A First, for the Last: Wayne Parr Calls it a Day

International Kickboxer Magazine, Sept/Oct 2012

‘John’ Wayne Parr has reached retirement. His last fight – his 114th – was his last, and has him more excited than ever.

“I had to get it out of my blood before I finished,” Parr says, speaking from his home on the Gold Coast. “I sit and watch the UFC every weekend, and I love it. I really wanted to have a cage fight before I finished up, but I broke one of my fingers doing Jiu Jitsu. I thought to myself, ‘How am I going to do it? And then, Caged Muay Thai seemed to be the answer.” The event itself, Parr says, was “Amazing. All through the eight-week lead up, knowing you’ll be wearing those four-ounce gloves, you don’t know what to expect. It’s like having your first fight all over again.”

Caged Muay Thai, as far as anyone knows, was the first event of its kind, anywhere in the world. The promotion was every inch a success.  “I wasn’t sure what to expect,” says Wayne. “I got in [the cage], took a few [punches]; it hurt, but they felt like normal boxing gloves. During the fight, it was ok. Afterwards… holy s#%t. I couldn’t touch my forehead for days after.”

The event was a great success from a promoter’s point of view, also – it was a sell-out, with five hundred people being turned away. The fact that this was the farewell fight for one of the greats of Aussie Muay Thai would have been a significant draw, but the numbers can’t be ignored, nonetheless.

“At first, I wanted to change a few things; get rid of the traditional stuff, like music. Then I decided to keep the music, because I like it. Then, when we got closer to the fight, I realized I wasn’t going to not do the Ram Muay – it’s been a part of what I do for so long.

“On the night, it went like normal; it was the same as any other Muay Thai fight. I told the ref that as long as the fighters were working to allow the grapple to go for longer because sometimes, those UFC guys will go in for the take-down in order to avoid copping punches.”

In the final summation, Parr has effectively converted himself. “I love it… I’m never going back. I wish I was 25 again so I could make a career out of doing it.” The audience seems to feel the same. “I have received that many text messages… ‘Most exciting night I’ve ever been to’. [Caged Muay Thai] has a whole new intensity.” Without a ground game, questions have to be asked about how feasible a striking sport is going to be without ten-ounce gloves.

“It hurts, but I can’t see why you can’t go in with them. I’d feel like a cheat going in with 10 ounces while the UFC guys aren’t. Those guys look like superheroes.”

Parr believes Caged Muay Thai is the way of the future, and doesn’t see any impediments to hold him back. “[As far as promotion goes] Queensland is like the Wild West; we can get away with more than other states can. The show sells itself. It won’t be hard to get the same amount of people back. On the night, we turned away 500.”

The nature of fighting in a cage with four-ounce gloves did have an impact on the way Parr trained and subsequently fought. “With every punch, [you’re] trying to knock the other person out. Any punch could stop the fight at any second. I was planning on trying to avoid getting hit. I did lots of footwork in the gym; I didn’t want to take the risk of getting caught. Once you get in that pocket, you just want to keep punching. The stakes are definitely raised, because the risks are higher.”

Parr is one of the most significant fighters in the history of both Australian and International fight sports. It was something that started as a childhood obsession. “I grew up watching martial arts on t.v. You know, things like The Karate Kid and Van Damme. I used to practice on other kids and school; neighbors, anyone who would stand still. And the ones that didn’t stand still, I’d chase.

“I started Tae Kwon Do at eleven, and did that for two years. Then, I started doing kickboxing with Steve ‘Superkick’ Vick. I had my first fight at age 14, under kickboxing rules.” At that time, kickboxing was the sport du jour. “I won an Australian title by age seventeen and then a South Pacific title, by nineteen.” The turning point in both Parr’s life and career was close at hand. Blair Moore was running Australia versus Thailand promotions at Jupiter’s Casino. “I used to work as a gopher, driving the fighters around, that sort of thing. I talked to the boys and found out that Thailand was the place to be.”

The experience of fighting in Thailand was a radical departure from Australia, for one significant reason: “Elbows. At my first fight, one of the gamblers came up to the ring and said, ‘I’ll give you a 1,500 Baht bonus if you can win by elbow KO.’ I got him in the fourth.”

Parr had two fights in Pattaya before moving to Bangkok where he won nine fights on the trot. This run of successes saw him feature on the front of the nation’s most respected Muay Thai magazine and Thai T.V.

He was ranked fourth at Lumpini stadium when he met the great Orono. “My manager was Senchai. He came into the dressing room beforehand and said that if I won, I’d be in line for a Lumpini title. Unfortunately, I lost and got 21 stitches. After that, I started meeting all ‘A’ class Thais.” It was around this time that Wayne acquired the nick-name that has stuck as if it was attached to his birth certificate.

“The Thais started calling me John, in ‘96. They didn’t want to call me Wayne, because it’s a swear word [in Thai, ‘Wayne’ means ‘bastard’]. In taxis, the drivers always asked, ‘Why would your parents call you that?”

The difference between fighting in Australia and Thailand couldn’t have been greater. “It’s more intense and professional. You’re not training as a sport; you’re training to survive. When you win, your money goes up and when you lose, your money goes down. You have to win to eat. Also, your camp’s reputation is at stake. They don’t want to be represented by a losing fighter. As a result, there’s a lot more pressure on you to win. Thai’s don’t give up. And they’re not like Westerners; they have a poker face. You can’t see when you hurt them. I learned not to look for tell-tale signs; accumulation will catch up with them.”

Parr had an outstanding career in Thailand. He was the first Westerner to fight at Lumpini, and fought four times on the King’s Birthday Celebrations. “I was the only Westerner to win three years running.” Shortly after, Wayne was introduced to Japanese audiences.

“In 1998, I got my first invitation to Japan, to fight Kohi. I demolished him over five rounds. After that, I became a regular in Japan.”

In 1999, Parr developed a nasty leg infection which prevented him from kicking, so he decided to return home to Australia. “When I got back, Richard Vell and I decided to open a gym.” Boonchu was born. “Since then, I’ve pretty much been my own trainer. I’ve had students hold pads for me; I pretty much teach them what I need them to do. Mr Dip has been coming down and helping out, doing my corner, for about the last six years.”

“I had a few more Thai fights, and then, in 2001, I decided to go into pro boxing.” It was a successful venture; Parr had thirteen fights for ten wins. All ten were knockouts and saw him win an Australian title.

At the end of 2001, Parr received an invitation to compete as part of an eight-man tournament on the King’s Birthday weekend, in Thailand. “It revived my Muay Thai passion,” he says. “I qualified to represent Thailand in France at the final, which was another eight-man [tournament].”

In 2002, Parr went to the US and worked at Master Toddy’s gym in Las Vegas. It was here that he met his future wife, Angie. They moved to San Diego together and Parr briefly returned to Australia to fight Jenk Behic.

“He was a kickboxer,” Parr remembers, “I locked him up in the grapple and he didn’t know what to do.” When he returned to the US, trouble was waiting for him.

“I had overstayed my visa by two days. The Americans don’t check your passport when you leave; they check it when you go back. The held me at the airport for three hours and sent me back to Australia. Angie had to sell all our stuff to buy a plane ticket back.”

Wayne fought Mike Zambidis for the first time at the end of that year in the K1 Final – and lost. Then, in 2003, Parr was drafted to Super League and found himself fighting in Europe. And then, in 2004, Parr’s legendary persistence paid off with one of his most successful years to date. “I fought in the S1 tournament in Thailand and won. Two weeks later, I fought on Super League, in Italy, and won. While I was away, K1 called Angie and asked if I wanted to fight Duane Ludwig. I did, of course, and won again. All up, it was five fights in four weeks.

K1, being a different format and rule set, imposes a different style on fighters who come from other codes. “As far as changing my fighting style, K1 meant I had to start faster. If you lose the first [round], you’re behind. So you have to start strong.” As far as changing the way Parr fought and trained, the answer is in the negative.

“For the first few fights, they allowed multiple knees in the grapple. After Buakaw belted Masato [in 2004], they changed the rules.”

Since K1, the hits have kept on coming – strong. The Contender Asia saw Parr exposed to his largest audience ever. The series was watched by five hundred million people, world-wide.

“The first part of filming was eight weeks in Singapore, and then there was six months off until the final. I lost to Yodsanklai in the final, but re-matched him another two times and beat him the third time we met. That [win] probably meant the most, given that he was considered pound-for-pound the best fighter in the world at that time. Not to mention re-matching Zambidis and beating him twice.”

It’s been a distinguished career, and given how much success Parr had achieved over so many difficult ups and downs, it’s hard to understand why he would ever want to retire.

“It’s a few things. I’m sick of losing between ten and twelve kilos every time I have to fight, and I have this injury in my wrist and finger that’s very painful and it just won’t heal. I’ve had 114 fights in total now, and I think it’s time to hang up the gloves.” Post-fighting, Wayne is going to absorb himself in life connected to Muay Thai. “I’m now promoting Muay Thai in the cage, and I’ve still got to run the gym. Everything revolves around the sport.”

Interviewing Wayne for the last time before he retires, it’s difficult to know what to ask. What is the last question; what is the thing he knows, after all that time and experience?

“Never give up,” he says. “You’re only ever one punch away from winning.”

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