Joseph Parker at the Weigh-in for the Fury fight in Manchester. Photo, Samoa Events / Seti Afoa
It was my first time watching live Boxing and my first time watching the Champion at work. His demeanour and silent approach to his task impressed me and I was inspired to put pen to paper. It was a big battle week for me, an emotional one too. What with the NZ elections and the knowledge I would be watching the Joseph Parker vs Hughie Fury WBO Heavyweight Title fight in Manchester, UK. I had strong feelings about the two events and my engagement in them.
At the end of the night in Manchester it came as no surprise to me to hear those words – “And still, the Champion of the World – Joseph Parker”. There is a lot to be said for the humble Warrior. The fighter that speaks in the ring and has the confidence to know he doesn’t need to do or say anymore. In time this quietness speaks louder than the overtly flamboyant personas that a lot of current professional fighters possess – and I now know Parker isn’t the only one.
It is also, in an uncanny way, intimidating and mysterious. Those, like me who do not know him form questions of our own, “He’s quiet, is he scared, or is he ultra-strong and angry inside” or, “He’s shy, is he unable to face the cameras or maybe he just really knows who he is and doesn’t need to explain himself further” – damn I don’t know." That’s intimidating.
The Parker I saw was not any of that, he was assured of himself. If I’m honest I was projecting my own fears and doubts onto him. He knew exactly how much he had to do to win at the end of the night. He is also true to his values. A true warrior fights not because they hate what’s in front of them, but because they love what is behind them (G.K Chesterton). With the eminent presence of his family, there is a deep respect (faaaloalo) you sense that he is representing them through honour not necessity. He reflects his family and they reflect him. This surpasses his need to create the mass hype that bloodthirsty consumers want to see.
He is a smart business man as well as a fighter. He is the Champion of the World. First, his own world, and second the WBO Boxing World. He is not fazed by the occasion and he holds a calm poise. I was being embraced into that calm world in what was a volatile Manchester Arena. Fights erupted in parts of the crowd but not once was hostility expressed towards me or his supporters.
Joseph and his uncles, Malaesa and Su'a Henry Joseph Fruean
There were a few times I was confronted by the non-Parker public. I mean I stood out as a Parker supporter with my Ula fala and Ie faitaga. As did the Samoan sisters, my new found friends who sat next to me with sei's in their ears. Parker’s energy and demeanour in the build-up definitely projected a positive reflection onto his supporters. Every comment that was made was in praise of his humble warrior spirit. Not to mention the time I went to the bar in my attire where 30 alcohol induced Mancunian boxing men were teeming with gusto and Fury pride. – these guys were huge and no nonsense geezers – some stopped me, sized me up, came up and shook my hand firmly and said, “Respect to Parker and your people, may the best man win”. At this moment I felt proud to be a Kiwi Samoan.
After following both campaigns over the weekend, the election and the fight, I slowly found myself leaning toward the latter. I had cast my vote and then forgot about it for a while. In that process I felt sad about where my country is at. That it does not reflect NZ-Pacific values that I thought we once had – my opinion. We can go on about policies forever, but I’m talking values. The measure of a country’s greatness is in the way it cares for the vulnerable. That’s what used to make me proud about NZ.
I guess it was a breath of fresh air to witness a young focussed New Zealand Pacifica with his own values, who is not only be successful because of his gifts, but also because of the person he is.
I’m surprised at the amount of people that are not yet fully on the Parker boat. Sometimes we are oblivious to the obvious. Is it a national thing or just a human thing? No pun intended. In all honesty, I can understand the initial reluctance. Although excited at first, I wasn’t fully convinced of Joseph’s capabilities after the Carlos Takam fight. That was his biggest fight yet. However, after the fight with Andy Ruiz Jr when he won the WBO Heavyweight belt, I realised that here we have a World Champion! We have a guy in Joseph who has done what we have been waiting for. Our very own heavyweight boxing Messiah!
Sceptics will talk about his defence and speed, but being there live provides a whole different perspective. I could hear and feel every punch landed and received. Thud! Parker threw most of the power punches that caught Hughie Fury flush on the body and head. I could see Hughie’s distant gaze in his eyes trying to refocus when Parker caught him. There were times that Parker got countered with Fury uppercuts as he went in for the big right hand. It was clear to me he took those risks as Fury’s power or lack thereof didn’t faze him. He knew the type of fight he wanted to fight. We all wanted to see him let his hands loose and he did. After every fight since Takam, sceptics have said he would lose his next but he’s always done enough to win. I wish there was a cure to the tall poppy syndrome. Can he get better? Of course, he will.
Sitting with sisters Olivia and Nolani Hazelman from Samoa at Manchester Arena
After this experience something else jabbed me in the face – I was reminded how revealing and vulnerable this sport is. And I can understand how boxing purists describe it as a beautiful sport. Beyond the blood and brute, you are naked to the world as your truest or falsest self. Joe resembles this in that truest sense. That’s what gave me most pride on Saturday night when I stood and chehooo’d as I heard those beautiful words... “And still..”
We saw Joe at his most vulnerable circumstance since Takam. Manchester is the furthest he has fought away from home. He was fighting in enemy territory against his most worthy opponent to date, and yet he got the result - again! All without boisterous pride or giving in to public demands, all while being true to the Joe in the mirror. It seems our nation is at its most vulnerable too. Will we hear the same announcement on the outcome of the election? And Still, or And the New? As for Parker he will face his new boxing foe in a few months. And whoever the opponent will be he has shown that he has enough for whatever challenge comes his way.
Malo lava le faamalosi Laauli