Patrick McKendry reports on the tense, nervous moments in Joseph Parker's dressing room ahead of his fight with Junior Fa.
It's 8 o'clock, a full three hours before he takes the ring, and a sheen of sweat glistens on Joseph Parker's forehead.
It's not particularly warm in his dressing room at Auckland's Spark Arena, and he's wearing only a black T-shirt and a pair of black shorts, but he's got things to do.
Expectations weigh on his shoulders, albeit apparently lightly. And his duties extend beyond simply preparing for his fight with Kiwi heavyweight rival Junior Fa.
He's introduced to several competition winners and there isn't a hint of impatience despite the fact he's about to risk his health and reputation before an increasingly raucous crowd and a worldwide television audience of millions spread around 180 countries.
There is an easy magnetism that surrounds Parker but the competition winners shake hands with him shyly and a couple feel the need to speak just above a whisper despite the thump of the bass coming from the arena through the concrete walls. Parker smiles and plays his part. He aims to please and he's happy around people. The visitors don't linger.
It's calm here among members of his family, including brother John who has won his fight on the undercard, and his other supporters, but the excitement is building and other well-wishers come and go. Bags of apples and grapes sit on a trestle table. There are bottles of water on virtually every flat surface in the room.
I ask John, who has showered and is wearing a basketball top, how he feels. "I feel a lot better now," he replies.
His physical and mental ordeal is over. His big brother has it all ahead of him and with far more at stake. Joseph's trainer Kevin Barry asks John about the ring canvas and whether it holds any surprises. No, it's fine. It's tight, says John. Good, says Barry.
It's just business, Parker said a few days earlier. That may be so, but it's difficult to believe it's not a bit personal, too. After all, he's about to enter a ring with a man who beat him twice as an amateur and who told him during the face-off after the weigh on the previous day: "I'm going to make it three."
The third man in the ring will be referee John Conway, and the official comes and goes over the next three hours. There are rules briefings and so on, but Conway an Aucklander, clearly knows Parker fairly well. "All good?" he asks at one point.
Parker, a big man at 109kg and 1.94m, but smaller than Fa who is 118kg and 1.97m, opens his black bag and takes out his black and silver ring shorts and a matching sleeveless vest and drapes them over the cheap portable clothes rack.
He's done this 29 times before as a professional and many more as an amateur and so his actions are practised and methodical.
The undercard is showing on a television on the wall and, in between rounds, a pre-recorded interview with Parker is shown. It appears to have been shot at his home on the outskirts of South Auckland and he's leaning on the tailgate of a Ram truck – effectively a ute on steroids.
As he's sitting beside me, I ask him if it's his. "Yes, but [wife] Laine drives it all the time and I'm left driving the little Jeep Compass I bought for her."
Laine is here with her and Parker's two eldest daughters, Elizabeth, 4, and Shiloh, 3. They are wearing matching black Parker T-shirts and are as cute as buttons. Two-year-old Michaela is at home with Laine's mother.
Parker tells me: "My eldest says 'Daddy, pick me up and hold me' but I have to say 'I'm so sorry, I'm saving my energy'."
Someone asks him if he'd had his traditional afternoon pre-fight nap. He answers yes.
Later someone else asks him the same question. "Nah, I've gone two days without sleep. I'm wired!"
He's joking of course but I'm suddenly reminded of Muhammad Ali's quote: "The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up."
Just before 9pm he enters a little area off the main dressing room and begins the process of having his hands wrapped and taped by Barry.
It's at this point that the news of an imminent news conference fronted by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern filters through. There is dismay among the entourage, who fear the traditional after-party may be cancelled.
Of more concern to fight promoter David Higgins, who is also Parker's manager, is that the entire event may be compromised.
There is talk that a lockdown in Auckland could begin at midnight. Parker is due to walk out at 11pm. There is rumours too that the fight could be called off. "No way," says Higgins. "Have you seen the crowd out there? There would be a riot."
There are cheers when the lockdown is announced for 6am the next day rather than midnight. "I've dodged a bullet," Higgins says, not for the first time recently as the event was in doubt until the Monday prior when Auckland went from level 2 restrictions to level 1. Now we're going back to level 3 again but not until Parker and Fa get to fight and their supporters celebrate or commiserate.
Higgins says he tried to move the fight forward to 10.30pm or even 10.45pm in order for the crowd to disperse earlier. "The other camp didn't want to go early," he says.
Through it all, Parker quietly watches as Barry wraps his hands, a painstaking process which takes all of 45 minutes and is observed by a New Zealand Professional Boxing official and a grey-haired man dressed in black from the Fa camp; the pair watch Barry's work like two cats tracking a mouse through a pane of glass. They appear transfixed by the two hands resting on a towel draped over the back of a chair.
Once his hands are wrapped, Parker puts his ring shorts and grey boots on. Then his fists are squeezed into the customised gloves complete with Team Parker logo. He begins shadow boxing and feints to hit the Fa representative with a friendly body shot. The Fa man stifles a smile. "Nice boots," he deadpans.
Sweat starts dripping from his body now as Parker continues shadow boxing, and the mood changes once he starts hitting the pads held by Barry. The impacts echo around the room. His timing and the crispness of his shots and movement attract applause from those watching. It is a display of awesome brutality and, in the dim light, perilous for Barry should a punch go astray.
"Can someone turn on the lights brighter?" Barry asks. "It's f***ing dangerous in here."
Parker says, tongue in cheek: "Can everyone stand around and point their phones at me please?"
The lights are up as bright as they go but a solution is found when a television light is presented and held to the ceiling by a volunteer.
"All right, start putting your fight faces on, boys," Barry says. Laine and the girls have long gone by this stage.
The bang, bang, bang of the punches continues, Parker covering the distance between him and Barry easily and gracefully. He appears in supreme physical condition and is breathing easy.
The action comes to a halt. Barry calls the entourage in for a prayer. Lord, please protect Joe in the ring and allow him to fight to his ability, he says. Please allow him to prevail in victory.
The flags of Samoa and New Zealand are unfolded. His traditional ring walk song – by Roy Jones Jr – plays on a portable speaker. I get set to leave and am grateful to be heading to my seat high in the stands rather than entering a ring with a man who wants to knock me unconscious.
I take a final look back as I exit the room and Parker is composing himself for his long walk with a smile on his face.