Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Boxing: The man who makes Joseph Parker tick

New Zealand businessman Bob Jones first connected Kevin Barry with Joseph Parker, but the union was not straightforward.

Jones, a boxing aficionado and millionaire, wanted Barry to train Parker in Las Vegas before the 2012 Olympics in London.

For one reason or another it didn't happen. Parker then lost the final qualifier and never made it to the United Kingdom.

Next it was Dean Lonergan with an offer. "Kev", the promoter said to his friend on the phone in Las Vegas, "I want to sign this guy as a professional and I want you and only you to train him".

"Okay", came the uncertain reply.

"I thought, 'I had never met him, I had never met his family'," Barry told the Herald this week.

"I've got to sell this whole concept to my wife - Dean wants to send this guy over to me to live with us. Dean said, 'well if it doesn't work out then I'll put him up in a hotel'.

I said 'look, you bring a young Samoan boy from South Auckland and you put him in a hotel, it's never going to work, mate'. I said, 'this whole thing, if it works, I'm going to have to invite him into my family'. Dean said, 'he's a lovely guy'."

Kevin Barry made a pledge to Parker's parents that he would treat Joseph like he would treat his own children. Photo / Dean Purcell.
Kevin Barry made a pledge to Parker's parents that he would treat Joseph like he would treat his own children. Photo / Dean Purcell.

That conversation happened more than three years ago. It took seven months for the contract to go through. Now 56-year-old Barry and his 24-year-old fighter are standing on the brink of a world title shot and the bond between them looks likely to endure for a long time.

Victory over Carlos Takam at Manukau's Vodafone Events Centre tomorrow will make Parker the mandatory challenger for the IBF world heavyweight title, and Barry has been alongside him for the past 14 of his 18 professional fights.

Another thing worming into Barry's mind as he considered Lonergan's offer was the fallout from the David Tua affair. Barry, who was very close to Tua and trained him for 12 years, had a massive falling out with him over money following the heavyweight's world title defeat to Lennox Lewis in 2000.

A legal battle ensued and the emotional scars remain for both men.

However, after watching Parker train for the first time, and meeting his parents Sala and Dempsey, Barry's fears were eased. Later they would vanish.

"He was very much an amateur, not using his whole body, no leverage from his legs," Barry says. "I waited for about 15 minutes and gave him a couple of instructions.

"What I showed him he adopted straight away. That was massive, I thought 'this kid is coachable. He wants to learn'.

"I met with his Mum and Dad and they said people had come up to them and said 'oh you shouldn't put Joseph with Kevin Barry, he's the wrong guy, look what happened with Tua after 12 years'.

The family said 'we want what's best for our son. We want him with you'.

"I made a pledge to them at the time that I would become his father figure and would treat him like I would treat my own children."

The trip to Samoa earlier this year for Parker's fight against American Jason Bergman, helped Barry shut the door on the Tua controversy.

"There will always be a scar there," Kevin Barry says of the fallout over David Tua. Photo / File
"There will always be a scar there," Kevin Barry says of the fallout over David Tua. Photo / File

"I had a lot of love in Samoa; a lot of respect from the Prime Minister and elders, and a lot of thanks for what I'm doing with Joseph.

"They knew what I did with David for 12 years, with Masalino Masoe [a middleweight world title], a lot of other Samoan fighters.

"There will always be a scar there," Barry says of the Tua fallout. "When I agreed to come back here and start training Joe, it was very important for me that I put that behind me.

In a sense I had years prior ... but you spend 12 years with a person and it leaves emotional scars. The fact I was now spending more time in New Zealand that it was even more important for me to completely close that chapter. And I have.

"That name very rarely even comes up now. No one even really cares, it's a long time ago now."

Barry began boxing at 8-years-old under the care of his father, Kevin senior, who would go on to become a Commonwealth and Olympic Games coach and an amateur boxing identity in Christchurch.

His late father remains a huge influence. Barry junior had his first fight at 9-years-old and once fought three times in one night as a 10-year-old at a Canterbury under-16 championship. He won the first two and lost the final to a 15-year-old.

He thrives on boxing and everything to do with it. During our interview, his phone rings several times - promoter Lonergan has been putting him through media paces like never before, he says - but he picks up his train of thought without hesitation.

As a light heavyweight, Barry won all sorts of medals and awards, and became synonymous with Evander Holyfield at the 1984 Olympics at Los Angeles after the American was disqualified for repeatedly hitting after the break, a controversial decision which helped Barry to a silver medal.

Of Parker, Barry says: "Joe is a gifted athlete, a very talented young man who has so much going for him." Photo / File
Of Parker, Barry says: "Joe is a gifted athlete, a very talented young man who has so much going for him." Photo / File

"I set a path for the amateurs coming behind me and I was very proud of that," he says. "I boxed for 16 years and it gave me a great start - it built the character and person I am today.

"The Holyfield fight at the Olympics ... I was bitter at the time because I was a proud guy and ended up winning my fourth fight there by disqualification. I was coming second in the fight. But I had never been off my feet in 16 years and he was never going to get me off my feet even though he knocked everyone else out. So he hit me with a cheap shot.

"As well as launching Holyfield's professional career, it opened a lot of doors for me in America back in the late 80s when I started travelling there."

During our interview, Barry receives a call from an old mate in Christchurch, plus Lonergan, and the latter he finishes with a stream of good-natured foul-mouthed insults.

Parker visits briefly, and leaves again after being told he has a BBC phone interview before training.

Once he leaves, Barry says: "Joe is a gifted athlete, a very talented young man who has so much going for him. He's special. And I feel there is a piece of me in Joe. It's the coaching that keeps me awake at night, thinking, 'I've got to try this particular combination'. I get up and write things down. The coaching occupies all my spare time.

"This is early. We're three years in and have a long way to go. Hopefully everything goes great [tomorrow night] and Joe produces everything he's shown me in the gym. If it doesn't work out as we think, we're going to get this opportunity again. A win here would be momentous, massive."

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