Wilder never called out. We took a guy that [IBF champion] Anthony Joshua never called out. We took a guy where a lot of people said: ‘They have got no idea what they’re getting themselves in for. He [Parker] ain’t ready for this.’”
“I think I made it [the fight] a little hard on myself,” Parker told us.
“I lost focus in a few rounds mid-fight. I was doing well at the beginning, lost focus and then came back at the end, but I think I made it a little hard on myself. We expected a hard fight, he was in the best shape. He’s a tough competitor, he came forward and this was a great opportunity for us both. There was a lot on the line, and we both really wanted it which made it a very exciting fight.”
A three-fight run for Takam in 2014 saw him take on Tony Thompson, Mike Perez and Alexander Povetkin. The take-away from that 10-month period was a win, a draw and a stoppage defeat. Parker had never mixed anywhere near in that kind of company, but that didn’t stop some of the media and fans in New Zealand failing to understand why a win over Takam would put Parker into a world title position.
Most of the mainstream media were complimentary of Parker’s performance, but Kevin Barry had already spent 12 years trying to educate the people of New Zealand about boxing when he trained Samoan wrecking ball David Tua, now he seems to be having to do it all over again.
“‘We’ve never heard of Takam!’” was how Barry described a portion of the response back home.
“Well who have they heard of?” he countered.
“They probably haven’t heard of Deontay Wilder because his reputation is so small.
“There were a couple of public figures who are self-proclaimed experts who jumped out. It’s what we call 'The Great Kiwi Clobbering Machine'. As soon as you do something great, instead of saying ‘Look what this young guy did, who missed out on the Olympics because he wasn’t prepared properly, even though he beat five guys who went to the Olympics’.
"Look what we’ve done with him in three years. Look at the belts he’s won. Not only is he number one with the WBO, but he’s mandatory with the IBF and he’s 24-years-old. Any other country would say this is absolutely incredible, and still we had some people come out and say ‘he’ll never win a world title’."
Is it the problem that the All Blacks rugby team have suffered with for years? A nation who live and breathe the sport yet seemingly expect the New Zealand team to win World Cups, let alone individual matches, with dominance and gusto. Winning by three points or a try doesn’t appear to be acceptable.
“100%,” Barry said when we put that point to him.
“I’ve been here in Las Vegas for the last 12 years, and my children have grown up with the American culture where they love their winners. They put you up there and say ‘Awesome’. They don’t try to find a way to cut your legs from underneath you as soon as you do something good.
“The fight showed us that we still have a long way to go, we have a lot of work to do but the positives are, that I knew this and Joe knew this, that the people know he can take a punch. He can fight his way back from a dark place. For a fighter, even for a trainer, you see it in training. You know the character of your athlete, but it’s not until you’re in a real live fight situation where you’ve never been before.
“You actually find out a lot about your own character. Not only do you find out more about Joe, but Joe found out a lot more about himself. He’s never been in a fight where he’s thought ‘This is a rough round for me. I’ve lost the round easy, I’m getting hit a bit’. Then he’s having to come back to the corner. We had to settle him down, we had to regroup and get his composure back and go out and turn the next round around. Those sort of learning things are invaluable for us moving forward.
“I personally believe that this fight has come at the best time for us. These are the fights that shape a career moving forward. We’re going to have much tougher fights than Takam, but we needed this Takam fight at this particular stage.”
Attention now turns to Parker’s 20th fight. On paper a less threatening test against Solomon Haumono (19-0, 16 KOs) on 21 July in Christchurch. A break of only two months for Parker, but Barry wasn’t interested in sitting on the sidelines.
“We had this fight in place win, lose or draw. This was either us moving forward or our comeback fight,” Barry admitted.
Haumono, 40, has taken himself away from his home in Australia to train in America for the fight. A factor not lost on Parker himself.
“He’s left to get better, and focus for this upcoming fight. I believe this is another challenge for me at this stage for my career. Someone like Solomon, who has a lot of power, I think this is a big challenge.
“When he throws his punches he aims to knock you out which makes him dangerous because he has a lot of power. A lot of people see him as a step down, a lot see him as an easy fighter but when I step in the ring with anyone now they want what I've got.”
Parker and Barry will be interested spectators from their home in Las Vegas when they tune in to see Anthony Joshua makes the first defence of his IBF World heavyweight title against Dominic Breazeale tonight at London’s O2 Arena. For many, it’s a walk in the park for the champion. The challenger may offer more resistance than Charles Martin [when Joshua won the title] but the outcome will be the same.
It’s a chance for Parker and Barry to scout the champion. A fight between Joshua and Parker isn’t just around the corner, but 2017 is a distinct possibility. Barry told BM that a win over Haumono for Parker could lead his star into another fight against an opponent more in the mould of Joshua, to assist with their preparation.
“My personal opinion is that Joshua is too strong, with every fight he keeps getting better. For me I think Joshua’s going to win this fight. That’s my prediction but anything can happen in boxing," Parker said when discussing tonight’s pay-per-view fight.
“Dominic Breazeale is a big, fit, strong guy who’s very, very promotable. He talks very well. I think that promotionally he is 100% better than Charles Martin,” Barry said.
“I don’t know how long this fight will go. I’ve been very impressed with Anthony Joshua. I’ve seen him get better with each fight. And I’ve always believed with fighters, especially young fighters, when they win a world title it makes them a better fighter. I think we’re seeing that with Anthony Joshua.”