Joseph Parker will need to be at his elusive best when the Kiwi champion takes on British powerhouse Anthony Joshua in the world heavyweight boxing title unification bout in three weeks.

Proud mother Sala Parker, meanwhile, has shown some slick bob and weave moves of her own.

With the boxing world spotlight on her son after his WBO title win in 2016, Sala had been enjoying relative anonymity in her first year of studies for a counselling degree.

As she was starting the course, a fellow student remarked, "Oh, you're the only Samoan in the class," Sala recalls.


Had there been another Samoan in the class she would have been immediately recognised, she says.

Her oldest son is so popular in the Pacific nation he has been awarded an Order of Merit and a half-day public holiday was declared to celebrate his world title win.

But her classmates were not fight fans. "They don't know about boxing, and I was happy as anything."

Her cover was blown over the summer break, however, with the increasing media build-up to what will be one of the biggest moments in New Zealand sporting history.

Lecturers saw Sala being interviewed about her son's historic fight, which will be screened in more than 100 countries.

"They saw me on TV and they saw my photo in the Herald, and when I went back to school this year, they were like, 'Oh, you're a good secret-keeper, you kept it all this long'."

The butterflies started rising from the moment it was announced her son, 26, would fight WBA, IBF and IBO title-holder Joshua, 28, who has knocked out all 20 of his professional opponents.

"He's dangerous. Strong. Muscular. Hopefully he's not going to land any good [punches] on Joseph."

Joseph Parker's mum, Sala, sister Elizabeth and dad, Dempsey, with the WBO belt that is on the line in Cardiff. Photo / Nick Reed
Joseph Parker's mum, Sala, sister Elizabeth and dad, Dempsey, with the WBO belt that is on the line in Cardiff. Photo / Nick Reed

But although Sala is concerned her son "might get hurt", she says he has reassured her "many, many times".

"We talk every day. He says, 'Mum just relax. When you go to the fight, enjoy it. Don't worry. I'm training really hard to put him on the floor'."

Sala, 51, who loves seeing her son perform in the ring but still winces when he is hit, offers him technical advice after each fight.

Her tip for his upcoming bout against one of the hardest punchers on the planet is: "Just don't stand in front of him, move around."

Sala and husband Dempsey, 57, fly to the UK next week to support Parker and younger son John, 23, who is on the undercard for the sold-out event at Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, on March 31 (April 1, New Zealand time).

The family will gather the day before the fight to pray for their sons' protection and success, and "for the safety of all the fighters".

Hearing of Sala's concerns, Joshua has said: "I'll put Parker in my prayers that he leaves the ring in good health, and he goes back to New Zealand and his family in good health.

"A mother's love is unconditional so I respect that. Tell his mum not to worry — I hope he leaves the ring in safe condition."

Sala thought Joshua was "naturally nice". But she was unhappy with trash talk around the match-up.

As Parker's fight camp was trying to negotiate the super-bout, jibes flew about Joshua having a "glass chin".

After the fight was signed off, Parker's coach Kevin Barry said comments were for the purpose of theatre.

"We don't think he (Joshua) has a dodgy chin, but we know he can be knocked down," Barry said.

Sala says when she attended a press conference in Auckland during the push for the bout, she went to the back of the room and saw a statue of a glass head. She asked what it was for and was told it had been brought along as a prop. "And I said — no, don't let that happen, put it away! They didn't use it."

Sala was also unimpressed by talk show host Graham Norton's comments about her son. Interviewing Joshua on The Graham Norton Show, the host featured an unflattering photo of Parker and said he looked like the "king of pies".

"When I saw that, I'm like — 'Who the hell you think you are?" Sala says. She has refused to watch Norton's show since.

Parker himself responded to the dig with humour. "Looking the part doesn't always get the win," he told the Herald at the time. Asked what physical shape he was in, he said "circle".

He had taken some time off and put on a bit of weight, he said, but could burn it off fast.
Sala says her son had needed a break after years of hard training, including rising from bed every day at 4.50am as a schoolboy to pound 8km around the pavements near their Mangere East home.

He left New Zealand weighing 121kg, but with intense training was back to 109kg within a month of returning to his Las Vegas base, where he stays with Barry.

Sala stepped into the ring alongside her son for the first time when he defeated Andy Ruiz in December 2016 at Vector Arena to become the WBO world champion.

He had asked her to do so throughout his rising career, but she told him she would do it only when he won the world title.

"That was one of the happiest moments for Joseph. I was able to step into that ring and celebrate it together with him and the team."

The world title was the culmination of a dream for Parker — and a source of pride and joy for Dempsey and Sala. Their son had trained hard to achieve a potential his father first noticed when he was a preschooler.

After Parker began jabbing into his hands at about 4 years old, Dempsey (named for US boxing great Jack Dempsey) got a tiny punching bag and gloves for his son to train with.

When Parker won the title, the delighted family thanked "the Lord for all the blessings" that He had endowed their son with, Dempsey says.

Sala will "most definitely" climb into the ring in Cardiff to celebrate with her son if he wins.

The Team Parker fight purse for the title unification bout is expected to be around $12 million. Sala says he is "very good with his money", something his parents have encouraged because they do not want to him to put in all the hard work "and end up with nothing".

He has an accountant, and copies his mum in on all his financial correspondence.

"If I see something that's not really clear, I always question, what was this for?"

It will be a doubly emotional ride for Sala and Dempsey in Cardiff, with both sons in action. John, a former New Zealand national middleweight and light heavyweight amateur champion, has won his three fights since turning professional.

"Joseph left on a Saturday [for training camp for the Joshua fight] and then John on Sunday," Sala says.

"On Monday I was by myself at home doing my housework and I was crying at the same time."

Daughter Elizabeth, 27, about to graduate with a law degree, has also competed in the ring.

She and husband Fonua Fuavao, one of Parker's childhood mates, took part in matches after she was invited to join a work team because of her family pedigree.

Elizabeth and Fonua, who received plenty of tips from Parker over Skype, both won their bouts.

Sala is keeping her feet on the ground amid the whirlwind of interest in the unification bout.

She always knew the giant son she still shadow boxes with in the kitchen of the family home was "going to be a successful boy".

She and Dempsey have encouraged their children to make the most of their talents, and appreciate they are gifts to be used wisely and humbly.

They are aware that, though boxing critics give their son a genuine chance in Cardiff, Joshua is the clear favourite. But being an underdog takes pressure off Parker, they say.

Their message to him is to do his best and that they love him. And they want to thank the Kiwi and Samoan fans for their support.

Parker was motivated by a desire "to make the two countries happy", Sala says. "And a way of repaying their respect and their support is to win this fight."

He and Joshua are "both undefeated, both training really hard", she says. "My prediction is, it's up to the Lord."