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Kevin Barry Interview: A Tale of Two Contenders

Joseph Parker

by Bryce Wilson: Meeting up with Kevin Barry in his suite at Auckland’s Pullman Hotel and making small talk he ruefully remarks on the bumps and lumps that come from training not one but two very powerful heavyweight contenders. Barry now finds himself in the relatively unique situation of having both heavyweight contender Joseph Parker and recently adding Polish up-and-comer Izu Ugonoh living with his wife and family in Las Vegas.

You get the sense when talking to Kevin that training fighters to be successful isn’t so much of a calling as a total immersion job. Kevin‘s assessment of his fighters will often veer from their physical skills into the realms of character and substance. He clearly believes that champions aren’t just borne in the ring but more crucially they are moulded outside the ropes, formed by those day-to-day challenges that face every other human being, as well as how they cope with the increasing pressures and interest that comes from being successful sportsmen.

One can’t help but think of certain lines from Kipling’s famous poem, If, (and I paraphrase,)
‘If you can meet with Trump and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same
Yours is the earth and everything that’s in it
And-which-is-more, you’ll be a man, my son!’

Barry also talks a lot about trust and living by a code, qualities that are important to him both professionally and also within his family life. There is something distinctly old school, that speaks of a bygone era in the way Kevin and wife Tanya have created this family environment for their fighters, and recalls those famous photos of Cus ‘D’Amato and Camille Ewald sitting around the dinner table with a bunch of young hopefuls, one of whom went by the name of Mike Tyson.

I ask Kevin just how the consultation process went with his family when deciding to take Joseph Parker into their home. How did it come about?

Kevin: With Joe you have a young guy that was coming from a very close family in New Zealand who was being asked to leave his family and come and live with a stranger at the time. We had met at the offices of his promoter Duco and had spent 2 days together, maybe a total of 3 or 4 hours and the next minute we are on a plane and he’s coming back to my house to live with my family who he had no knowledge of. It was very important for Joseph’s development that he felt comfortable and like a member of our family and he has very quickly become a part of the family. My wife and children love Joe. He’s an outstanding young man and a credit to his parents. That relationship he has with me is why we’ve been able to have him on this accelerated program and why we’ve been able to have such great results.

Boxing News: Is that why Izu (Ugonoh) approached you? He saw the close relationship you had with Joseph and the family atmosphere and being a long way away from Poland he wanted something similar?

Kevin: Yeah he did. It was very important that what I had going with Joe, if I was going to bring another fighter into my house and stable that they would be compatible and similar in their hunger and training attitude. Guys that I believe are both outstanding gentlemen. It was a decision that wasn’t made immediately. When talking about Izu coming into my home and joining our team I had to first consult my wife Tanya, who without her support I could not do this. I had several discussions with Joe because it was important that he and Izu had chemistry and that Joe could see the advantages of having a world class training partner. And I had several meetings with my business partner Richard Moriarty who along with his brother Sean have provided the financial support to back Izu’s training program.

Boxing News: How do the day-to-day dynamics work for them?

Kevin: The program that I already had in place for Joe was also inherited by Izu. Most morning s they are up and on the road running by 5.30. Sometimes if they are not on the road they are in the pool. When not on the road they are doing hills, but they are doing it together and they are pushing each other and they are making each other better. Then it’s back home, breakfast, shower and back to bed. Then get up at 10 and we leave the house by 10.30. If I have other business to do my son Tay will take them to the gym. Tay is with them all the time. We have so much laughter and comradery in the house and it’s not all training. There is a lot of training by all means and they have made each other better in pushing each other along.

Boxing News: You mentioned the family aspect quite a lot I notice?

Kevin: My parents had a child welfare family home in Christchurch where my brothers Bryan and Tim and I grew up with 10 foster brothers; we always had a big house full of people. We all saw that living together made everyone better.

Boxing News: So this is something that harks back to your childhood?

Kevin: Yes, I’ve always had fighter’s living in my house for as long as I can remember. My children who are 22 now and my twins are 20 have spent all their lives with fighters in the house. There has always been somebody living in our house, thank God I have an amazing wife who has been generous in opening our home up.

Boxing News: You feel like it is a big part of what helps a fighter get better?

Kevin: Completely, the environment is important when you are overseeing a person’s life. After all this is a very serious business and these young men are putting their trust and confidence in me and I’m doing the best job I can to make them into champions. And that involves a lot of hard work from me and an extreme amount of hard work from them.

Boxing News: And a lot of trust on both sides?

Kevin: A lot of trust and a lot of openness and a lot of honesty and these are all things that so important in developing a close relationship with a fighter.

Boxing News: I know Joe and Izu are good friends, how competitive does the sparring get?

Kevin: The sparring is actually world class and has improved them both immensely.

Boxing News: As their success continues to grow I guess your phone is starting to ring more now as well. What is the maximum number of fighters you would consider training?

Kevin: This is a question I get asked all the time. I get asked by my wife, I get asked by Dean and Dave at Duco (Joe’s promoters.) Sometimes its young fighters coming through, sometimes its former world champions, sometimes its undefeated prospects from other countries. At the moment we have a small private training facility that works well with a couple of fighters. I don’t know how well it would work with 4 or 6, maybe I might have to upsize my location.

Boxing News: For the rest of this year what goals have you got for Izu specifically? Is it a particular ranking spot or to have him fight a 10 round?

Kevin: My dream plan for Izu is that he looks great in his first 8 rounder on June 13th against Julius Long. He fights his first 10 rounder on August the 1st and his second 10 rounder on the 15th of October and then I’m hoping we can put Izu into a spot where he can fight for a regional title in October because this young man is certainly good enough.

Boxing News: They both went into Wladimir Klitschko’s last camp and by all accounts gave Wlad some of his best work. How did you assess the experience for them?

Kevin: It was a tremendous experience. Physically it was great to challenge themselves against a fighter that has been the best heavyweight in the world for the last decade. Mentally it was a tremendous exercise in self belief in confidence. Izu sparred more rounds than Joe.

Boxing News: Why do you think that was?

Kevin: I think with Joe the hand speed especially in the 3rd and 4th sessions with the champ was probably something that surprised him. And he was very complimentary to a number of major media outlets about the great work that Joe Parker gave him.

But I was very pleased with the way Izu also went. In fact in the 7 sessions Izu sparred with Wlad he improved with every session.

Boxing News: And for Joe I guess he was flattered by Wlad’s kind words?

Kevin: The biggest thing for us was the mental exercise, knowing there is a still long way to go but for Joe also knowing that if he keeps improving he belongs at this level. For me, it’s alright when everyone’s telling him and he’s seeing the results but a lot has happened in a short space of time and it’s been a bit of whirlwind. I wondered whether or not it was all happening too fast for him and it was a reality check and a good one but he was so motivated when we came back to Vegas and it was all from believing in himself after that camp.

Boxing News: A lot of people, particularly in NZ, seem to think Joseph should be fighting for a title sooner rather than later, but what do you think is the more realistic timeframe, bearing in mind you just don’t want to fight for a title, you want to win it, defend it and then unify it?

Kevin: I was asked the other day where did I think Joe was at. If Klitschko was a 10 where did I rank Joe? A lot of people would like me to say an 8 but he’s not an 8 he’s more like a 6 at the moment and that’s where he needs to be. He’s shown me so much maturity in the gym and the development of his skills has really impressed me. Considering where we are after a little over two years given another two years I believe we’re going to have a seriously good fighter.

Boxing News: And that only makes him 25.

Kevin: I think Joe will be a lot stronger, far smarter more seasoned, we will have him by that stage at around 22-23 fights. For me that would be a perfect foundation.

Boxing News: Another undefeated prospect Anthony Joshua had an impressive win in the weekend, what do you make of him?

Kevin: Anthony Joshua I think is progressing very nicely. They are being very cautious but he probably needs to start stepping it up now and fighting real opponents. Kevin Johnson promptly retired after their fight and came out with his hands down low. There were red flags from the first bell, that’s just not how he fights. But we watch Joshua very closely, he’s very marketable, has a huge following in the UK, a guy that if Joe and he can both stay undefeated over the next couple of years there will be comparisons made that will create a super fight.

At this stage Kevin’s phone starts buzzing for the umpteenth time signalling it’s time to move off to training where Kevin will put Joseph and Izu through their final paces in the lead-up to Saturday night’s hostilities. These are the nights that both the trainer and his young charges look most forward to, an opportunity to showcase all the hard work that goes into forging the next generation of champion. A test not only of athletic ability but also of resolve and character which one suspects is just how Kevin likes it.

Joseph Parker 13(11)-0 faces Yakup Saglam 34(31)-3 and on the undercard Izu Ugonoh 11(9)-0 faces Julius Long 16(14)-17 at Manawatu Stadium on Saturday June 13th.

You can follow Kevin on his twitter page: twitter.com/KevinBarryNZL

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