World heavyweight champion has paid tribute to Samoa’s support in the wake of winning the WBO heavyweight title on Saturday night.
A day after Lupesoliai La’auliolemalietoa Joseph Parker overcame Andy Ruiz Jnr at the Vector Arena, he said he couldn’t have done it without Samoa’s support.
He thanked Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, the government and all the people of Samoa for their support.
Tuilaepa, who was instrumental in the decision to back Lupesoliai and Duco with a US$100,000 (T$230,000) sponsorship under Invest Samoa, led a strong government contingent to the fight.
He was accompanied by the Minister of Education, Sports and Culture, Loau Keneti Sio, Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Afamasaga Rico Tupa’i and leading members of the business community.
Asked about the support of Samoa and New Zealand, he said: “What a great feeling to represent Samoa and New Zealand.”
As for becoming the world champion, he said he had a dream. “I told you I was going to become the champion of the world, well here I am.”
The 24-year-old champion also paid homage to the nation that raised him, New Zealand.
Speaking to Newstalk ZB's Tony Veitch, Parker reiterated his humble side by thanking all of those who helped him over the past three years.
"What a great win for our country and it's great to be a part of history," Parker said.
"We made it as a team, we made it as a country. This is for us.
"I did this for New Zealand and Samoa - all I can say is thank you." Parker told Tony Veith the fight was closer than he would have liked, with the excitement and pressure surrounding the event playing on his mind.
"I started really slow," Parker said. "I let him set the pace in the beginning.
"Usually I'm the dominant one, but that's why this was a title fight. We are both good fighters and he used experience to dominant at the start.
"I've learned that I can dig deep and I can come back when I'm down on the board."
So what’s next for Parker?
Well first he wants to take a break. That could include a trip to Apia this week for the Leadership Samoa Sports Awards, although that could not be confirmed.
When he returns to the ring, he wants to unify the division.
He could be back in the ring by March or April, and potentially against Hughie Fury, cousin of Tyson who vacated the WBO belt.
Trainer Kevin Barry, in particular, was ecstatic.
He promised his late father, Kevin senior, that he would take a fighter to a heavyweight world championship, and having just failed with David Tua in Las Vegas 16 years ago, he did it with a humble young man from Papatoetoe instead.
"He'll be happy won't he?" Barry, an Olympic silver medallist, said of his father. "He'll be looking down and I think he'll be pretty proud. It's really special. It's the most special moment of my boxing career.
“Being there in 2000 was good because it was my first time, and I won it with [light heavyweight Beibut] Shumenov, but to be here in New Zealand with Joe, somebody who I have so much respect for, somebody who I love so much, for him to create history in New Zealand and for me to be part of it, it's very special."
Parker said: "What a great feeling. I dreamed of doing this one day and now I've fulfilled that dream, my goal, and I couldn't have done it without my team... what a great feeling it is to win it and win it in New Zealand."
Asked what he was thinking when referee Tony Weeks started reading out the result, Parker said: "I just listened to my coach and he said 'I think we did enough to win it at the end'. The jab, when we used that jab and punished him from the outside, we knew we won those rounds. It was a very close fight, he brought his A-game... he showed speed and power and it was a great fight he put on.
"This is a dream come true, but this is just the start. Now that we've won this we're going to dominate the heavyweight division, that's our goal. Our goal is to win and keep winning, dominate and unify those belts."
Parker's face was unmarked despite being hit regularly, but Ruiz Jr's was badly bruised and already starting to swell around the eyes when he spoke to the media afterwards. His eyes were bloodshot and he had several ugly red marks on his face, neck and chest.
Barry said: "Andy fought a hell of a battle, but look at his face. Joe bashed him up, he's really marked him."
Ruiz Jr, the aggressor throughout, said: "I think I won the fight, I was always on the pace and controlling the rounds with the jab, pushing him back and putting him under pressure.
"I don't think he threw a lot of combinations, I think I showed that I was the faster guy out there, but I came to his home town and I think the judges were in his favour."