Should Liam Paro become a world champion he will be fulfilling a promise to his best friend Regan Grieve.
Lacing gloves and lacing boots the two had vowed to conquer the world together, Paro as a boxer and Grieve as a rugby league player. Paro begun his dreams at 13 after watching neighbour, friend and current welterweight Tysinn Best wrapping his hands. Grieve was emerging as a potential superstar, in a sport which dominates part of the country, and had signed for the North Queensland Cowboys at just 15. Paro would go on to have 64 amateur fights but life for the fighter was turned upside down when tragedy struck.
“When we were 18 years old, he [Regan] took his own life due to mental illness,” Paro told Boxing Social.
“That was my best friend. We grew up from kindergarten together and he didn’t really have a father figure, so my old boy was his kind of dad. It was a pretty rough time, my old boy was in hospital for a big operation. He was battling bowel cancer at that time. It was a pretty rough time in my life but like they say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That is just massive motivation to me every day. I have Regan’s initials on all my trunks. We promised each other we were going to conquer the world. He was going to make it in rugby league, and I was going to make it in boxing. I promised him I was going to win a world title and a promise is a promise, so I’ve got to be a man of my word and get it done.”
Paro admits that life could have went one of two ways in the aftermath of such a tragedy. A pair of avenues where one provides light at the end of the tunnel and the other you slip up on until it’s too late to get back on your feet.
“Especially from the little place I’m from up in North Queensland, Mackay, it’s pretty rough up there,” he said.
“It’s a little caning farm place so not much there,” he explained. “Very easy to get into trouble. I got out of there, I was lucky enough for Mark Flanagan (current Australian cruiserweight) who got me out of there up to Townsville for a little bit and I moved to Brisbane to further my career but it was just staying busy because I could have easy got stuck in a rut. Going down that life, just grieving the fact that I just lost my best friend, pretty much my brother so it was how I took it. It’s motivation more than anything. In a way… it’s going to sound weird but it’s a blessing because those days that I don’t want to get out of bed all I have to think of is his name and I’ll do anything so that’s what I’ve got up my sleeve. If the going gets tough it’s all I’ve got to think of and find different gears. Just gotta keep it as motivation and think about making him proud.”
This weekend in Eatons Hill, Brisbane, Paro (20-0, 13 KOs) will continue to bide time waiting for a super-lightweight world title opportunity when he faces Steve Gago (12-1, 5 KOs) over 10 rounds. For Paro it will be a defence of an IBF International title as well as a WBO Global strap but more than that he is protecting a lofty ranking that sees him potentially one step away from his biggest fight yet.
As things stand in the 10-stone division Josh Taylor holds all the belts and all the aces. The Scot stands atop the weight class as Mr Undisputed and is considering his next move. What that will be could involve Taylor moving up to welterweight or making a mandatory defence of his WBO world title against long-time mandatory challenger Jack Catterall. The Englishman sits at number one with the World Boxing Organisation while Paro is one position behind him. Saturday’s fight against Gago is high stakes for Paro. A defeat would send the 25-year-old back down the pecking order.
“It’s very cut-throat,” Paro said of what’s at stake.
“We could just be playing it safe, holding my position but I don’t want that. I’m young, I love fighting, I train hard, I want to keep as busy as I can. At the moment it’s hard with Covid. This will be my second fight fighting another Australian, before that I was fighting international opponents, so we’ve had to deal with what we’ve had to do. So, this guy’s coming down from welterweight and the IBF are very excited about this fight because Gago went 10 rounds with a previously undefeated Kazakh (Nursultan Zhangabayev) so the head of the IBF is really wanting traction on this fight and is really interested in it, so it makes it a little bit more exciting. Gotta get through this one and then hopefully it’ll be the big ones next.”
Of the pressure wrapped around this Saturday’s fight, Paro said: “I perform good under pressure, I never let it get to me, I’ve always been like that my whole life. It doesn’t change the outcome for me, I’ve still got the same goal. We look at every fight, we never look past an opponent, that’s when you start coming unstuck, so we look at every fight exactly the same. Every fight for me is my world title. If I lose it’s taken away from me and also, it’s a target on my back. This is my belt; this guy is trying to take my thing so there’s no way in the world I’m going to let him take that so that’s another bit of motivation which drives me. With the pressure thing, the harder the opponent and situation the better I fight.”
A visit to Google tells you that Paro’s birthplace of Mackay has a population of just over 80,000. Townsville where he spent some time has 180,000 and Brisbane, where he now resides, has 2.5 million. Significant leaps in life for the former auto-electrician who never wants to return to the tools again. Small-town boy to big-city fighter. Promising amateur to world title contender. The dream is not far from reality. I’s all he ever wanted since he went to a gym with Tysinn Best. There is no plan b.
“I coped pretty well with the moves because I got my mind set on what I want,” he said.
“At 18 I left my apprenticeship to follow boxing. Auto electrician, I chucked that away. People were saying you need a plan b but, in my head, I was thinking if I’ve got a plan b, I’m already thinking about failing. It was a big plunge, went down, followed it. Don’t get me wrong we’re all human, there’s going to be bad temptations everywhere, especially the big city. I don’t know many people, so you’ve just got to be careful with who you’re hanging around with because it’s easy to go back down that track too. It worked out well and I’ve got a good team so they’re guiding me perfectly. It was a pretty easy transition because I knew I was after my goal.”
The transition was made easier the moment he met the DiCarlo family. Managed by Angelo, trained by Alfie, the family also produced Angelo’s brother Nathan, a top-class amateur. Paro fights under their promotional banner ACE and it was Angelo who kept a close eye on their super-lightweight contender after watching him in the vest ranks.
“When I first moved to Brisbane I went to a gym and Alfie, my coach now, was just a second, was coming in and doing pads and I loved the way he did pads,” Paro said.
“I was asking him every day for six to eight months on the phone, train me, train me, train me and he said I don’t have time. I really wanted him to train me, so I stayed on him, and I actually pestered him, and he ended up giving in and he said I’ll give you one year and that was after my third fight. My fourth fight I went in with him as my coach and we just started stopping everyone and making moves quick and we haven’t looked back.”
Paro, a southpaw, is already preparing for his next big move. Fighting Gago on Saturday means taking on another lefty. Josh Taylor and Jack Catterall are two more from the unorthodox stance. Paro and DiCarlo are getting ready for a world title fight already, not just in camp, but on the all-important fight night.
Paro and his team say they have heard a “million things” on the grapevine that includes Taylor moving up in weight to the whispers that he and Catterall will fight for the vacant WBO title. Why get ready in several months’ time or next year when the preparations can begin now.
“If Taylor goes up it leaves me and Catterall, so it works perfectly for us,” Paro said.
“I’ve fought a couple in my career, and I’ve been doing heaps of sparring. I feel comfortable with southpaws. I love it. It’s good. We’ve heard little things, we don’t know how true it is that me and Catterall will fight so we’re setting ourselves up now, we’re getting in there. Doing everything we can so if I fight him, I come out on top.”
Paro isn’t one to study opponents during camps. Thirty seconds here or there is enough to get a taste of what they are about, and the rest is left to Alfie. He has, however, watched the unbeaten Catterall and gave his verdict on ‘El Gato’.
“I do rate him,” he begins.
“You can’t knock him, he’s 26-0, he’s obviously doing something right. I’ve watched a bit of him, seen a lot of flaws as he probably would in me but we’re both going to be confident, we’re both going to say we’ll beat each other, it’s just going to have to happen. That’s what excites me, I want the big, hard fights, I’ve proven myself. Give me the bigger, harder fights. I’ll show everyone I belong at the top. I just really hope it happens sooner rather than later; I want to be on top. I’m younger than these guys. I want to get on top and stay there for a few years.”
Domestically Paro has nothing left to prove. The Covid-19 pandemic has restricted the quality of opponent. Instead of international opposition there has been Aussie clashes that will liven up a fight crowd down under as much as a world title occasion. Before moving on to the world scene though Paro says that in Australia there is a saying: ‘You’ve got to clean out your own back yard’.
With Aussie pride, he added: “You’re not going to let no fellow Australian beat you.”
This Saturday Paro wants to prove he is world class. A win will do but he wants more. The demonstration of levels for example.
“I want to show everyone I’m ready to take over. This guy’s hungry, this is his world title, we’ve given him a good shot here. I just really hope he comes to fight. I want him to be 110%. I want him at his best. I know I’m at my best now. We’re going to come out victorious, I do know that. We just have to see how it goes on the night. They all say they want to be in there until they get whacked, they feel the power and it’s a whole different level, but we’ll just have to wait and see. Fight week’s the worse part, the waiting game. I’m excited.”
And with that Liam ‘The Prodigy’ Paro set off to have dinner the night before fight week officially began. His appetite has built and built since what’s been on his plate has become bigger and bigger. He is yet to take his biggest bite yet but with the memories of Regan Grieve never far away Paro will be fighting for two when his world title fight arrives.
Images courtesy of Liam Paro and @paroliam