Australian Muay Thai great John Wayne Parr had sensed that competitive fire within him beginning to rekindle weeks prior to his decision to sign on with ONE Super Series.
It had only been a matter of months since he retired (for the second time) but for a lifelong athlete like Parr that flame is never really extinguished.
The turning point came during a trip to Singapore for ONE: ‘King of the Jungle’, where the 43-year-old was on cornering duties for one of the fighters from his gym,
“Just seeing the calibre of the fighters and how good the promotion was, it really made me realise how much I was missing the adrenaline,” Parr recalled.
For someone who’s essentially spent his entire adult life fighting for a living, existing on an opponent to opponent basis, retiring can be a difficult concept to come to terms with.
While Parr’s kept himself busy operating his Gold Coast-based Boonchu gym, it’s the absence of the unique mental demands so inherent with fighting that left a huge hole for Parr, one that coaching could never fulfill,
“At night, I miss the anxiety of lying on my pillow thinking about game plans and how I’m going to fight the next potential opponent. When there’s just a void of nothing, there’s been no excitement to look forward to.”
Parr says teaching could not fill the void that retiring from professional fighting had left in his life,
“You think ‘alright, tomorrow I’ve got a PT (personal training) session and then I’m going to teach a class’. That isn’t as exciting as saying I’m going to fight a Yodsaenklai Fairtex or a Nieky Holzken. I liked having the anxiety of knowing I potentially could die. That’s always a fun way to go into a good night’s sleep.”
‘Parr crossed paths with ONE Championship CEO / Founder Chatri Sityodtong during that aforementioned trip to Asia, who confessed to being a huge fan of ‘The Gunslinger’.
That chance encounter that led to an attractive six-fight contract showing up in his letterbox, which swiftly sealed the deal,
“He was telling me how he was a massive fan and he enjoyed my fighting style and liked my vision. He said he’d love for me to come back and fight for the company and hopefully fight for the title and be an ambassador for ONE. I was super excited, and then when they sent the contract it had a rather large figure on it for my fight purse I was like ‘oh s**t’. You’ve definitely got my attention when I see all those zeroes.”
The combination of all of the above is what’s seen the ten time kickboxing world champion decide to re-lace his gloves and enter the lion’s den that is the ONE Super Series roster.
In his prime, Parr was widely regarded as the most dangerous westerner on the international Muay Thai scene. He spent years competing in Thailand, making frequent trips from the age of just 14, before embedding himself for a four-year stint.
He also earned a reputation as a formidable boxer, amassing an 11-3 record as a professional.
Now the mission turns to getting back into fight condition and – as you’d expected from someone with 147 bouts to his name across a 22-year pro fighting career – there are a few crinkles that need to be ironed out, so to speak.
But it’s all a matter of perspective for Parr, who’s determined to make the most of his prodigious talents while he still has them.
“I’m not going to lie, I do have a couple of niggles that I’d rather not have. With old age you have to sacrifice. But I was saying to a couple of friends at a funeral recently, seeing the guy in the coffin and the realisation that once you’re in that there, there’s no coming out. You’re gone forever.
Parr says that, despite his advancing years, the reward of fighting for ONE Championship far outweighs the risk,
“That helped my judgment in deciding I wanted to come back. I’m prepared to put up with a little bit of pain for a lot of glory.”
Understandably, Parr’s return has already pricked the ears of several of ONE’s premier Super Series fighters, including Dutch marauder Nieky Holzken and kickboxing featherweight Grand Prix champion Giorgio Petrosyan.
There are also a few familiar faces and opportunities to settle some scores. Parr has fought both Cosmo Alexandre and Yodsaenklai Fairtex twice, and has split the honours with each.
Regardless who he shares a ring with in his promotional debut, Parr knows he’ll have his work cut out for him, and he’s under no illusions as to what lies ahead from there.
“I’m pretty open, really. Everyone is a beast… every single one of those guys is a proper killer. It’s not going to be easy but at the same time when you’re in with the elite, if I can win it puts me on a very dream-like pedestal. So, fingers crossed I can get a couple of wins under my belt and represent myself and my country with pride.”
Parr admitted a ONE Super Series belt would take pride of place in his bulging trophy cabinet, but his number one priority is the essence of ‘The Gunslinger’ ethos – to please crowds, plain and simple.
“All I want to do is just get back out there and entertain the fans. For that four or five months and the realisation that it’d all come to a halt was hard. That there’d be no more entertaining, making people get off their chair and applauding. It’s stuff like that that give you the tingles on the back of your neck and make everything worth it.”
For Parr the performance is the most important thing. Win or lose, he wants to put on a performance ONE Championship fans will remember,
“Winning or losing is very important of course, but at the same time people remember entertaining fights, so I just want to go out there and put on a show and display my art, which is fighting.”