It must be fight week. Joseph Parker offered a peek at both his sensitive side as well as a more sinister one as the countdown began in earnest to Sunday’s (NZT) effective heavyweight boxing eliminator against Dillian Whyte at the O2 Arena.
As London sweltered in a summer heatwave that took temperatures into the 30s, Parker mixed the downright cool with the decidedly snarly as he continued to prepare for what is expected to be a captivating sellout fight at London’s premier indoor venue.
This is a big, big matchup for the 26-year-old Aucklander against a legit British contender with genuine punching power and improving credentials. It could either catapult Parker straight back into the world title fight conversation or send him hurtling down the rankings with a long, hard slog to to get back to the sort of territory he has occupied for his latest two fights.
Now the hard work of training camp and the principal pre-contest tune-ups have all been taken care of, Parker is into that final phase of preparation where the protagonist has a little time on his hands to promote the fight, as well as prepare for it.
So Monday in London town saw Parker visit famous muso’s store Hank’s Guitar Shop in the Soho district where the hard-hitting Kiwi heavyweight revealed an aptitude for belting out a quality riff in a segment filmed for UK television.
In a store that peddles collector’s item guitars strummed by a who’s who of musical glitterati – including a nice little purple number once owned by Prince that will set you back £49,000 (NZ$94,600) – Parker enjoyed the chance to show off a more sensitive side of his personality.
“It’s a bit of fun getting away from the training and the gym, and it’s something else to do. It’s refreshing,” he said.
Parker has played guitar for as long as he can remember, first taught the basics by his father Dempsey and continuing to evolve his talents in typically Polynesian/Kiwi fashion.
“I’ve had a few lessons here and there but it’s mostly self-taught and learnt from others,” he said. “I love the guitar. My sister plays piano, so we teach each other, and teach (younger brother) John. We all know how to play instruments, but the only thing I can’t do is sing – I’m hopeless.”
But the big Kiwi, who looks to have gotten himself in excellent shape for this fight, was certainly hitting the right note with his predictions for Saturday night at the O2 where he vows to turn “bad intentions” into a good outcome.
Parker described the buildup as “a little laidback … not as intense as the Joshua fight, and not as relaxed as the fights back home. Somewhere in the middle. But the training has been the best, with the sparring rounds we’ve had and the strength and conditioning work, I feel like I’m punching with bad intentions more so than the last fight.”
In a no-holds-barred interview in the back of a London cab, Parker said he believes he’s a better fighter for having been through the experience of his only career defeat (on points) against Anthony Joshua with those three belts on the line.
“I’ve put in more rounds of sparring, more strength and conditioning, and it’s not only the body that’s changed, but also the mindset. I’m not a champion any more, and the whole team is determined to get back there again. We want to be world champ; we want to be unified champ.
“I’m hungrier, and more motivated. I’ve missed the birth of my daughter, so I can’t wait to go see her. But I want to bash this guy first and then go give her a nice hug.”
Parker then revealed that darker side when he spoke of a mindset developed during those 102 rounds of sparring in Vegas against men trained to come at him like Whyte will in front of what’s likely to be a raucous home crowd.
“I was doing everything I could to hurt the other person, and at the end of camp in sparring sessions I wanted to break their ribs. That’s not a nice thing to say, but you get in the ring with me I’m going to bash you so hard I want to see you on the ground screaming.”
Asked what he needed to do to beat Whyte, whom Kevin Barry has said will take two punches to give three, Parker said it was about “relentless punches to his head and body” and winning the tactical battle.
“Everyone is saying we’re going to war but you have to be smart with him and show good movement, and more offence. We didn’t throw enough punches [against Joshua]. This time we’ve talked about throwing a lot of punches and we’ve actually practised it in camp. So now I know if I have to throw a lot of punches, it’s already there. I have practised everything I’ve said I’m going to do.”
Parker is still kicking himself about the way the Joshua fight panned out. Now he’s ready to play a different tune on the big stage.