By: Eric Lunger
WBO Heavyweight Champion Joseph Parker (23-0, 18 KOs) of New Zealand will fight for the first time in England on September 23, making his second title defense against the talented challenger Hughie Fury, cousin to lineal champion Tyson Fury. I had a chance last Thursday to speak with Joseph from his training camp in Las Vegas.
Photo credit: http://photosport.co.nz/
We began with a brief look back at Parker’s successful defense of his WBO title against Razvan Cojanu (16-3, 9 KOs) on May 6. A sparring partner in Parker’s camp, the towering Romanian stepped in as a late minute replacement for Hughie Fury, who had been sidelined by a back injury. The event narrowly avoided being cancelled entirely.
Boxinginsider.com: First of all, congrats on a successful defense. Razvan Cojanu was so familiar with your style and your offense — how did you stay disciplined with his constant retreating and avoiding your offense?
Joseph Parker: Yes, it was a little difficult fighting someone you have been in camp with. But first, it was a great result for us and it was great to get a fight after a long camp. I’d like to thank my team for doing that. There were a lot of things in the background, so it was great to get the fight.
In terms of the fight, I think sparring gave him a lot of awareness of what my style is, and how I fight. He was a lot more prepared for what I was going to bring. How I stayed focused was to listen to Kevin, listen to instructions, and to follow the game plan he had given me that week.
BI: In a fight like that, do you guys change your tactics round-to-round? Are you waiting for Kevin to direct you between rounds? How does that dynamic work between you guys?
JP: We go into every fight with a game plan that we discuss before hand, so we have a clear vision of what we are going to do in the ring, though sometimes we may have to change it up if its not working – we may have to go from Plan A to Plan B. But in that particular fight, the goal for us was just to box smart, you know, we went from training for Fury to Cojanu, who has a lot more size. So we had to change things up very quickly. I think we did a great job, and the positive thing was to get a fight in.
I know that my performance wasn’t the best; I was in great shape but it wasn’t a great performance. We had a long camp and I would rate my performance at about 65%. I have a lot more to offer and I am really excited to be able to show people the real me without all the changes and distractions.
BI: It seemed in the early rounds that you really focused on changing the level of your jab, going upstairs and then down to the body. Is that something you had prepped for Hughie or is that just the way you are going to deal with a taller fighter?
JP: Yeah, I think this is an approach we’ve taken in both camps; you have to attack the head and the body. Sometimes the body shots hurt more, so I think going into fights with taller opponents it is very important to mix it up – I feel like its just a natural thing to go up and down.
BI: Joseph, how do you guys prepare mentally to go into Manchester, the Furys’ backyard? It’s going to be a pro-Fury crowd, and is that something you are concerned about, or can you just tune that stuff out?
JP: Well, for us, it’s going to be exciting. The reason I say this is because we are used to fighting at home. We are used to the crowd, we appreciate our home crowd. We have a great set up and structure we follow when we fight in New Zealand.
But this is way more exciting, fighting somewhere else, fighting in front of his crowd, and I think being a world champion, you have to fight around the world, and not just one destination. I think it is important to go around the world and display what you have.
BI: Hughie Fury, from what I have seen, is a counter puncher. He has that awkward head movement, and he tries to lure opponents in. How much do you game plan for that, or how much do you say: I am Joseph Parker, you have to beat me? Where is that balance?
JP: I have watched some of Hughie’s fights on YouTube. He is quite good at using the ring, I’ll say that. I think going into each fight, we focus on a game plan, focusing on what you have to do. It’s more that if you can perfect what you are going to do, everything falls into place. We don’t fall into the trap of worrying what he will do, rather focus on what we will do.
BI: I don’t mean this in the wrong way, but you have kind of an old time double jab. Is that something that you guys work on, or is that something that is natural in your style?
JP: It’s something that I really love, it is something we worked on. I used the double jab a lot in my early fights and it’s something that has fallen off a bit, but I feel now it is very important to bring it back. But we are working all the time on things we can improve on. We want to improve every fight, you know.
BI: The more weapons in your arsenal, the better?
JP: Of course, you have got to have different weapons. And with different weapons you can show things and confuse fighters. So it is always a work in progress.
BI: You’re in your second week, what is camp like at this point?
JP: Getting our fitness back up again, getting our strength, working on the game plan. Trying to explore with my mind’s eye what I am trying to accomplish in each session. Also, the first few weeks are preparing for when we do start sparring.
BI: Do you have specific fitness metrics that you use or do you rely on how your body is feeling?
JP: We have a good structure – we train three times a day. But the training does take a toll on the body. One thing that Kevin has mentioned to me is that it is very important to listen to your body, sometimes it is not really up to the hard repetition. You don’t want to overwork yourself. I have been doing this for a while, and it is all about finding a balance.
BI: What’s it like that last couple of hours before a bout? What are you guys doing back in the changing room? Are you staying loose? Are you talking? What is that final preparation like?
JP: For myself, and my team, when we are back there, most of the time the music is playing, everyone is dancing, we’re telling jokes. I feel like I have done this from the beginning [of my career], I feel like it’s a good way of keeping ourselves relaxed. When you are in the ring, then you hit the switch and enter fight mode. But before that, you stay relaxed, save your energy. You know you have a big task ahead of you.
BI: That’s really interesting. To switch gears a bit, I watched the press conference on July 11 [from London, England] where Tyson Fury, a guy I think the US media doesn’t really know how to deal with, who has been kind of vilified — he was so respectful towards you in the press conference. That moment when you guys shook hands was such a classy and genuine thing. Can you comment on that?
JP: Yes. Leading up to our time in London, I have always had a lot of respect for Tyson, and I reached out to him on social media. We have been exchanging messages for a while. He has always been respectful of me and the team. It was great to finally meet him. He has done a lot for boxing. Of course, he beat Wladimir [Klitschko]. He’s the guy who beat the champ. He has been through some things, but he also is the reason we got the chance to fight for a belt.
But it was a nice moment to show heavyweight to heavyweight respect. I think respect is an important thing in boxing. There are a lot of humble fighters, but there are some who are disrespectful, and don’t watch what they say. I think boxing is a gentleman’s sport.
BI: Thanks for that. Last question: England has become in some ways the center of gravity for the Heavyweight division, but here in the US we have [WBC Champion] Deontay Wilder. Have you ever seen him fight in person? What is your take on him?
JP: I saw him fight in his last bout, against Washington. I think he was out of the ring for a while [with a broken hand], but my take on him was that he is very powerful, very powerful right hand. That particular fight wasn’t his best performance, but he got the job done. I think he steps up to the occasion. He is a champion for a reason: he trains hard, and is motivated and determined. I would like the opportunity one day to fight the other champions. I feel like the world should see champions fighting champions.