New Zealand’s Joseph Parker, the WBO world heavyweight champion, challenges WBA/IBF belts-holder Anthony Joshua on March 31 at 78,000-seat Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. Joshua’s most recent fight was staged here. His bout with late sub Carlos Takam was a sellout, setting a new world record for the largest live audience at a boxing event at an indoor venue. Based on early returns, Joshua vs. Parker is certain to match that figure.
Joseph Parker turned pro in 2012 at age 20 under the promotional banner of Duco Events, the company that also promotes Australia’s Jeff Horn, the WBO welterweight champ. From the onset, the Duco brain trust thought the best way to maximize Parker’s potential was to hook him up with Kevin Barry. There was one complication. Parker resided in Auckland. Barry lived 21 time zones away in Henderson, Nevada.
Duco was drawn to Kevin Barry because of his work with David Tua and Beibut Shumenov. Under Barry’s tutelage, Tua came to be recognized as one of the hardest punchers in the history of the sport. He defeated four men that held a version of the heavyweight title, knocking out John Ruiz in 19 seconds and Michael Moorer in 30 seconds. He challenged Lennox Lewis for the lineal heavyweight title but the style matchup was all wrong for him and he was widely outpointed. Barry guided Shumenov to the WBA light heavyweight title and was with him for three successful defenses before stepping aside to have multiple elective surgeries including a total ankle replacement. During his recuperation, he stayed busy working as a personal trainer to a select group of wealthy clients.
Barry and David Tua were together for 12 mostly happy years but it didn’t end well. Tua was persuaded that he didn’t get a fair shake on a land deal that involved Barry and another member of his management team and took the matter to court. There’s an old saying in boxing that a man who invests too much of himself in a fighter is bound to eventually have his heart broken. The contentious Tua-Barry breakup was more grist for the mill.
Kevin’s wife Tonya-Moss Barry, a former Olympic gymnast, wasn’t keen on the idea of her husband taking Joseph Parker under his wing. Kevin, in his own words, is a 100 percenter, and she didn’t want to see him get hurt again. And Kevin had to assure Parker’s parents that he would treat Joseph like one of his own sons. Like many families of Samoan ancestry, the Parker family is very tight-knit. Even now, at age 26, Parker frequently sleeps over at his parents’ house when he is back in New Zealand.
In March, it will be five years since the Barrys welcomed Joseph Parker into their home. When Joseph first arrived, the Barrys oldest child, Jordy, was off to college in Iowa (she went on to earn an M.A in international relations at Rutgers), but the boys, twins Taylor and Mitch, were still in high school. Mitch attended San Diego State where he was a member of the football team, interrupted his studies to complete an LDS Mission, and is currently attending school in Utah. Taylor assists his father, carrying the Barry boxing legacy into a third generation. Kevin’s own father, the late Kevin Barry Sr, was New Zealand’s most prominent amateur boxing coach.
The Barrys live in a spacious home in a gated community 12 miles from the center of the Las Vegas Strip and roughly 280 miles from where Kevin Barry, who never turned pro, had his most famous, some would say infamous, amateur fight.
At the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, Barry became the second fighter from New Zealand to win an Olympic medal in boxing; the first in 56 years. He advanced to the semifinal round in the 178-pound division where he was knocked out by Evander Holyfield. However, the Yugoslavian referee deemed the punch illegal, saying that it was thrown after he had commanded the boxers to break, and declared Kevin the winner by disqualification, a verdict greeted with a storm of outrage. By rule he could not compete in the finals and had to settle for a silver medal.
As fate would have it, Kevin Barry emerged from the Olympics with a prize more precious than his silver medal. On the plane ride from Auckland to LA, he found himself seated next to a cute 19-year-old gymnast. That was Tanya. They were married in 1990.
Barry opened Joseph Parker’s training camp for the Cardiff mega-fight in late January. Parker, who has a baby daughter back in Auckland with whom he communicates daily, won’t see New Zealand again until after he and Anthony Joshua have their little rumble.
Barry puts the soft-spoken Parker through his paces in a private gym tucked away in a small office complex a quarter-mile from their home. The walls are decorated with posters and some still pictures from Parker’s previous fights. There is no signage on the door to indicate what’s inside.
Joseph Parker and Anthony Joshua were on parallel tracks coming up the ladder. There’s now a considerable amount of film for each camp to study. What Barry has seen of Joshua has left him underwhelmed. He thinks the odds that are heavily tilted in favor of the Englishman are just plain nuts.
“Anthony Joshua is a terrific fighter and we have a huge amount of respect for him,” says Barry, “but this is a terrific style matchup for us. Joshua can’t knock out a man with one punch. He needs to land four or five punches in succession to take his man out. Joseph Parker has an underrated defense. He doesn’t get hit clean very often. He has never been hit with a series of three or four punches in a row.”
Barry says that Parker, who stands six-foot-four, is a better boxer with a stronger work ethic than the stocky Tua who was built like a fireplug. Parker needs no prodding to get up at 5:30 am and go off on a five-mile run. Moreover, although Barry concedes that Tua packed a harder punch, he says that Parker’s faster hands are a mitigating factor. He knocked two of his former opponents into dreamland with one punch, notes Barry, something that can’t be said of Anthony Joshua.
The scene at Principality Stadium will be electric when Parker walks from his dressing room into the ring. He has never competed before such a massive throng. Might he be overwhelmed by the moment and come out stiff or overly tentative?
“I laugh when I hear that,” says Barry. “One of the things I identified very early in Joseph’s career was how well he controlled his emotions. Whether he fights before eight hundred or eight thousand or eighty thousand, it’s all the same to him. When he steps through the ropes, he’ll have a smile on his face.”
A cynic would say this is nothing but coach-speak. A coach must keep a positive mindset and Team Parker has a fiduciary obligation to their fighter to sneer at the odds to build up the gate. But Kevin Barry is no snake-oil salesman and he firmly believes what he says.
David Tua never reached the summit but was a big star in New Zealand. His bout with Lennox Lewis was the most-watched event on television in that island nation up to that point in time. Parker vs. Joshua will likely eclipse it.
Mark March 31 on your calendar. It will be quite a night.
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