Column – By Julian Slade, Photographs by Dave Cameron.
Catching up with boxing trainer Grant Arkell on his way to Auckland airport seems incredibly apt. Speaking via hands-free mobile as he drives to pick up his 18-year-old boxing protégé from the World Youth champs, Arkell sounds understandably excited and proud.
“Joseph’s (Joseph Parker) won bronze and been invited to the World Youth Olympics at Singapore in August,” says Arkell, the smile on his face somehow sparkling through the phonelines.
“The top four in each division have been invited. I’m excited mate. I’m pleased for him. This is huge for New Zealand boxing.
“Joseph beat a Cuban superheavyweight 9-1. As far as I know no New Zealand boxer has ever beaten a Cuban.
Ironically, Parker was looked after by an Australian coach at the World Youth Championships at Baku, Azerbaijan as Arkell couldn’t afford to accompany him.
Arkell had hoped to go, but instead had to reach into his own pocket to help fund his fighter’s trip to the former Soviet republic.
Parker, who had earlier beaten Turkey’s Yusuf Acik 7-2, then comprehensively outclassed Cuban Yuniel Castro Chavez 9-1 to win a bronze medal.
The young Kiwi went on to a stellar performance in the semifinal of the superheavyweight (over 91 kg) division, trading punches with Croatia’s Filip Hrgovic in a closely-matched crowd pleaser.
Scores remained within a point for most of the bout, but the Croatian managed to push ahead to an 8-6 victory in the final round, as Parker left the ring nursing an injured nose.
The young Kiwi’s historic victory was all the harder as Parker had to go it alone, without his coach.
“I paid $4000 towards Joseph’s trip because we couldn’t get a sponsorship from SPARC or secure other sponsorship, and Boxing New Zealand put up the balance,” admits Arkell.
Arkell’s voice betrays a little of his frustration of talking to Parker on long distance calls, and hearing his young fighter wishing he had his own coach in his corner,
“But I knew it was important for him to go as it was his last chance as an 18-year-old. He got a medal out of it so it’s all paid off. You have to grab these opportunities when they come along.”
Parker will compete at the Golden Gloves in May. If he can find an opponent, says Arkell.
“I don’t know if we can get anyone to fight him now. But someone might step up. There’s always someone who wants a challenge, so hopefully someone will.”
Meanwhile boxing historian Johnny Lloyd describes the recent (April 30) pro-am show at the Auckland Boxing Association as “one of the best nights we’ve had for a long time”.
“There were some great amateur battles and the pro fight was a good hard fight.”
Tough Tongan cruiserweight Winston Helu stopped Jeff Stutt in the fifth round with a left rip that left Stutt prone on the canvas and unable to continue.
And, among the evening’s amateur combatants was 16-year-old John Parker – brother of Joseph – who impressed with a win over his 18-year-old middleweight opponent.
The younger Parker brother displayed a strong work ethic in his points victory.
John Parker is likely to see further ring action in a pro-am show at the ABA Stadium on Saturday May 15.
Taito Ratuere takes on Scott Taliauli in a professional light heavyweight clash in the evening’s feature fight.
And veteran Irish-Kiwi trainer Ron Foley of Panmure’s Shamrock Gym puts on a pro-am fight night at the ABA Stadium (1 Ngahura St, Eden Terrace) from 6pm sharp this Saturday May 8.
Top of the card is a professional heavyweight contest between exciting prospect Afa Tatupu and Toa Naketoatama. Foley also has another pro heavyweight clash between Eric Fuimaono-Hunt and Oscar Talemira, plus a full undercard of 18 amateur fights. Stand out amateurs including Magan Maka, Hurricane Doyle and Aung Sanda will compete.
Foley is a legendary trainer, who has instilled his work ethic and discipline in the hearts and hands of many fighters, including all his six sons, Michael (father of Queensland supermiddleweight champ Wade Foley), Patrick, Regan, Kieran, Seamus and Floyd.
He initially started the Shamrock Gym in Palmerston North in 1976, it moved to Wanganui in the early 1990s and then to Auckland – Pilkington Rd, Panmure – in the latter part of the decade.
Manny Santos is a Kiwi boxer who still commands respect and recognition from fight fans.
The Tongan-born lightweight made his name as a scientific boxer, one of the New Zealand greats.
Santos was a brilliant fighter with a lengthy professional career who won and defended New Zealand, Australasian and Commonwealth titles. But one who was outfoxed by a foe with a forceful focus, recalls Lloyd.
“Manny’s toughest opponent was Melbourne referee Terry Reilly who would seldom give him the decision over Australian fighters.”
Veteran boxing correspondent Dave Cameron says watching Santos beat Bunny Grant of Jamaica for the British Empire title at Wellington Town Hall in 1967 was an enduring memory for him.
“Manny went on to become one of our boxing greats, and was a huge television star in Australia.”
Boxing website www.boxrec.com lists Santos as having contested 44 professional bouts, with a record of 32 wins, nine losses and three draws.
Meanwhile, in other boxing news, Event Polynesia has signed professional middleweight Pele Faumui to a three-year contract. Pele joins two other former Samoan amateur champs – Vaitele Soi and Warren Fuiava – in the Event Polynesia stable. Pele is preparing to fight Maori warrior Jamie Waru at Tauranga on May 22.
And Auckland promoter/boxing identity Ofisa Vili will stage a Queen’s Birthday Boxing Extravaganza at Browns Rd Stadium in Manurewa on Friday June 4.
Julian Slade is an Auckland-based journalist and boxer who specialises in boxing, Pasifika, and social development reportage.