John Wayne Parr: The Gun Slinger’s Last Ride

By Jacob Debets Nov 22, 2019
On Friday, Nov. 30, under the bright lights of Brisbane’s CBUS Super Stadium, Australia’s John Wayne Parr will make the walk for the final time. With 148 combined fights in muay Thai, kickboxing, boxing and mixed martial arts under his belt, and 10 world titles in the trophy cabinet, “The Gunslinger” will square off against former four-time boxing world champion Anthony “The Man” Mundine in a bout that’s being billed as “World’s Collide.”

Parr is best known for being a pioneer in combat sports “Down Under,” with a list of accolades in muay Thai a mile long. He was the first Australian to compete at Thailand’s historic Lumpinee Stadium, won the prestigious King’s Cup and S-1 tournaments in 2001 and 2004 respectively, made it as a finalist on the Contenders Asia reality series in 2008 and spent stints holding the WKBF and WKA middleweight titles -- just to name a few. As a repository of striking expertise, JWP is frequently sought out by some of MMA’s biggest names, from Robert Whittaker to Georges St Pierre, and is renowned throughout the world as a giant in, and an elder statesman of, the “science of eight limbs.”

Fast approaching his 149th and last bout, Parr spoke to to talk about his career and legacy, finally being recognized by the Australian sports media, why he ultimately chose to pursue muay Thai instead of boxing as a young man and what he’s expecting in his highly-anticipated return to the squared circle.

“My last boxing fight was 2003,” Parr recounted. “I fought [future WBC and IBO super-middleweight champion] Sakio Bika over 12 rounds. It was super tough. It was one of those fights where, after the fight, I was pretty concussed. I’d been training… my first 10 fights I was just boxing professionally. Then I went to America and came back. I was sort of jumping [around]. I would fight kickboxing, then muay Thai; kickboxing then boxing. I was chopping and changing. After the Bika fight -- I had a realization. I needed to choose one or the other, they’re two different sports. I couldn’t dabble. I had to be 100 percent, all in.”

“Unless you’re 100 percent committed, [boxing is] a very difficult sport to be elite at,” he continued. “As much as I like boxing, it’s not as fun as muay Thai. I like kicking and kneeing and elbowing, and the endless amount of combinations you can throw with all those different weapons.”

Parr, who picked up the Australian middleweight title during his 10-3 (10 KOs) boxing career, ultimately came to a crossroad. In his words, he had to choose to “either be famous in Australia for boxing, or be world famous in muay Thai.” He elected the latter, building a wildly successful career in muay Thai and kickboxing and competing at the apex of the sport in every city from Las Vegas to Tokyo. It’s meant less head trauma, career longevity and a chance to see the world -- but 16 years on he’s happily jumping back into boxing for his swan song.

“Studies have shown that the majority of CTE is [caused by] sparring,” Parr said. “If you do a 10-week camp, sparring twice a week at 100 percent, you’re having 50 fights! And 90 percent of the target is your head. In muay Thai you have a five-round war with a Thai killer, you might have a sore leg, or a sore body, some stiches. But you can still count to 10. With boxing, sometimes you have a tough fight and everything’s just mush. My last [boxing] fight with Sakio, for about two hours, people were talking to me but everything was distorted. I had a full concussion. We were going back to the hotel, about two hours later, and all of a sudden it felt like a curtain had been lifted, and I got clarity again. I said ‘I’m done’; I don’t ever want to feel like this again. I’ve had some tough muay Thai fights, but I don’t want to have brain damage -- I don’t like this feeling at all.”

“As much as I’d like [for the fight with Mundine] to be a muay Thai fight, at the same time, man what an opportunity,” he elaborated when pressed on his return to boxing given his experiences. “Not only is it Anthony Mundine, it’s an opportunity to show the Australian fight fans that I can multi-task: I can muay Thai, I can K-1, I can shoot-box, I can box. Anything to do with stand-up striking, as long as it’s fighting, I don’t want to be characterised into one fighting style. Across the board, I can be the man… I want to be remembered as an elite fighter, not just a muay Thai guy, for Australia.”

Parr’s assignment is a considerable one, with Mundine standing as one of Australia’s most decorated (and controversial) pugilists in a generation. Mundine has spent stints as the WBA super-middleweight title holder, the IBO middleweight champion and the interim WBA super-welterweight champion across a 48-9 (28 KOs) career, beating the likes of Shane Mosley, Danny Green and Daniel Geale over a professional career that dates back nearly two decades. Mundine has fallen on rougher times as the curtain begins to fall, losing by first round KO to former WBO welterweight champion Jeff Horn in his last outing 12 months ago. But recent history dictates that as a kickboxer, facing a seasoned professional in the “manly art of self-defence”, Parr will be at a serious disadvantage when he steps into the ring against Mundine.

Addressing how the fight came together, Parr admits his first choice was to close out his career in muay Thai, but was intrigued by the opportunity to fight one of Australia’s best in his swan song.

“I was getting ready for [my bout with Danilo Zanini in Japan at Rizin 18],” Parr said. “I was in full fight camp. A Brisbane promoter called me, and said “I have a proposition for you: would you like to come back to boxing?” And my initial reaction was, ‘No, I’m quite happy to keep doing Muay Thai.’ Then he asked, ‘Wwhat if I throw the name Anthony Mundine your way?’ That changed everything! Apparently, the promoter rang Anthony. He had guys like [Australian boxing champion] Tim Tszyu and that trying to fight him, and then they offered him my name. He said “you reckon [John Wayne Parr] would fight me?”

“Somehow or other, he jumped all the other killers and decided to fight me instead, which I’m very appreciative of,” he continued. “Then we had our first face off a couple of months ago. He was super cool. We shook hands, he said, ‘look, whatever gets said between now and the fight, just understand it’s bums on seats. I encourage you to talk as much sh*t as possible. In fact, add me on instagram, talk sh*t, and tag me.’ I thought what the hell? This is like wrestling. So far every single interview he’s done that I’ve read, he’s been super polite and positive. No sh*t talk really. I think the fight sells itself because of the contrast of styles. He’s such a slick boxer and I’m a walk forward slugger. My fanbase of muay Thai and his fanbase of boxing is intriguing. If you’re a fan of fighting, this a fight you don’t want to miss.”

Parr says his experience in boxing 16 years ago hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm for his bout with Mundine, and he’s been dutifully preparing for the transition since his return from Japan in August. He’s also been buoyed by the amount of local media attention he’s been subject to, a stark contrast to the indifference shown by the Australian outlets towards his past kickboxing/muay Thai bouts.

“I’m doing everything myself still,” he remarked on his training, addressing how he’s adapting his style for the squared circle. “I came back home [from Rizin 18] and went straight back into camp -- no rest. I’ve just been working on bringing my body weight back to my lead leg. Instead of being on the back foot, trying to get ready for leg kicks. Getting my bobbing and weaving stuff back again. I got some good quality sparring partners. I’m generating a lot of power out of my hands. Even though I’m 43, I think I’m punching harder now than when I was in my peak in my 20s. I may be a little slower, but if I hit him, he dies.”

“I’m so happy and fulfilled to be recognized world-wide as a muay Thai fighter” Parr continued. “But in Australia, there’s no recognition. No matter what I do, or who I beat, or what I achieve, or what title I won, or how many titles I’ve won, I just can’t get my head in the paper or any recognition from the media. [Because of this fight], people know who I am -- everyone’s going back and researching [my old fights]. It’s a blessing. Even my last six weeks of training. Running down the street, people have been coming out of coffee shops, sticking their head out of the car. It’s so surreal, so humbling. To wish for this moment your whole career, [I’m] finally getting [local] recognition as a world-class fighter.”

The promotion for the Parr-Mundine clash has centred predominantly on the crossover of two different sports, but a sub-theme of the contest is the looming retirement of both men. The 43-year-old Parr has said he will retire win, lose or draw, while the 44-year-old Mundine has stated he will hang them up only if he falls short on Nov. 30. Asked about how he arrived at the decision to make the bout his swan song, Parr admits it’s largely to do with accumulated injuries.

“It’s gotten to the stage where I’ve been battling a few different [injuries,]” Parr said. “During training, everything’s good. But as soon as I stop, I’m in pain for four or five hours after every session. It’s gotten to the stage where the agony has taken away the enjoyment of something that I love doing. As much as I want to fight forever, this will be my 148th fight [not including his solitary MMA fight in 2007]; I’ll be 44 in May. I have to come to the realization, that as much as I want to do this forever, I can’t. My body’s breaking down. It’s had a good run. I said since I started my career, I’d go until my wheels fall off. The wheels are so wobbly right now I can’t keep a straight line. It’s just time. I don’t want to, but at the same time, my body’s telling me ‘mate, you’re done.’”

A corollary of Parr’s impending retirement is that he will retire with a kickboxing/muay Thai record of 99-34-1 (45 KOs) -- one short of triple digit wins. While Parr admits this is a source of frustration, he’s also able to see the humor in the situation, and draws a comparison to another Australian sporting icon, cricketer Don Bradman, who retired with a test batting average of 99.94.

“I’m filthy,” Parr said. “I should’ve won my last fight [against Danilo Zanolini at Rizin 18]. My fight in Budapest [against Eder Lopes at Bellator Kickboxing 9], I should have won that one as well. I’m thinking, what the hell? It would have been so perfect, such a cool, amazing… just to check that box. Not many people can say they’ve got a century. But at the same time, it’s pretty funny; 99! I’m the Don Bradman of kickboxing. I so didn’t want to be the Don Bradman, the last two years I’ve been like ‘just one more win, just one more win.’ But like I said before, it’s not my choice, it’s my body’s choice. My body’s disintegrated.”

Parr will leave a legacy in muay Thai and kickboxing, and he’ll get plenty of props from the boxing world if he can hand Mundine a loss in his swan song. But one frontier that fans longed to see “The Gunslinger” try his hand at was in MMA. While Parr fought Tony Bonello in an MMA bout in 2007, and was briefly linked to a season of “The Ultimate Fighter” in 2013 until matchmakers rejected him due to his lack of experience, he ultimately never made a full transition to the sport. On reflection, Parr admits there was an appeal to fighting in a major promotion like the Ultimate Fighting Championship in terms of fame and finances, it wasn’t enough to pull him out of the domain he felt most comfortable.

“I thought about [MMA,]” Parr admitted. “I thought I’d give it a go and cross-train a little bit. I did it for about two months in the build up to the Bonello fight. As much as it was new and exciting, after two months… I really like striking. Jiu-jitsu’s fun for a little bit, for learning the basics, but I didn’t like having to put a groin cup in before rolling so I didn’t touch anyone’s balls. It’d be like ‘push the hips in! push the hips in!’ and I’d be like, ‘nah, all good. If I push the hips in anymore he’ll get pregnant!’

“I fully respect all of the jiu-jitsu guys,” he continued. “I appreciate what they do, but I like striking so much more. I’ve spent my whole career on my feet. Having to slow things down after a jiu-jitsu class, trying to dissect every little move and making sure you’re in the right position constantly. And then at the end of the session you’ve still got energy. You train muay Thai for two hours, you’re completely exhausted. You’ve got nothing left. I just didn’t feel satisfied with jiu-jitsu. End of the day, my legacy is striking. As nice as it would have been to [compete] in the UFC and get my name out there, and hopefully get a big pay day, I’m content. I don’t have a million bucks, but I’ve made enough money to buy my house, my gym, a few little toys. I might not be a superstar, but at the same time, I’m content.”

As our interview comes to a close, I ask the obvious question: what comes after Nov. 30? Parr’s answer reveals he’s got plenty to keep him occupied. Between running his Gold Coast Boonchu gym, promoting his “Caged Muay Thai” event series, looking to make inroads in fight-commentary, and coaching two of his three children as they forge their own path in martial arts, retirement will hardly be a holiday.

“I’m content to be on the Gold Coast. I have 150 students that keep me busy. Hopefully I’ll get into commentary [too]. I have 30+ years in martial arts. I think I have a lot of knowledge when it comes to fight sports. And if not, the seminars are always fun.”

“My daughter is currently in Thailand.” He continued. “She’s having a big fight in 10 days’ time. She’s had 24 fights now. Then my son, he’s 11, he’s had seven fights…It’s very cool to watch them follow in my footsteps, my daughter’s been overseas. She’s fought in England twice, this will be her second fight in Thailand, and she’s also fought in Canada. Usually after her fight, I go and teach seminars for a week or so. She gets to see my lifestyle of traveling to different gyms around the world, making good money, being a little bit famous; people coming up and asking for photos and signatures and a chat and a handshake. This is cool, this is the lifestyle. Who wouldn’t want to live like that?”

Jacob Debets is a law graduate and writer from Melbourne, Australia. He is currently writing a book analyzing the economics and politics of the MMA industry. You can view more of his writing at


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