The story behind the gym that found Joseph Parker

Joseph Parker poses in his training gym. Photo / Getty
Joseph Parker poses in his training gym. Photo / Getty

Somehow, Grant Arkell's Papatoetoe boxing gym manages to be both timeless and a time capsule.

The very walls tell the story of boxing's glorious history. Champions and challengers, victors and the vanquished, global icons and Kiwi battlers rub shoulders, looking staunch or snarling down from promotional posters that compete for space on every nook, cranny and concrete pillar.

A pair of red leather gloves from a bygone era dangle from a corner post; two tattered armchairs provide a perfect view from ringside.

Perhaps this is where the veteran coach plants himself when his young charges are mastering the art of hitting while not getting hit?

"No," chuckles Arkell. "They are for the parents."

Of course. Parents. They start em young at the Papatoetoe Boxing Club. Joseph Parker was just 10 when he laced them up for the first time in this building 15 years ago.

The No 1 ranked heavyweight contender is just one of countless talented fighters to have studied pugilism under Arkell.

Parker's amateur rival Junior Fa (the pair split their four amateur contests 2-2), rising NZ national team star Patrick Mialata and NZ middleweight champ Mose Auimatagi are just some of the fighters Arkell has trained in recent times.

There's no shortage of talent in this country, he says. Parker's ascension underscores that point. But times are still tough. In boxing, that tends to be the way.

When Parker was 19, Arkell chipped in $4000 so his promising charge could attend the world junior championships in Azerbaijan. Arkell was supposed to attend as Parker's coach, but a lack of funding meant only Parker would be on the plane.

"All the people we approached for funding turned us down," says Arkell. "So my fare went on him. He flew there all the way on his own. He rang me from Bahrain and Baku, he was ringing me morning and night. Nobody spoke English and he had nobody in his corner."

Arkell arranged for the Australian team's coach to man Parker's corner.

"He came back with a silver medal."

Triumph over adversity is standard operating procedure in New Zealand boxing.

"We've got an enormous amount of talent but we haven't got the backing," says Arkell.

"All of the gyms I know are all struggling to keep their boys going, to keep their gyms going. We get very little help."

Parker's success, though, could prove a breakthrough for more than just one South Auckland kid. Boxing is consistently back in the headlines for the first time since David Tua's battered his way to a world title shot in 2000.

On Friday night, TV3 will screen the Big Bash V card live to a prime time free-to-air audience. The main event sees Arkell's softly spoken, big punching prospect Auimatagi take on Tauranga veteran Gunnar Jackson for the NZPBA middleweight title. Jackson has fought Anthony Mundine and Olympic gold medallist Ryota Morata and has a good following among dedicated boxing fans, but he's hardly a household name.

That could be about to change. TV3 - which screened most of Tua's major fights as well as the likes of Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield in their pomp - has long held an interest in boxing.

With sports broadcasting trending towards more local content in recent times, hopes in boxing circles are high that TV3's return to the ring proves more than just a flirtation.

Regular exposure to a large TV audience would be huge for the country's fighters and the sport in general, says Jackson.

"It's awesome to be on free to air TV. We don't just want to box well; we want to make a statement - let people know that we are here."

BIG BASH V screens live from Auckland's ASN Stadium on TV3 from 9.30pm on Friday. Live streaming via tv3.co.nz/bigbashboxing from 7.45pm.
Tickets from Eventfinda.

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