The Long Road: ‘John’ Wayne Parr

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International Kickboxer Magazine, March/April 2015

There are many things to like about ‘John’ Wayne Parr. Best of all, he always comes up with a story. Just ask his friend, Joe Rogan.

Parr’s story is so detailed it needs to be considered in terms of chapters, and the latest began with his return from retirement. Parr’s achievements were always going to cast a long shadow, as he is often described as Australia’s best-ever Muay Thai kickboxer.

That sort of shadow is something that every middleweight with something to prove will want to step out of to enjoy their own time in the sun.

Toby Smith, just into his early twenties, is the rising star of Australian Muay Thai. Smith and Parr clashed at Powerplay 24 in June of last year. The results were conclusive.

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“Toby Smith was exactly what I expected,” says Parr. “Lots of pressure; clinched, very strong. An endless gas tank, as a young twenty year old has. He’s got a massive future. I’m sure you’ll hear a lot more of him.”

Smith took the win and, in the process, inflicted damage of the sort Parr had never experienced before. Remarkably, in more than one hundred and twenty fights, he’s never broken a bone.

“I’ve never broken a bone during a fight before. I’ve had plenty of stitches, but it’s the first time [I’ve suffered] something that intense.”

Smith caught Parr with an elbow to the eye socket that finished the fight.

“When the elbow hit, it felt like I’d been hit in the face with a little screwdriver. The fight had to stop; I couldn’t fight through it. The pain was too intense. I couldn’t wait for the ref to raise his hand. I got out of there straight away. I wanted to hide under a rock; I felt like my face had been caved in.”

Parr knew he was in serious trouble.

“I haven’t felt pain like it before,” he says. “I knew something was seriously wrong as soon as it landed. My vision went blurry straight away. Because it’s your eyeball, too, it’s a whole new world. Your cheek and your eye. Pretty crazy.”

The aftermath of the elbow proved to be severe.

“The elbow had broken two orbital bones; inside of the eye socket and the cheekbone in front of the eye. Normally, the muscle falls into the fracture and the eye is sucked back into the skull. My eye only got sucked back two millimeters into the skull, not a full centimeter.

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“[The doctor] kept holding up a red bucket to make sure the retina hadn’t detached. I was petrified. I had to spend a couple of nights in Melbourne hospital; I couldn’t fly home, because of cabin pressure. I had to rent a car and drive back to the Gold Coast. Mum took one for the team; she drove me up and I flew her home.”

Wayne is two things; optimistic and philosophical.

“It was one of those things. I knew it was gonna be tough; I trained hard, but I had a few things missing in my camp. I didn’t train as hard as I should have, I wasn’t grappling nearly as much as I should have. Also, my boxing partner Les Sherrington was out of commission, so I didn’t do any boxing.”

While Parr escaped surgery, Smith certainly left his mark.

“My vision is fine, but there’s a bit of nerve damage in the left side of my face. It feels like an electrified spider web. If I touch my face, I get constant pins and needles. If I lick my lips, I can feel it going across my eyelid.”

It sounds both disturbing and distracting.

“It’s got to the stage where I’ve become accustomed to it. I waited for it to get better, but it hasn’t improved. Oh well, I’ve had a few spars and nothing’s come of it, so…”

Parr moved into retirement and back out again, almost like the pool was a little bit cold. He has had a number of fights on his own promotion, Caged Muay Thai, where Thai boxers take each other on in a cage, with four-ounce gloves, under full Thai rules.

Purists can argue whatever they like; the fact is, MMA allows different forms of engagement where a fighter can choose to escape concussive punishment by taking the contest to the ground. CMT allows no such reprieve; the striking is more intense. It’s hardly a backward step for a man who has just suffered the most significant injury of his career.

Wayne’s experience both in the ring and the cage has crossed over in some interesting ways. As most people are aware, he spent some time as a part of Georges Saint Pierre’s camp, coaching him in striking.

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The experience lifted Parr’s profile to the point where he became known to Joe Rogan.

“He’s helped me out before,” says Parr. “When Hunt fought Dos Santos, I put it on Twitter that I was going to the MGM [hotel]. Joe got in contact with me privately and said, ‘I’m a massive fan – I’ll get you the best seats in the house for free. Make sure your tickets are refunded.’ In Las Vegas, he gave me two tickets in the foyer.”

Parr has built on his reputation as a fighter, giving a number of seminars in the US and Europe. All of them have garnered outstanding attendances.

“I stayed with my friend Andy Scott; he’s the part-owner of ‘Training Mask’. He organized the seminars. I did five seminars while I was there, in Hollywood and San Diego. We got about fifty to seventy people.

“In Europe, I did fourteen seminars in sixteen days. The organizer told me that Tyrone Spong got forty, and [I] got eighty. He said, ‘We could have easily sold this seminar four times over – we had to turn people away.”

As Parr’s reputation has grown, further doors have opened. Some of them have had Rogan’s hand on the doorknob.

“Joe was bombarded with requests to have me on his podcast, so he put out an open invitation for me to come over.”

The visit was preceded by some private tuition.

“Joe said, ‘Let’s train first, then we’ll have something to talk about’. We trained for ninety minutes, doing pads and technique. That video got a hundred thousand views in seven days on youtube.”

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Parr’s interviews, whether for podcasts or magazines, are always descriptive, self-deprecating and sincere. When asked about his approach to interviews, he says,

“I’m me. I’m a pretty straight up-and-down person. My downfall, if anything, is that I’m too honest. I guess I get a lot more respect [that way] – the word humble comes up a lot. I am appreciative of these opportunities.

“I’m not someone who believes [he] deserves things. I was so excited for three weeks to go talk to Joe; I had goose bumps for the whole three hours. When I saw fighters like Ronda Rousey, I ran across the foyer to get a photo with her, like [I was] a schoolgirl.”

Things are different at that level, including the public perception of the sport.

“After my training footage with Joe was released on the internet, a lot of people were commenting on the way I kicked, saying how crap it was. Joe told me, ‘The majority of people spend ten seconds on the internet to write crap – just ignore it.’

“The MMA crowd are a completely different beast [to the Aussie Muay Thai community]. They are very critical and negative.

“GSP has four million people on facebook, and eighty per cent of them hate the way he’s fighting. When you’re at that level, you’ve got people ripping on you. People are commenting on his shoes or the way he parts his hair.

“You’ve just got to ignore it. He told me ‘I have people who write things and put pics up for me. If I read my comments, I’d go crazy.’

Parr has had the full insider experience, including working Richard Walsh’s corner on UFC 184.

“I worked the corner for Richard Walsh. I stayed in the fighter’s hotel, rode in the fighter bus to and from the event, surrounded by everybody. It was crazy.”

Unfortunately Walsh didn’t have such a positive experience.

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“He was doing really well, until he got caught with a sneaky elbow at the end of the first [round], up against the cage, and that was it.”

When asked what he’s learned from his exposure to the UFC, he replies with a characteristically disarming answer.

“At the end of the day, it’s just another promotion with a little bit more of a budget.”

While Parr has opened significant channels as a trainer and educator, he isn’t finished as a fighter just yet. He’s fighting again on his promotion, Caged Muay Thai, on May 9.

“I’m trying to get an opponent, but there’s no one locked in as yet,” he says. “I’m feeling good. Been doing big runs, and hitting the pads in the arvo. I feel like I’m twenty-five. I’m excited to get back in there and prove that I’m still one of the better guys in Australia.”

The obvious question to ask is the one Toby Smith stamped on him.

“This is the first real injury I’ve had,” says Parr. “Normally, it’s just stitches. I’m running close to twenty kilometers a day; my joints are fine. There’s nothing wrong besides my face. It’s the first time anything’s ever given me a scare.”

Parr’s gym, Boonchu, is busier than ever.

“It’s crazy – so busy. Classes are full; there’s a huge demand for private lessons. We’ve got a good stable of teenagers coming through the ranks.”

It appears that, for now, Muay Thai and MMA can peacefully coexist in the state of Queensland.

“Muay Thai is huge in Queensland. Every weekend there’s a show. Sometimes two; Friday and Saturday nights. We’re a little bit saturated. There’s so many fighters, it’s easy to fill a card. MMA is no threat. The only show that really causes a stir is UFC. The other shows are trying to keep their head above water.”

Fightsports continue to grow in Queensland, where the sheer weight of numbers of everyone involved make it the nation’s unofficial capital. Wayne Parr is at the forefront, his legacy casting a long shadow behind him and, courtesy of the interest of influential people like Joe Rogan, that shadow is achieving an international prominence.

“What’s that saying? ‘It takes a lifetime to become an overnight success,” says Parr. “It’s very surreal.”

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