Boxing: Parker primed for battle

By Paul Lewis

No one can say New Zealand heavyweight boxing prospect Joseph Parker is unprepared for his much-anticipated fight with South Africa's Francois Botha on Thursday.

Since his impressive bout with expat Kiwi Brice Ritani in Los Angeles on May 17, he has been sparring. Over 90 rounds of sparring. Three sessions a week, with fitness work in between. Two sessions of eight rounds, one of six rounds, depending on how Parker's 21-year-old body is holding out.

It seems to be holding out well. Weighing in at 104kg when he fought the 124kg Ritani, Parker is having to eat his weight up again after dropping a kilo or two with all the hard work.

And it hasn't just been gym monkey stuff. He's had several interesting sparring partners - one of them a 23-year-old Mexican heavyweight on the rise, Andy Ruiz, beginning to make a name for himself with an 18-0 record. He's also sparred with a well-known Japanese kickboxer and with Ritani.

Ruiz was a lesson. Standing 1.88m and unlike Parker in that Ruiz looks unathletic and overfed, Parker soon found out why Ruiz is 18-0; he throws plenty of punches, good punches, and does not let up, belying the fact that his body shape suggests strongly that he would fade.

"He was a good lesson in not judging a book by its cover," says Parker. "He had the most accurate punches I have ever faced and one of the best guys I have faced. He didn't look much but then he chases you round the ring and tries to take your head off."

"He's had harder fights sparring than he has ever had in his career so far," says trainer Kevin Barry who has been hosting Parker in his home in Las Vegas and training him there. "He's done very well."

In the way of boxing, once all the hoop-la and hype has been dropped, Parker and Ritani became mates after moving round a ring trying to knock the feathers out of each other. Parker won their fight in a unanimous decision but it is a mark of his novice status that it was the first time he had been six rounds. The Botha fight will be over eight.

"Brice sparred with me after our fight," grins Parker. "We've become good mates. He got us some tickets and we went to a UFC fight together. It was pretty cool."

That, right there, is a side of boxing most never see. When the physicals are done, the friendships can begin. Parker is all speed and serious intent in the ring but a relaxed and instantly likeable man out of it, always with a grin on his face and a clear view of what he wants to achieve.

"That's what it's like," says Parker. "It's business inside the ring but outside it, it's friendship and brotherhood. I try to do that with all my opponents."

It's a welcome change from all the usual trash talk associated with professional boxing - and it's one of Parker's assets as he begins what could be a promising pro career. Being fit, fast and able to throw and take a punch is one thing; having the mental coolness to think and apply what is learned in training is another. Parker seems to have a cool head and there is no mistaking his intent in the ring; when the switch is thrown, he morphs from nice guy to a hunter-destroyer.

He will need his speed, ringcraft and analytical qualities against the 44-year-old Botha. More than twice his age, sure, but also vastly experienced after bouts against the likes of Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Wladimir Klitschko and Michael Moorer - world champions all. Though Botha lost to them all and has not held a major world title, he is a far cry from Parker's opponents thus far in his fledgling career.

Although he weighs around the 120kg mark (and possibly more), Botha is no cream bun. He finished strongly over Sonny Bill Williams in their controversial fight which led to all manner of accusations including corruption and drugs - and most knowledgeable observers thought Botha would have won that fight had it gone the expected 12 rounds instead of being suspiciously shortened to 10.

It seems unlikely that Botha will match Parker in terms of punches thrown and landed but that's the great uncertainty of boxing. It takes only one punch to end a fight.

- Herald on Sunday

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