Boxing: Former heavyweight champion Joseph Parker on fight against Dereck Chisora – and what defeat would mean for his career

Joseph Parker is living by himself in an unfamiliar city and training with a coach he’s just met for a fight he must win to avoid his career becoming, in his own words, a “shambles”.

And he says he’s thriving on the challenge and opportunity.

The Kiwi heavyweight has been in Dublin – the home city of his new coach Andy Lee – for the past fortnight as the days tick by to his clash with Dereck Chisora at a venue likely to be in or near London on May 2.

It is a boxing camp in the purest solitary sense because the Covid-19 restrictions in Ireland mean there is little in the way of nightlife to get distracted by; indeed, there is little to do apart from rest, eat, and train. A rare recent outing came in the form of a visit to Lee’s home to, what else, watch boxing on television – an event put on in London by Parker’s promoter Eddie Hearn.

It’s a whole new experience for the 29-year-old Parker, who split with his trainer of eight years Kevin Barry once he defeated domestic rival Junior Fa by unanimous decision at Auckland’s Spark Arena a month ago.

In an interview with the Herald, Parker said he had connected well with Irishman Lee, a former WBO middleweight world champion, and was determined to keep an open mind to Lee’s new methods and structure in order to make the changes required to improve on some disappointing recent performances.

For example, Parker, like virtually every other professional boxer, used to do his road work first thing in the morning. No longer. Now it’s the gym first, with running scheduled for the afternoon, a schedule likely to raise the eyebrows of a few grizzled fight veterans.

Parker, a former WBO world champion, confirmed his heavyweight world champion confidant Tyson Fury had pulled the strings regarding Lee’s availability, adding the partnership was likely to be a long one.

“Tyson said Andy would be a good coach for me,” Parker told the Herald. “He said he’d reach out to him, which he did… from there I met him on Zoom. We chatted about what training would look like – the detail. Four or five days later I’m packing my bags and flying to Ireland to meet him for the first time.

“He’s a very down-to-earth and relaxed character. He’s got a young family himself – a wife and two young kids, a boy and girl aged under three. He’s very relaxed outside of training but when we get into the gym he takes a different approach. The intensity of the training we’ve done is good. It’s a lot different to what I’ve done before but I’ve come here with an open mind.

“He doesn’t want to change a lot [boxing] because we have under six weeks left now. But he’s changed a few things – my movement, my stance being a bit steadier, throwing punches with a bit more oomph to them. He said what I’ve done with Kevin has been fantastic, but he’s just showing me a few things that he thinks will make a big difference in the fight.

“We’ll see how this fight goes but from what we’ve done already I’m happy and excited about what we can do. We’ve only had a week and a half of training and I’m already seeing and feeling a big difference from the strength work we’ve done. We have another six weeks of this. I feel this could be a long partnership.”

Parker’s fight against Chisora has been a long time in the making, coming as it has after the scheduled bout between the pair in 2019 was cancelled due to Parker sustaining a spider bite in Las Vegas.

Facing the durable and potentially dangerous Chisora, a 37-year-old who lost his last fight against the No 1-ranked Oleksandr Usyk but who has recorded good recent victories against David Price and Artur Szpilka, not to mention a spectacular 2018 knockout of Carlos Takam – a man who went the distance with Parker – with a new coach is not without risks.

But Parker, now 28-2 as a professional, felt the change was necessary, as was the sacrifice of living by himself away from wife Laine and their three daughters for two months. His arrival in Dublin coincided with the lapse of his name suppression in connection with an alleged drugs conspiracy. Parker, who was never charged and has maintained his innocence, said his lawyer had instructed him not to comment.

“I said the last fight [against Fa] was make or break and this is again a make-or-break fight,” Parker said.

“I’m expected to win. A lot of people think Chisora has a chance but I’m expected to win because he’s past his prime and he’s coming off a loss, although he gave a good account of himself.

“It’s a must win – another one – otherwise my career will be in a shambles. I don’t know where I’d go if there’s a loss. My wife was so supportive of me coming here. Laine was like ‘you go there, train hard and make the most of your opportunity because not many opportunities come like this’.”

Chisora, who has a 32-10 record, is clearly wary of Parker’s renowned hand speed, although there wasn’t much evidence of that velocity over 12 rounds in Auckland recently.

Regardless, Chisora has said in recent interviews that he is also getting a new coach for the fight.

“He’s taking this fight very seriously, from what I hear,” said Parker, who would like to find the perfect balance of speed and power.

“You’re always dangerous when you’re throwing punches and your offence can be your defence when you’re throwing combinations. That’s been a big part of my game from the beginning. I needed to sit down more on my punches, which I still haven’t done yet. I still have more power I can produce.”

That production could be assisted in partnership with Fury. If Fury’s fight with British heavyweight rival Anthony Joshua is signed off soon, Parker may travel to his camp in Manchester to continue his preparations.

“It would be great to be in the same environment as Tyson – he’s a champ,” Parker said.

“But we’ll do what’s best for our camp because we don’t have the longest time.”

If nothing else, Parker could do worse than follow the example of his coach Lee, tall for a middleweight at 1.88m and a southpaw who packed a punch before his retirement in 2017.

“I started watching his fights – he had a good right hook. Some of his fights he’d be against the ropes and then boom, right hook, walk-off knockout.”

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