23 Dec 2016

Parker admits he's achieved more than he expected

10:31 am on 23 December 2016

New Zealand heavyweight boxer Joseph Parker has had a 2016 to remember, after one of the toughest years of his career.

New Zealand heavyweight Joseph Parker holds up the WBO belt alongside his team.

New Zealand heavyweight Joseph Parker holds up the WBO belt alongside his team. Photo: Photosport

Parker became the first New Zealander and Samoan to win a major world heavyweight title, when he defeated Mexican Andy Ruiz Jr for the World Boxing Organization belt earlier this month.

The result capped off a busy year for the 24-year-old - he fought five times in 2016, considered a lot for a heavyweight boxer.

Parker said he expected to achieve a lot in 2016, but a world heavyweight title was not one of them.

"I always knew that I was going to be the champion of the world, I had a great feeling about it and I always dreamed about it and it was one of my goals, but my goal was to be champion of the world next year and when the opportunity came to fight for it, I took it with both hands.

"It's been the best thing ever, it's right up there with all the happiness I've ever felt in my life. It's a dream come true," Parker said.

Reflecting on his year, Parker believed it was the toughest to date, after fighting opponents such as French-Cameroon fighter Carlos Takam and Ruiz for the WBO title.

"It's very important to fight these top fighters. If you don't fight the best you won't progress and people won't think you've earnt the title.

"I think every fight we've taken this year has been very important and there's been a lot of learning with these fights. Now that we've won the title it feels like there's a lot of great things ahead," said Parker.

Joseph Parker.

Joseph Parker. Photo: Photosport

Parker has recently taken the WBO belt back to his parents' homeland of Samoa, where he was treated to a hero's welcome.

Thousands of fans lined the street to catch a glimpse of Parker and his new title.

But despite his success, Parker became the target of online scrutiny following his WBO title win over Ruiz.

A number of fans on social media judged that Ruiz was robbed of the title, and that Parker only won it because of home town advantage.

The three judges in the fight all came from different corners of the globe and had more than 1000 professional boxing fights worth of experience between them.

They judged the incredibly tight bout 114-114, 115-113 and 115-113 in Parker's favour and while the New Zealander is adamant he won the fight, the attacks he received on social media hurt him personally.

"I'm only human, so yeah, it did hurt.

"All these people that love the sport of boxing jumped on board and said I'm not the champion so it does hurt. I'm not sure why these people are angry with me or criticize me but each to their own, you've just got to take the positive and leave out the negative."

Now with the WBO belt in tow, Parker will take on a reduced work load in 2017. He expected he would fight a maximum of three to four fights next year, compared to his fight this year.

His plan was to defend the WBO in March or April next year, before eyeing up a possible unification bout to try and win one of the other three major world titles.

American Deontay Wilder holds the WBC belt, while British heavyweight Anthony Joshua has the IBF. The WBA title is currently vacant.

Parker said he was not bothered who he challenged for the next world title, as long as he got a chance.

"I'll take Wilder, I'll take Joshua, I'll take anyone.

"I know that if I prepare well I can be the heavyweight champion of the world but I know they're preparing well so it's going to be a tough match."