This is a big year for Joseph Parker as he seeks to re-establish himself in the elite ranks of the heavyweight division.
He is two weeks away from his fight against American Shawndell Winters in Frisco, Dallas, and has spoken of his desire to fight twice more this year after a frustrating 2019 during which he had only one bout – against Alex Leapai.
But making it all the more difficult and frustrating for the 28-year-old on the comeback trail after losing his WBO world championship title in 2018 is his status as what he describes as a high-risk proposition.
“I’m a risky fight for a lot of fighters,” he told the Herald. “I’m high risk and maybe the reward is not what they’re being offered or looking for. The risk of losing to me may slow their pathway to be champions.
“The opponent we have – I’m thankful he put his hand up for the fight because I think we had six or seven options… but none of the offers worked out.”
It is a far cry from his early days as a professional when he was fighting five times a year or more, although last year’s inactivity was not helped by a spider bite suffered in New Zealand which made itself painfully felt in Las Vegas during his camp for the bout against Dereck Chisora in London, a fight which had to be cancelled as a result.
“The goal was for the team to lock in an opponent before I got to Vegas this time. Usually that’s how it works. Back in the day – 2014, ’15, ’16 – before we had a fight we knew our opponent for the next one. It is hard and I know everyone was doing their best to try to lock in a meaningful fight; and I still think this is a meaningful fight, this is a fight that I’m expected to win, so I have to train like I’m facing a champion.”
Winters is a 39-year-old with a 13-win, two-loss professional record compared with Parker’s 28-2 record. Really, there should be only one winner and a decisive one at that but Parker, while working extremely hard in camp and sparring such luminaries as former foe Carlos Takam, is wary about bold predictions.
That may be partly due to the manner of his win in his last fight against Australian Leapai in Providence, New York, in June last year. Parker bludgeoned Leapai for 10 rounds – without dropping him – before the referee called it off and it led to more questions about the Kiwi-Samoan’s power.
“I feel like I’m punching with a bit more power but the only way to see if I am will be seeing how I go in the next fight,” he said.
“The last fight was good to show I still have the hand speed and can throw combinations and move, but it wasn’t the devastating knockout that we wanted or what people want to see – one that attracts attention. The goal in every fight is to look good and impressive, to get on the knockout reel. I’m not putting pressure on myself to get the knockout, I’m just going to do what I have to do – to try and hurt this guy as badly as I can.
“Camp has gone well. It’s hard, fricken hard. You have pain and injuries you take care of but you just have to trust the process. At the end of it I know I’m going to be in peak condition to put in a good performance. At the moment it’s a grind.”
Las Vegas is currently the heavyweight division’s epicentre as next weekend’s Tyson Fury v Deontay Wilder rematch looms into focus. Various big men, including Takam, are in town, which is helping Parker, who knows both Fury and Wilder well and will attend their fight before flying to Dallas, with some quality sparring.
Parker outpointed Takam in Auckland in 2016, a decision not without controversy, but there was no awkwardness in the gym, he said.
“We just gave each other a big hug, saying ‘how are you doing’ or whatever, and then we’re in the ring trying to smash each other. Afterwards he would say things like ‘you were very good today’.
“I need to keep busy,” added Parker, who wants to fight again in May or June and October. “If I’m fighting for the next three or four years of my life I want to try to stay as busy as I can.”
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