Former world heavyweight champion Joseph Parker has paid tribute to Jimmy "Thunder" Peau, a New Zealand-Samoa boxing trailblazer who died today aged 54.

Parker never met Peau, a Commonwealth Games gold medallist, but always wanted to.

Peau, who was born in Apia, Samoa, died in Auckland after brain surgery. Before returning to his hometown of Auckland, Peau lived in Las Vegas, where Parker has trained since 2012, for several years but unfortunately the pair never crossed paths.

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"He was definitely an influence on me when I was younger," Parker told the Herald today.

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"I didn't meet him face to face but I looked up to him the way I looked up to [David] Tua, [Maselino] Masoe, [Mark] Hunt, [Ray] Sefo, [Shane] Cameron, all those fighters."

Read more: 'It broke his heart': The tragic tale of champion Kiwi boxer Jimmy 'Thunder' Peau

As a heavyweight with a similar heritage to Parker, now 28, Peau was always going to be one to watch for a kid who dreamed of being a world champion, and Peau's extraordinary knockout victory over American Crawford Grimsley with the first punch of their fight in 1997 – after 1.5 seconds – still resonates. It is still one of the fastest in the history of the sport.

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Jimmy "Thunder" Peau knocked out many opponents in his career, including Bomani Parker in 1995. Photo / Getty

"The fastest knockout … you see that and you watch all of those who came from New Zealand and Samoa," Parker said. "I know he supported me because his kids would message me saying 'Dad is very proud of you and Dad loves what you're doing'. I always wanted to meet him; he was here in Vegas and I was trying to find him but I never did get to meet him.

"It was a different legacy – he was doing so well at the beginning but, from the stories I heard, I think a lot of people used him and then he fell into a trap in Vegas where he had some hard times and trouble."

It is a story almost as old as boxing itself. Unfortunately for Peau, who won New Zealand and Australian titles as well as the IBO world title, the sport did not provide the wealth and stability that it has for Parker, who won his world championship in 2016 before losing it to current champion Anthony Joshua two years later, a defeat which was perhaps softened slightly by the knowledge he had banked more than $10 million.

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Jimmy "Thunder" Peau. Photo / Getty

Parker is currently in Las Vegas preparing for a bout against American Shawndell Winters in Frisco, Dallas, on February 29.

Peau fought 49 times as a professional, winning 35 of those against some quality opposition, including Trevor Berbick, Tim Witherspoon and Tony Tubbs. Of those wins, 28 came by knockout. He had 89 fights as an amateur. His gold medal came at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh.

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"He had a great physique and great talent," Parker said. "I heard he was very humble, kind and loving person. I wish I did meet him."