Boxing: Heat goes back on Barry

By Paul Lewis

Kiwi boxer Joseph Parker and Tanya Barry enjoy relaxing outdoors in Las Vegas before this week's heavyweight bout. Photo / Jenna Dosch
Kiwi boxer Joseph Parker and Tanya Barry enjoy relaxing outdoors in Las Vegas before this week's heavyweight bout. Photo / Jenna Dosch

It was Los Angeles, almost 30 years ago. The chairs were flying through the air. So too the drinks containers. And the cussing. The air was blue. And angry red. The Americans were upset.

Kevin Barry had just sunk to the canvas after a late blow from his semifinal opponent, Evander Holyfield, in the 1984 Olympic light-heavyweight division. The Yugoslavian referee disqualified Holyfield for hitting on the break - something he'd done consistently during the fight.

The US crowd erupted. They broke seats clear of their mounting and threw them. They threw coins, full plastic cups full of beer, and threats. The air was full of violence, all of it outside the ring. This writer surreptitiously covered the silver fern on his New Zealand T-shirt - an action I still regret but which seemed necessary at the time.

It really was that threatening. It was and remains one of the biggest controversies in the history of Olympic boxing. Barry couldn't fight for 28 days after being knocked out and the final was a walkover for Yugoslavia's Anton Josipovic - coincidentally from the same country as the referee, another element that set the Americans off.

Holyfield went on to have a stellar boxing career. Josipovic didn't - and ironically became a sports writer covering, among other things, Holyfield's career.

Also watching in the crowd that day was Tanya Moss, a New Zealand rhythmic gymnast at her first and last Olympics. She was alone in the team, not even a coach, and had been adopted by the boxing team.

She is now Tanya Barry, married for 20-plus years to the new trainer of New Zealand boxing heavyweight hope Joseph Parker - after making Barry wait through a six-year engagement.

"It was awful," she said of that 1984 night. "The crowd turned really nasty. I hated it. But I was in awe of Kevin's medal. When he showed me his medal, I was overawed ... I thought, 'if that was mine, well, I don't know what I'd do, I'd be so happy' but he was very matter of fact about it."

Barry, asked where his medal is, shrugs and says it's in a drawer somewhere. It is not framed and hung on the wall, with other boxing memorabilia, in his gym.

Tanya Barry still doesn't much care for boxing, she says, though the couple's 17-year-old twin sons, Mitchell and Taylor, are carving a fine reputation for themselves in high school in another combat sport: American football.

Daughter Jordy, 20, is already at college doing a political science and economics degree on her way to becoming, she hopes, a lobbyist.

This is the family environment in which the 21-year-old Parker finds himself as he trains for the clashes with Brice Ritani-Coe and South Africa's Francois Botha - this week and next month respectively.

Parker is pressed into service at the barbecue at the Barrys' house in their gated community in Henderson, a Las Vegas echo of their old neighbourhood in Titirangi.

Barry mock-scolds him into earning his keep. How many barbecues have you done, Joseph? "This will be my second," he deadpans before continuing to impress all and sundry with his comfortable personality and droll sense of humour masking a natural intelligence.

If Parker does well in professional boxing, it will be in large part due to his personality, attitude and strong work ethic. But while this is the story of the professional boxing birth of Joseph Parker, it is equally the story of the rebirth of Kevin Barry.

Linked forever with the financial squabbles and legal action that marked the end of his time with David Tua, Barry still bears the figurative scars from that clash. No matter the rights or wrongs of such situations, there really are no winners.

Barry, in talking about taking on Parker as a student, is clearly happy to be back in the game; he acknowledges there was something missing in his life.

Tanya Barry knows it, too. She knows he is in his element.

"But," she sighs, "we have been here before. I had my reservations about him taking this on - but there is no doubt he really wants to do it."

She tells the story of taking a reluctant Barry out one Auckland night in 2003 when the disagreements with Tua were at their height - and how she rounded on passers-by who called her husband names questioning his honesty and integrity. She donned the verbal gloves that night, dispatching the strangers.

The family are clearly happy in their new life in Las Vegas, seven years old now. Barry is the epitome of a happy man; a genial host and a focused trainer. He is still fit and he has several assets - a daughter in college, two sons earning rave reviews in football, a happy marriage and comfortable surroundings; the sun glints brightly off the water in the pool as the Las Vegas mercury touches 37.

That's nothing to the heat that goes on to Parker as he takes the first real steps into the cauldron that is professional boxing.

But Kevin Barry is back doing what he does best. There is heat on him too - but he likes it.

•Paul Lewis is in Las Vegas courtesy of Duco Events.

- NZ Herald

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