Boxing: Kiwi heavyweight pinned as Parker's tune-up

Daniel Richardson

Las Vegas-domiciled Kiwi boxer Brice Ritani-Coe is set to be confirmed as Joseph Parker's opponent for a tune-up fight ahead of his bout with Francois Botha in Auckland on June 13. It's understood Ritani-Coe will sign a contract this week for a six-round fight that is scheduled to take place in California on May 17. Heavyweight Ritani-Coe has been based in the US for some time with all of his five fights there since 2009. 

At 1.88m and 124kgs, Ritani-Coe will mimic Botha nicely and should serve as a good workout for Parker, currently in Las Vegas on a two-month training camp ahead of the biggest test of his short career. Parker (4-0) has been working with New Zealand trainer Kevin Barry ahead of the fight with Botha, the 1.88m and 118kg veteran South African who has fought 61 pro bouts in a lengthy career.

Parker's career has been carefully managed to date with all of his victories coming via knockout in the early rounds but Botha represents a big step up in class. Despite being 44, the man who calls himself the `White Buffalo' has jumped in the ring with the best of them - including current or former world champions Wladimir Klitschko, Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson. He most recently fought in February when he lost a unanimous points decision to Sonny Bill Williams.

That controversial loss and the ensuing accusations regarding failed drug tests, bribes and confusion around the number of rounds in the fight have made the big-talking South African well-known to the New Zealand public. Since the announcement that Parker would meet Botha, former backer Sir Bob Jones has pulled his support for Parker and has been critical of the bout. Parker's trainer Barry told the Herald on Sunday last week that the warm-up fight ``will give me a chance to study Joseph before the fight, on the day of the fight, to see his demeanour in the dressing room, how he handles things, and whether he listens to me and how he reacts to me in the corner _ all very important things to know.

You don't want to leave things to chance until he fights Botha. "We are expecting Botha, with all of his experience, to try and tie Joseph up - so we are looking for an opponent who will do the same kind of thing.'' Ritani-Coe sports a 3-1-1 record and has a strong background in MMA where he is 5-1.The 27-year-old from Queenstown is big, can take a punch and it is understood he has also recently been sparring with legendary Kiwi brawler Ray Sefo. Ritani-Coe last fought in November when he was beaten in a unanimous decision by undefeated American Jerry Forrest at the Hilton Towers Hotel in Washington. -APNZ

Parker 'fitter and smarter' for Botha fight

Matt Richens

Joseph Parker will be a more calculated, patient fighter when he gets in the ring with Francois Botha next month and is using his tune-up bout with Kiwi Brice Ritani-Coe to try out his new style.Parker is three weeks into an intensive training camp with Christchurch's Kevin Barry in Las Vegas and it was yesterday announced the 21-year-old would take on Ritani-Coe in Los Angeles on May 17 (NZ time).

Speaking from Barry's home in Las Vegas, Parker said he was trimmer, fitter and a more intelligent boxer thanks to Barry's tutelage."I've turned my one-pack into a two-pack," he laughed referring to his flatter stomach.The major change to his style will be patience."In my four pro fights I haven't been showing enough patience. I wasn't adapting to the style of the opponent like I should have been and I threw too many punches," he said."That takes it out of you, throwing too many punches. What I need to do is relax, take my time and make my shots count. That will give me more energy later in the fights, but also allow me to throw the punches harder.

"There are a number of other things Parker's picked up Stateside, but he'd rather keep those quite for now."I can't give away all my secrets, mate. Hopefully I'll show them on the night [against Ritani-Coe] then against Botha."Barry couldn't speak highly enough of Parker's work ethic since joining him in the Nevada desert."He's going well, he's training three times a day, six days a week and he's working really hard."We're getting rid of a bit of body fat, he's eating very clean, adjusting to my way of coaching and changing his fight plans. It's all going very positively," Barry said.Ritani-Cole says he's more than just a tune-up fight for Parker, but Parker's handlers aren't silly.

The former Queenstown boxer will be little more than an opposed training bout for their man.With a sizable - and lucrative - pay-per-view audience expected for Parker's fight with Botha a little over a month away, his promoters won't want their man being bashed around in LA.Ritani-Cole has been chosen because he is as similar to Botha as the matchmakers could find on short notice while posing little threat to Parker's unbeaten professional record.

"He's a very durable, tough guy," Barry said."He'll come forward, use his size, close the distance and use his overhead right; very similar to Botha."Ritani-Cole has a mixed martial arts background while his boxing record is five fights, three wins, a draw and a loss.Parker is expected to fight a big-man fight; use his jab, keep Ritani-Cole at a distance and use his power when the chance arises."I'm treating this fight seriously," Parker said."It's going to be good preparation for me. I know Botha's going to be working hard so I need to be too."

- © Fairfax NZ News

Parker's rival a perfect match-up

​Logan Savory

Former Queenstown boxer Brice Ritani-Cole is set for his biggest challenge to date when he takes on well-regarded young New Zealand heavyweight Joseph Parker in a bout in Las Vegas next week.Ritani-Cole's boxing career started in and around the Southland and Queenstown gyms. He racked up 16 amateur bouts before he headed to live in Las Vegas five years ago.He fought at the annual Gore Boxing Club tournament and the Southland Boxing Championships with a couple of showdowns with fellow heavyweight Rodney Hogg the most memorable contests.Hogg was a former nationally ranked shot putter who dabbled in boxing and took on Ritani-Cole when Ritani-Cole was training out of Tommy Toomata's gym in Invercargill.Since his shift to Las Vegas five years ago, Ritani-Cole has juggled between boxing and competing in Mixed Martial Arts.The MMA has seen him travel around the world mainly as Ray Sefo's sparring partner.

Two weeks ago, the former Otago Boys' High School boarder bumped into Joseph Parker's trainer, Kevin Barry, who said he was struggling to find an opponent for Parker for a tune-up bout leading into his showdown with South African Frans Botha.The 27-year-old agreed to take on the fight.Ritani-Cole is viewed as an ideal matchup for Parker as he mirrors the height and weight that Botha will bring to the fight in Auckland in June.Ritani-Cole knows the bout for Parker's camp is about preparation for the bigger picture, but he wanted to be more than just the buildup.He is aware Parker's speed will take some containing but is confident he can provide his fellow countryman with a stern matchup.

"It's good. I love it when I've got a lot of pressure on myself, whenever there's that pressure I seem to perform better," he told The Southland Times from Las Vegas yesterday.Parker should be far fitter and more skilful than his older opponent although Ritani-Cole does have the ability to land one good knockout punch which does have the Parker camp nervous.The South Island golden gloves amateur champion has had five professional fights to date in the United States, winning his first three before drawing and then losing his past two.His last boxing bout was in November when he was beaten in a unanimous decision by undefeated American Jerry Forrest at the Hilton Towers Hotel in Washington.As far as sport goes, during his youth in the Otago region he was better known for his rugby abilities than his boxing tricks, which he only picked up when he was 18.

Ritani-Cole played for the Otago Boy's High School first 15 which included Stags and Highlanders flanker Tim Boys.He was also identified nationally when named in a New Zealand under-17 squad in 2002, which also included Southland's Josh Bekhuis and Dane Shelford.

- © Fairfax NZ News

Boxing: Parker one out of the box
By Paul Lewis

It's Friday in Las Vegas and Joseph Parker is trying to hit Friday into next Tuesday.That's Friday Ahunanya, the Nigerian-born, Las Vegas-based heavyweight conqueror of Shane Cameron in 2007 but defeated by David Tua in his comeback campaign in 2010.New trainer Kevin Barry watches intently as Parker tries - and succeeds encouragingly often - to find a way through Ahunanya's defences. Parker, almost unknown in the New Zealand boxing scene compared to Tua and Cameron, is going up in the world.Ahunanya is Parker's sparring partner ahead of his fight against controversial South African heavyweight Francois Botha next month; an opponent for whom Parker's connections think a warm-up bout is necessary for their young charge. 

He fights Brice Ritani-Coe on May 17 (NZT) in California.The first thing you notice about Parker is his build. At 1.93m and 107kg, he is not small.But, at 21, he still has a look of the stripling about him - a young man who has not quite grown into his adult body. That will surely be bigger than now as he fills out, although he is formidably fit after training three times a day under Barry's watchful eye.The next thing you notice is his speed. He has a long reach and that formidable weapon for a heavyweight - a quick jab.With it, he bothers Ahunanya - a boxer adept in defence and who deflects blows with his gloves or clever head movements.

He has a renowned constitution, has never been knocked out and has been in the ring with champions.Chris Arreola, Alexander Povetkin, Sultan Ibragimov and Sergei Liakhovich might not qualify as household names but they have all, save Arreola, been "world" titleholders in boxing's many-faceted collection of organisations. In short, Ahunanya has been up against a lot of fighters with bigger reputations than Parker.But he leaves the ring impressed and rates Parker's speed as quicker than either Tua or Cameron."That's good," says Barry of Ahunanya's assessment. "It was the first thing I noticed. He had good hand speed for a big guy.

"But he needed to be a lot more patient. It was a thing from the amateur days - he was rushing in and throwing too many punches and too many of them were ineffective. He wasn't taking his time on placing them and landing good shots."I call it owning the zone - that area between you and the opponent. Previously, Joseph has tended to get in close and rumble. If you have a shorter opponent, all that does is give them an opportunity. I am trying to get him to factor in those long arms and play to his physical attributes."Parker, unusually in these days of the "me" generation, is genuinely tickled by the media attention. Charmingly, he thanks us for being there to see him.He is living with the Barry family - wife Tanya was a former New Zealand Olympic gymnast, daughter Jordy and two football-playing sons Mitchell and Taylor - and is immersing himself in Las Vegas's renowned boxing culture.

This was the venue for last week's Floyd Mayweather welterweight title fight against Robert Guerrero - the first of six fights in 30 months, worth about US$200 million. They don't do things small in this town.When Mayweather beat Guerrero, Barry and Parker were at ringside, in US$1500 seats donated by a benefactor. That night Parker was too excited to sleep and stayed up most of the night, texting and phoning friends in New Zealand to tell them of the fight."When I went to get him up to go to church the next morning, I took one look at him an asked him what he had been doing," says Barry. "I then told him to go back to bed."He's a great guy, my family love him and it's like we have known each other for years.

"Yes, he's got a lot of promise but all this [promotion and publicity] is building him into a bigger fighter than he deserves to be right now."He hasn't done anything; he hasn't achieved anything. It's early, early days. But you give me two years with him and when he fills out a bit more and learns a bit more - he'll be a totally different animal then."The first steps of that journey are being taken now - with the seven weeks of training here, the fight against Ritani-Coe and then Botha.• Paul Lewis is in Las Vegas courtesy of Duco Events.

- Herald on Sunday

Boxing: Joseph Parker impresses in Las Vegas
By Paul Lewis

Not too long ago Joseph Parker was an amateur, training in an Otahuhu gym, often alone. Now he's in Las Vegas sparring with a man who has mixed it with boxing world champions - and impressing him.Friday Ahunanya is ideally placed to assess the merits of the 21-year-old heavyweight who is taking his first steps into the complicated world of professional boxing. Ahunanya has a lot of Kiwi experience - he fought and beat Shane Cameron in 2007 before losing to David Tua in 2010.He is a canny, defensively skilled fighter with a granite chin and a credible record, so you tend to listen when he says that Parker has far more speed in his long arms than either Tua or Cameron."Oh, yeah, that's obvious," he says after sparring four rounds with Parker yesterday. 

"He's a promising fighter. He came out with the jab and used it well. He's got long hands and he's using his long reach."I noticed that when I tried to put some moves on him, he backed off quickly, reset himself and then came at me again. I found that a little disorientating."Ahunanya has fought heavyweights like US hope Chris Arreola, Alexander Povetkin, Sultan Ibragimov and Sergei Liakhovic - all well-rated boxers in the bunch below the two Klitschko brothers (Vitali and Wladimir) who have so dominated the division in recent years.Nigerian-born but Las Vegas-based Ahunanya is now 42 and hasn't fought since December 2011.

He's lost all his fights to that well-rated brigade up above but, even if his career is on the wane, he is still a tough opponent; an ideal sparring partner ahead of Parker's fights against Brice Ritani-Coe (on May 17, NZT) and against South African heavyweight Francois Botha next month.Ahunanya is solidly built, has an excellent defensive style, using his gloves to deflect blows and is adept at slipping punches with head movements. He is not unlike Botha in style and he and new trainer Kevin Barry have clearly been working on not getting into clinches - as Botha did against Sonny Bill Williams - and boxing his way out of them when they do occur.

The 1.93m, 107kg Parker has been working with Barry - former trainer of Tua - in Las Vegas for about three weeks of a planned seven weeks; it's a long way from the small boy who used to mock-punch his dad's hands and who remembers his first fight as an overweight 12-year-old. He also had to train alone at times when his previous trainer had to work. Now he is training three times a day under Barry's "That's good," says Barry when told of Ahunanya's analysis of Parker. "Joseph and I have been working on that.""He's got great head movement," says Parker of Ahunanya. "You can really tell the experience he's gathered in the ring. It's great to be working with someone like him ahead of my next fight - I am not thinking of Botha yet; I have another fight first."That Parker is starting to build a small reputation is evident when Barry tells the tale of the difficulty of finding a warm-up opponent before the Botha bout.

Several heavyweights in Las Vegas were approached to fight Parker and several agreed - but pulled out when they saw video footage of Parker from his amateur days and his first few bouts as a professional."They took one look at the video and then declined," says Barry. "Social media makes it hard, very hard, to arrange a fight these days. You can't hide anything."* Paul Lewis is in Las Vegas courtesy of Duco Events

- Herald on Sunday

Boxing: Kiwi rookie trains in luxury away from temptations
By Paul Lewis

On the wall of Kevin Barry's gym in Rich Moriarty's house, among other boxing memorabilia, is a copy of a cheque made out by Don King to Mike Tyson. It's for US$25 million ($30 million). And zero cents.It symbolises what they say about Las Vegas - you can do anything here, as long as you have the money.And boxing is all about money. Las Vegas has long been one of the strongholds of boxing and the sport is still a mainstay of the Vegas entertainment scene.Last week's Floyd Mayweather-Robert Guerrero fight was a big deal at the MGM Grand, one of six bouts Mayweather has signed up for; supposedly earning him US$200 million. 

Ringside seats cost US$1500.Rookie New Zealand professional Joseph Parker and trainer Kevin Barry aren't in that league but they are honing their push in part of Moriarty's plush house, which is given over to Barry and Parker.The first time we see Parker spar in his training for the Brice Ritani-Coe fight on Saturday he's in a gym in a little-trodden part of Las Vegas; it's nestled next to the Bonnie & Clyde bail bondsmen and the Smoking Gun tattoo parlour.Today he's in a custom-built boxing ring in Moriarty's house in a wealthy gated community. Barry's memorabilia wallpapers the surroundings. David Tua is everywhere.This is where Barry has built a business, training corporate clients - some from Moriarty's Union Gaming Group, an investment bank specialising in gaming - funding casinos and the like for clients such as mutual and hedge funds.

They met in Vegas and Barry and Moriarty have become firm friends. When he heard Parker was coming to train in Vegas, he arranged for him to train at his home. Vegas being the sort of place it is - most of mankind's sins and temptations are here, in lavish fashion - there is a lot of phoniness around and Barry and Moriarty are striving to create a family environment for the 21-year-old Mormon fighter."He's a great guy - he's so laid-back and humble; he has no ego whatsoever and it's so important that he have a positive influence here in Vegas," says Moriarty. "With everything going on in the entertainment industry here, it's vital that he have a strong family life.

"We see a lot of him, my wife loves him and the more I see of him, the more I realise his potential."Moriarty arranged the ringside seats to the Mayweather fight, with boxing still an important part of the return to his clients on the money invested in casinos - here and in Asia. Union Gaming participated in 2011's US$1.5 billion IPO by MGM China and last year's US$415 million financing plan for the US$750 million SLS Las Vegas casino - a sign the industry is bouncing back after the global downturn produced some comparatively lean years.Vegas has a strong base and Moriarty thinks it will remain so, even with the burgeoning threat of Asia and centres like Macau, where his company also invests. The US gaming industry turnover is about US$8 billion, Macau alone is worth US$40 billion.For now, though, it's back to his three-times-a-day training for Parker as he and Barry work on technique at the gym."I have loved what I've done in Las Vegas," said Barry, "and I have worked hard and been very lucky."I like the corporate training that I do - but I felt there was something missing in my life. So being able to work with someone like Joseph is great."

Boxing: Heat goes back on Barry

By Paul Lewis

It was Los Angeles, almost 30 years ago. The chairs were flying through the air. So too the drinks containers. And the cussing. The air was blue. And angry red. The Americans were upset.Kevin Barry had just sunk to the canvas after a late blow from his semifinal opponent, Evander Holyfield, in the 1984 Olympic light-heavyweight division. The Yugoslavian referee disqualified Holyfield for hitting on the break - something he'd done consistently during the fight.

The US crowd erupted. They broke seats clear of their mounting and threw them. They threw coins, full plastic cups full of beer, and threats. The air was full of violence, all of it outside the ring. This writer surreptitiously covered the silver fern on his New Zealand T-shirt - an action I still regret but which seemed necessary at the time.

It really was that threatening. It was and remains one of the biggest controversies in the history of Olympic boxing. Barry couldn't fight for 28 days after being knocked out and the final was a walkover for Yugoslavia's Anton Josipovic - coincidentally from the same country as the referee, another element that set the Americans off.

Holyfield went on to have a stellar boxing career. Josipovic didn't - and ironically became a sports writer covering, among other things, Holyfield's career. Also watching in the crowd that day was Tanya Moss, a New Zealand rhythmic gymnast at her first and last Olympics. She was alone in the team, not even a coach, and had been adopted by the boxing team.She is now Tanya Barry, married for 20-plus years to the new trainer of New Zealand boxing heavyweight hope Joseph Parker - after making Barry wait through a six-year engagement.

"It was awful," she said of that 1984 night. "The crowd turned really nasty. I hated it. But I was in awe of Kevin's medal. When he showed me his medal, I was overawed ... I thought, 'if that was mine, well, I don't know what I'd do, I'd be so happy' but he was very matter of fact about it."Barry, asked where his medal is, shrugs and says it's in a drawer somewhere. It is not framed and hung on the wall, with other boxing memorabilia, in his gym.

Tanya Barry still doesn't much care for boxing, she says, though the couple's 17-year-old twin sons, Mitchell and Taylor, are carving a fine reputation for themselves in high school in another combat sport: American football.Daughter Jordy, 20, is already at college doing a political science and economics degree on her way to becoming, she hopes, a lobbyist.This is the family environment in which the 21-year-old Parker finds himself as he trains for the clashes with Brice Ritani-Coe and South Africa's Francois Botha - this week and next month respectively.

Parker is pressed into service at the barbecue at the Barrys' house in their gated community in Henderson, a Las Vegas echo of their old neighbourhood in Titirangi.

Barry mock-scolds him into earning his keep. How many barbecues have you done, Joseph? "This will be my second," he deadpans before continuing to impress all and sundry with his comfortable personality and droll sense of humour masking a natural intelligence.

If Parker does well in professional boxing, it will be in large part due to his personality, attitude and strong work ethic. But while this is the story of the professional boxing birth of Joseph Parker, it is equally the story of the rebirth of Kevin Barry.Linked forever with the financial squabbles and legal action that marked the end of his time with David Tua, Barry still bears the figurative scars from that clash. No matter the rights or wrongs of such situations, there really are no winners.Barry, in talking about taking on Parker as a student, is clearly happy to be back in the game; he acknowledges there was something missing in his life.

Tanya Barry knows it, too. She knows he is in his element."But," she sighs, "we have been here before. I had my reservations about him taking this on - but there is no doubt he really wants to do it."She tells the story of taking a reluctant Barry out one Auckland night in 2003 when the disagreements with Tua were at their height - and how she rounded on passers-by who called her husband names questioning his honesty and integrity. She donned the verbal gloves that night, dispatching the strangers.

The family are clearly happy in their new life in Las Vegas, seven years old now. 

Barry is the epitome of a happy man; a genial host and a focused trainer. He is still fit and he has several assets - a daughter in college, two sons earning rave reviews in football, a happy marriage and comfortable surroundings; the sun glints brightly off the water in the pool as the Las Vegas mercury touches 37.That's nothing to the heat that goes on to Parker as he takes the first real steps into the cauldron that is professional boxing.But Kevin Barry is back doing what he does best. There is heat on him too - but he likes it.