Parker v `King' Afa
When he was only 3, Joseph Parker loved jabbing into the open palms of his father, Dempsey Parker, named after the legendary American boxer Jack Dempsey.
As the reflexes of the second-born child quickened over a year or so his father had no hesitation in resorting to some positive reinforcement, chucking a pair of gloves and a matching punching bag his way.
The senior Parker would say something along the lines of: ``Listen, boy, if you keep it up you'll one day become a good fighter.''
The sturdy youngster didn't rest, bobbing, weaving, ducking and dancing his way around with brother John, two years younger, also shadowing his moves.
When Joseph's cognitive development reached a certain level of maturity even as a child, Dempsey sat his eldest boy on his lap at their East Mangere home in Auckland to say: ``Okay, son, if you do well in boxing the family, who have all sorts of problems now, will start coming back together again.''
The senior Parker wasn't talking about his nuclear family, including fellow
Samoa-born wife Sala, 47, and eldest of three Auckland-born children, Elizabeth, 22, now a fourth-year Victoria University law student in Wellington.
He was referring to his and Sala's clan whose roots go back to Faleula Village on the main island of Upolu, about 20 minutes drive from the capital city of Apia.
To be honest, Kiwi professional heavyweight fighter Joseph Parker struggles to get his head around it but his father was one of 17 children.
The boxer's paternal grandmother, Ramona, also had eight more children from other marriages.
His mother, Sala, was one of 24 children after her father had three wives.
``So I have like more than a 100 cousins all over the world now,'' says an affable Parker, grinning but throwing his hands up in despair during his interview in Hastings this week while promoting his fight on October 10 at the Trusts Arena, Auckland.
Shaking his head and smiling, the boxer believes his fledgling but promising career seems to be following his father's prophecy as he begins to realise the enormity of how fragile the fabric of extended families in the island culture can be by its size and spread.
There's no hint of embellishment from the New Zealand-born Samoan fighter making significant strides in a sporting code whose history is pockmarked by murky dealings and dodgy characters.
Okay so four of his cousins in Auckland, who drove him to trainings at unearthly hours and catered to him hand and foot before he fell under the glare of the TV cameras, are a welcome party when trainer Kevin Barry conducts his proceedings here.
Those cousins were there for him when he was a nobody in the boxing world.
It's when the 21-year-old spread his wings to Las Vegas, where Barry is based with his family in Green Valley, that he really started coming to grips with the impact of his parents' countless siblings.
A paternal uncle, living in Las Vegas, saw TV footage on Barry and Parker so he cut a track to meet his nephew.
``I had never met him in my whole life until I started training with Kevin,'' he explains, talking time out from his rigorous training session on a Sunday rest day to visit that uncle.
Brother John Parker, 21, also met that uncle when he visited Las Vegas a little later and their parents, who emigrated to New Zealand from Samoa as separate entities before getting married, are now building a rapport with their siblings as well.
When he went to fight in California a few weeks later, Parker came across another uncle and aunty in the US, this time his father's sister and her husband who drove for about six hours with their children to meet him and bearing gifts of food.
``It always excites me to meet new family members. I'd like to meet them all some day,'' says Parker, aware they could be scattered all over the world.
Of course, success brings out all sorts of acquaintances but Parker is mindful of imposters especially in island cultures where people can quickly establish affiliations in the most remote circumstances.
While TV wallahs have jovially suggested fighting names such Joseph ``The Car'' Parker'', although ``The Valet'' sounds more sophisticated, he smiles when asked what name he would pick and if trash talking is eventually going to be part of his repertoire.
Barry interrupts, emphasising he's young and just focusing on becoming
adept in ring craft.
Having uncovered Parker's remarkable family tree, it seems Joseph ``The Pacifier'' Parker may be a sensible, if not appropriate, ring name for the gentle giant although some may disagree because it isn't probably likely to strike fear in the hearts of opponents.
Parker will square off against knockout merchant ``King'' Afa Tatupu (7 KOs from 8) for the Hydr8 Zero New Zealand National Boxing Federation title fight under the Duco Events banner.
Parker's father travels to all his fights but his mother only goes to the ones in Auckland.
``I know I'm always ready when I jump into the ring,'' he says, adding his mother doesn't cringe when he exchanges flurry of punches.
Says Barry: ``He's a very nice person. He's not a showpony . What you see is what you get with Joseph.''
The man, whose first trainer in his childhood was Grant Arkell, of the Papatoetoe Gym, is an advocate of the discipline of former world heavyweight champion, Lennox Lewis, of Britain, showed in retirement in a sport where ageing professionals become journeymen
because hanging up their gloves is not an option.
``Lennox retired in his mid-30s. He could have made tens of millions of dollars with people trying to get him out of retirement to fight [Wladimir] Klitschko but he didn't and by doing so he won more respect from the boxing fans,'' Barry explains.
It came as shock to Parker to see former world heavyweight champion Leon Spinks, who beat the great Muhammad Ali, at a dinner function in the US this year.
``He could barely speak and when he said something you could hardly understand what he was saying.
``I don't ever want to be a punch drunk.''
Parker's adroitness expands to his ability to handle himself with aplomb when he isn't on the canvas, too, in his career.
He has established a company where everything from taxes, legal matters and accounts are all handled professionally.
Touted as the next best Kiwi hopeful among the big boys since the advent of fellow Samoan David Tua, Parker is mindful of his predecessor's battles off the ring that stymied his career with Barry.
To show how far ahead Parker is in his career, Barry says: ``I put together David Tua's contract and I can tell you what he earned was less than a quarter of what Parker will earn in his first year.''
Part of Parker's plans is to help his parents when they are retired. His father,
who has a disability on a leg because someone stood on it when he was a baby,
is a steel plant employee while his mother is a social worker.
The undefeated (6-0) boxer has a girlfriend in Auckland ``who supports me and understands what boxing is all about.''
A man who plans a visit to his parents' village in Samoa almost a year out, Parker is a household home in the island nation after his winning bout against Francois ``The White Buffalo'' Botha was televised.
Says Barry: ``Look, Joseph won't tell you all this but people there are very, very proud of him.''
Parker trains three times a day, comfortably making 30-plus hours a week although Barry begs to stress it's a compact, sophisticated programme.
After making his road tour to promote the televised fight against Tatupu.
Parker loves his starch-heavy island food, which he burns up rapidly, but when
in Vegas these days Barry's wife, Tanya, prepares him appropriate meals.
The Barrys' 18-year-old twin sons in Las Vegas are good mates with Parker.
The teenagers, who have been there for almost a decade, are grid-iron American
Every opportunity Parker gets, he Skypes his family from the Barrys' home
Having passed his level 1-3 NCEA exams in high school, Parker was in the middle of a first-year building construction course at an Auckland tertiary institution but boxing took over.
``We were building a house but when I came back after a boxing trip they had already completed it. They said they were going to wait until I returned,'' he says with a laugh.
Parker turned professional soon after missing the cut to the London Olympics last year in the bid for only one berth allocated to an Oceania qualifier.
He had lost to fellow Aucklander Junior Fa, a Tongan, by a point but had
beaten him three times before that.
Fa lost to Australian Johan Linde, who went to the Games, where a Khazakistan
fighter stopped him.
Parker had beaten the Khazakistani unanimously in a tournament before the
Duco Events' Dean Lonerghan and Sir Bob Jones convinced Parker to turn