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New Zealand’s boxing past and its future – Tuna Scanlan and Joseph Parker

Quick on the draw: Writer of this report, Julian 'Quick Justice' Slade, lands a combination on Dave Hallett in their professional heavyweight contest at the Auckland Boxing Association stadium.

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Julian Slade, Photographs by Dave Cameron.

As exciting young Box Black Joseph Parker mounts his assault on the World Youth Games, it’s an opportune time to remember the pioneers of the past who paved the way for today’s champions. Legends of Kiwi Boxing like Tuna Scanlan.

Super heavyweight on-the-rise Joseph Parker, who won silver in the recent Commonwealth Championships at New Delhi (fellow Kiwis David Aloua Rogers and Nathan McKewen won bronze) is competing at the Youth World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, where boxers from 109 countries are contesting 11 weight divisions.

NEXT BIG THING: Joseph Parker, remember that name. You're going to hear it again during the Commonwealth Games in October. Fight game insiders reckon the 18-year-old superheavyweight is our best amateur prospect for years.

Parker has fought under the tutelage of Grank Arkell at the Papatoetoe Boxing Club gym in Hunters Corner since he was 11.

The young amateur has been battle hardened by skill and circumstance. As a talented junior fighter he has found it so hard to get fights in his own division, that he had to step up two classes to take on senior opponents.

However Parker has risen to the challenge well, with an upset finals win in the elite class of the North vs South Golden Gloves over (the well regarded, internationally experienced) national representative Yamiko Chinula, nine years his senior. Parker forced a TKO stoppage in the third round of their superheavyweight contest last June in Palmerston North.

Arkell says that since then, Parker has also beaten Australian champion Gareth Bamim at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra and forced a second round standing eight count and a points win over well-performed two-metre-tall-Tongan Junior Fa in a Samoan Tsunami Boxing appeal event at the North Shore late last year.

Parker had a semi final win over English champion Frazer Clarke, but lost to India’s Parmjeet Samota in the Commonwealth Championships superheavyweight final at Talkatora Indoor Stadium, bringing home a silver medal for New Zealand.

“India won nine of the 11 gold medals at the champs,” says Arkell. “India is investing millions into amateur boxing ahead of the Commonwealth Games and has enlisted the help of some Cuban coaches, so the scene is really humming over there.”

Parker’s short-term goal is to compete at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India this October and his long-term goal is to wear the Silver Fern at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

He recently left Marcellin College and is training to be a chippie, after winning a Manukau Institute of Technology carpentry scholarship.

Arkell says Parker (190cm and 98kg) has good quality sparring partners among his stablemates at the Hunters Corner gym, such as cruiserweights Winston Helu and Scott Taliauli. Parker has some strong amateur heavyweights to spar, plus he works closely with the accomplished Lee Oti.

Parker’s 15-year-old brother John is also training at the Papatoetoe club, and looks to be a promising middleweight.

“Joseph’s younger brother John is good and I reckon we’ll be hearing more from him soon,” grins Arkell.

Parker is highly regarded by fight game insiders.

“Joseph’s the best young prospect in New Zealand, one of our most exciting young fighters for years, and he’s only just turned 18,” enthuses Auckland boxing writer/historian Johnny Lloyd.

Lloyd works alongside Tui Gallagher, as matchmaker for the Auckland Boxing Association, handpicking fighters for explosive match ups.

Association president Tui Gallagher is the first female boss in the association’s more than 100-year history.

Her many skills include singing God Defend New Zealand at a Samoa vs New Zealand amateur competition at the ABA stadium in 2007.

Stars such as David Tua were in attendance and the international sporting clash marked by audience participation. The crowd responded to Gallagher’s lead, with stirring renditions of each national anthem.

Many Samoans in the audience were long time New Zealand residents whose soaring voices on both The Banner of Freedom and God Defend New Zealand demonstrated their loyalty to the old country and a love for their new home.

Veteran boxing and wrestling correspondent Dave Cameron is a regular photographic columnist for Australian Ring magazine, along with co-contributor Johnny Lloyd.

The gentleman journalist has been following New Zealand boxing and wrestling since the 1940s and remains a familiar face at sports stadiums, photographing fighters before their bouts.

Many a young boxer – anxious before their ring debut – relaxes when introduced to the affable Cameron, who politely asks them to pose for a picture.

Ringside, Cameron watches the rounds intently, but can never sit still in the breaks between bouts. He likes to catch up with old friends. Men who are ageing now, but still have a spring in their step and a sparkle in their eyes. Men like Tuna Scanlan.

THE CHAMP: New Zealand Boxing Legend Tuna Scanlan photographed amid boxing memorabilia at Dave Cameron's home.

“He was the most exciting boxer of his era,” says Cameron. “The silky smooth southpaw was a counterpuncher with a lethal left hand.

“Tuna was born in Apia, Samoa on July 12 1935. He started boxing in New Zealand from 1956. He was New Zeland middleweight champion and beat Gomeo Brennan at Carlaw Park in 1964 to win the British Empire Middleweight Title. His last recorded fight was in Samoa in 1969.

“I would rate Tuna one of our all-time Greats. He was a huge drawcard in Auckland with the outdoor Carlaw Park shows, in the days when they flew top African American fighters in from the United States.

“When Tuna beat Johnny Melfah from Ghana at Carlaw Park in 1961, 9000 spectators were in attendance.”

Cameron says he hasn’t seen Tuna around the boxing shows lately as the elderly Samoan doesn’t get out much anymore. But when he does make it to shows, Kiwi Boxing Legend Tuna Scanlan is invariably honoured by the ring announcer, and fight fans are vocal in their applause for one of the true heroes of the local fight game.

Meanwhile, top Auckland amateur fighters from a number of gyms will see ring action at the Auckland Boxing Association Stadium, Ngahura St, Eden Terrace, from 6pm this Saturday April 24 in a tournament hosted by Tappy’s Mangere Bridge gym. Some 24 amateur bouts are scheduled.

And, boxing fans will be treated to a clash of styles in an interesting Auckland pro bout on Thursday April 29.

A professional cruiserweight contest between Winston Helu and Jeff Stutt is the feature fight of the Auckland Boxing Association’s show.

TONGAN TRIO: Fighter on the rise Winston Helu (centre) enjoys the company of New Zealand boxing identity Manny Santos (right) and Manny's brother Joey Santos (left).

TONGAN TRADITION: Upcoming cruiserweight Winston Helu follows on in a strong tradition of Tongan boxers, such as the legendary Johnny Halafihi.

BUSY FIGHTER: Hamilton-based boxing pro Jeff Stutt - known for a good work rate - is expected to stay busy and keep mobile in his Thursday April 29 encounter with hard-punching Winston Helu at the ABA Stadium.

Lloyd says the match up between hard-hitting Helu and the well-performed and athletic Stutt looks intriguing.

“Winston is one of the most promising Tongan fighters I’ve seen.

“With two-handed knockout power, he reminds me of Johnny Halafihi from the 1950s, who I reckon was the best post-war New Zealand champion.

“And Jeff has fought all the top Aussies and all the top Kiwis, and went five rounds with Vaitele Soi. He has a great work rate and should be a good test for Winston.”

In Pacific boxing news, a team from Tumua Ma Pule Boxing Club of the Independent State of Samoa won eight of 11 bouts over the American Samoa Amateur Boxing Federation squad in the Flag Day Boxing Goodwill Cup, hosted by American Samoa and held at the VA Sports Center in Tafuna, Pago Pago, last Friday (April 16).

Boxing representatives from the two Samoas are also expected to see ring action in Apia during Samoan Independence celebrations in June.

And top New Zealand amateur showcase tournament – the North Island Golden Gloves – will be held at the Rotorua Arena on May 28 and 29.

Julian Slade is an Auckland-based journalist and boxer who specialises in boxing, Pasifika, and social development reportage.

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