Carlos Takam is ready with a smile, but the man Joseph Parker has described as a "little tank" has a steely side, too, and it was on show yesterday at an occasionally awkward press conference featuring the pair at a South Auckland fast food restaurant.

The 35-year-old, who has been a professional boxer for 12 years, clearly marches to his own beat. That is admirable, but, although there is mutual respect between him and New Zealander Parker ahead of their IBF world title eliminator at Manukau on Saturday - a fight which will make waves around the world - Takam isn't here to make friends and that is also abundantly obvious.

It began when the French Cameroon fighter - speaking through an interpreter - bristled at a question he had been sparring with Junior Fa, a 26-year-old heavyweight from Papakura at the start of his professional career, responding with: "Who told you that?"

"I'd like to know where you heard that and then I'll give you my answer." Promoter Dean Lonergan, watching developments at Papatoetoe's Burger King, offered: "New Zealand's a small place."


Eventually, Takam said: "Yes, I sparred with him. I really appreciated the time he took to spar with me. It went well. It wasn't necessarily a secret, but also I wasn't necessarily wanting to let everyone know."

Takam's reticence probably stems from allegations a member of Parker's team was spotted at an Auckland gym before a sparring session last week; Takam responding by promptly leaving and scheduling all other sessions behind closed doors.

The stakes are high for both men but they are probably higher for Takam. Victory on Saturday opens the door to a potential big-money fight against IBF champion Anthony Joshua in London, and for Takam, who is nearing the end of his career, it is last-chance territory.

There is normally an esprit de corps between Parker and his opponent in New Zealand because they tend to spend a lot of time in each other's company, and especially when doing promotions together in the regions. That's not quite the case this time, but this is perhaps the first time a fighter has arrived in his country fully expecting - rather than hoping - to win. Takam even refused to answer a question from Duco Events media manager Craig Stanaway - perhaps rightfully saying he would answer only those from the media.

Not to be outdone, Parker, wearing a blue three-piece suit and polished brown shoes, perhaps landed a sneaky metaphorical punch regarding the sparring question.
"I don't think you can gain a lot sparring this close to the fight."

Asked whether he was prepared to be hurt after coming through his previous 18 professional fights undefeated, Parker said: "I have a lot of respect for Carlos and what he's done in his career. He's been in the ring with some big names. The plan is not to get hit, but with boxing, if you have a guy like Carlos who's prepared to give me a good fight, who is confident in himself and who has trained the house down, then you're definitely going to take some punches. I'm definitely excited about fighting someone like Carlos, who is going to be a good name on my record if I beat him."

Takam said: "With time, he is going to be one of the best. But right now I'm here to win."