For the last few months, Covid-19 has seemingly been at the forefront of every conversation. Be it the death toll, conspiracy theories, infringement on civil liberties, the leader of the free world suggesting a shot of Toilet Duck and inserting a UV light into body cavities as a cure, or government advisors claiming historic monuments can be used as an eye chart – it all leads back to the deadly pandemic.
Moments of levity have been few and far between.
As such, it is hardly surprising that feelings of anxiety, depression and uncertainty have spread almost as fast as Coronavirus.
New Zealand acted swiftly, putting in place stringent lockdown and control measures during the early stages of the outbreak. As a result, the country has only suffered 21 deaths and been able to return to some semblance of normality. Despite the quick response and positive results, initially morale plummeted as people were faced with the prospect of being unable to visit their loved ones for an indefinite period.
Joseph Parker (27-2, 21 KOs) was keen to find a way to bring some comedic relief into people’s lives. With some coercion from videographer Kerry Russell, Parker re-enacted a scene from Love Actually where Hugh Grant, in the role of the British Prime Minister, dad-dances to the Pointer Sisters’ ‘Jump’ (For My Love), despite the fact that Parker had never watched the film.
The short clip soon went viral and has, at present, been viewed in excess of one million times. Since then Parker and Russell have kept up with demand producing several videos, ranging from The Rocky Horror Picture Show to Back To The Future.
The public reaction took Parker by surprise. He has since been inundated by media requests from all over the globe.
“When we went into lockdown, a lot of people started becoming very serious,” Parker told Boxing Social. “It is a serious matter, but even funny people we knew became very serious. We thought why not come up with a way where we can show that you can have fun while being at home and just encourage everyone to keep their spirits lifted and keep positive. That was the whole reason why we came up with the first video. From there, because of the reaction and the feedback, it gave us motivation to continue to try and find ideas to make people smile and [be] happy.
“I finished training that day and [Russell] called me and said, ‘Hey, we are going into lockdown tonight, can I come over and just film this thing? Have you seen the clip I sent you?’ I said: ‘No’. He came over, we watched [the clip] and did it straight away. It didn’t take long at all. It took maybe two hours just to get the different locations in the house. It was fast. We did that, he went off and edited it and I released it that night.”
Despite his reticence ahead of the first video, Parker now has complete trust in Russell, his friend of 10 years. Whenever the videographer suggests a new movie to recreate, the fighter responds with: ‘Let’s do it’.
The unexpected popularity of the clips has allowed Parker to rope in high-profile friends from the worlds of rugby, motorsport and boxing.
While some have impressed Parker with their fancy footwork, others have been closer to Fred Flintstone than Fred Astaire.
“The ‘Gypsy King’ [Tyson Fury] always has dance moves, everyone knows he can dance,” he said. “The person who really surprised me the most was Michael Buffer. He has dance moves! He was boogying away; I’d never seen that side of him before! The person who could maybe have given it a bit more would have been Eddie Hearn,” he said with a laugh as he took a playful jibe at his promoter.
Parker comes from a very close-knit family, so it comes as no surprise that the video he took the most pleasure from filming was Grease.
In the minute-long clip, Parker and his wife, Laine, imitate John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in the iconic piece of ‘70s cheese, while their daughters (Elizabeth 3, Shiloh 1, and Michaela who turned 1 last week) look on, baffled by it all.
Parker has made great personal sacrifices to help secure the best possible future for his loved ones. He has been unable to attend the births of his three daughters due to training with Kevin Barry in Las Vegas.
While many have struggled with stringent lockdown measures, the Parker clan has embraced being able to spend every day together.
“It’s been amazing,” Parker said enthusiastically. “The relationships I’ve built with my girls was already strong before the lockdown, but now it’s concrete. There’s a lot of activities that I was able to prepare before the lockdown with my partner. With the older two, there’s a playground outside. We have a trampoline, we have water balloon fights, we go into the spa pool and we go for a ride in the golf buggy. The girls never even asked once to leave the house. That’s amazing, it shows the strength of our relationship and that as long as both parents are there, they are happy.”
Parker’s days have consisted of more than water balloon fights and viral videos. Throughout lockdown, he has ensured he kept himself in shape.
During stages three and four of New Zealand’s lockdown, he was prohibited from utilising the boxing gym he had built in his parents’ house. Thankfully, he had also constructed a gym at home; however, it had one fundamental flaw.
“I had a gym set up. I had the weights, a big mirror for shadow boxing and kettle bells. The one thing I did miss was punching a bag and having someone to hold the pads because I can’t ask my three-year-old daughter to hold the pads,” Parker said with a laugh.
Now in level two of lockdown, the former WBO heavyweight champion has more freedoms available to him. He has stepped up his training ahead of a possible August return to the ring.
Parker’s manager David Higgins has held positive discussions with Queenstown officials regarding the possibility of staging a bout there.
At present, Australians Lucas Browne and Dempsey McKean are the front-runners to be standing in the opposite corner.
The 6’6” McKean is yet to be tested, but has won all 18 of his contests to date, stopping 12 within the scheduled distance, and is on a nine-fight knockout streak.
A fight between former WBA ‘Regular’ titlist Lucas Browne and Parker has been rumoured for five years, but appears to be closer than ever to becoming a reality. Whoever is next, Parker will be prepared.
“The team is working behind the scenes to try and see if they can make a fight happen here in New Zealand,” said Parker. “I just said to them, ‘See if it can actually happen’. In the meantime, I’ll continue training, keeping in shape if the opportunity does arise. I’ll be ready for anything that comes.
“The Lucas Browne fight has been mentioned for a long time. He went off and fought Dillian Whyte, I fought [Anthony] Joshua then Whyte. Lucas has been around for a while. He had a fight lined up, which has been cancelled. It’ll be interesting. A lot of people think he’ll get knocked out or schooled, some people think he’ll win.”
Parker desperately covets another world title shot. Unfortunately for him, heavyweight politics dictates that he could be waiting some time. WBC champion Tyson Fury is contractually obliged to face Deontay Wilder a third time, with a mandatory defence against Whyte due early next year.
WBA Super, WBO and IBF ruler Anthony Joshua must fight back-to-back mandatory challengers and, of course, a unification between the two champions could muddy the waters further.
Since dropping a close decision to Whyte in 2018, Parker has found meaningful bouts hard to secure. His winning run following that defeat consists of Alexander Flores, Alex Leapai and Shawndell Winters. While all three are capable professionals, they hardly set the heart racing, for Parker, those in attendance or watching at home.
Parker has been disappointed by the lack of opportunities, but remains certain he’ll make it back to the summit of the sport.
“It’s been very frustrating,” he said. “I know I belong at the top. I’m interested in fighting the top five and 10 in the world, but it’s not happened. With the last fight, against Shawndell Winters, there were offers out to six or seven other fighters. They either asked for too much money or didn’t want the fight or had other fights lined-up. It is a little difficult to lock-in top quality opponents at times.
“There is no clear path [to a world title] at the moment. It’s quite busy and congested right at the top. We aren’t sure which fights will be made, who will continue to be champion and with mandatories in the way. The main thing for us would be to just keep winning whatever fights we have. We have to keep winning, keep looking good and keep knocking people out.”