Combat Sports

Tall Poppy hunters sharpen machetes for Kevin Barry

The Tuesday Morning Quarterback is sitting by the bar toasting the good life, and ignoring the haters

It was October 1982 when the great lyrical poet Don Henley opined: “People love it when you lose.”

“Kick 'em when they're up, kick 'em when they're down, kick 'em all around,” was how the former Eagle felt about society’s approach to the most successful among us.

Deep down, many of us are desperate to see people we perceive as more successful than us fall flat on their faces. We are terrible aresholes, we humans.

Two decades after Henley hit back at tabloid reporting of the good and the great with Dirty Laundry, Curtis Jackson III offered a similar – if not similarly expressed – view of what we Kiwis call purveyors of 'Tall Poppy syndrome'.

“I'm that cat by the bar toasting to the good life,” the man who also goes by the name 50 Cent rapped. “You that **** **** **** trying to pull me back, right?”

It’s highly unlikely associate professor Peter Snell would use such filthy language to describe his fellow countrymen, however the three-time Olympic champion sure as heck would agree with Jackson’s sentiment.

“New Zealanders generally tend to be negative on one's possibilities,” Snell wrote in the Listener in 2004 in an article detailing why our greatest-ever athlete decided to reside in the USA for most of his adult life.

Dragging people back down to our level is as much a Kiwi pastime as driving badly in the rain.

It’s why the likes of Snell and a bunch of the most successful people this country has produced often choose to live abroad. Anyone seen Zinzan Brooke or Sean Fitzpatrick or Ernest Rutherford round the hood lately?

Add Kevin Barry to the list of escapees.

Barry, of course, is the 'incompetent' trainer who oversaw Joseph Parker’s losses to undefeated four-belt world champion Anthony Joshua and the soon-to-be no. 1 contender Dillian Whyte.

Parker overcame a crashing headbutt to his ear that badly destabilised his equilibrium as well as throwing off the scorecards when the foul was wrongly ruled a knockdown. He hauled himself off the canvas after a copping a left hook that would decapitated most humans. And he came within a punch of pulling off a brilliant victory after finishing furiously over the top of Whyte.

Parker showed the heart of the lion - and was a millimetre away from being right back in the world title shot picture.

The instant reaction from Kiwis (via social media): sack Kevin Barry.

Barry, as it happens, took the Peter Snell route long ago, deciding to set up a new life in Las Vegas after discovering the country he loved dearly didn’t love him back nearly as much.

New Zealand’s most successful amateur boxer with Commonwealth Games bronze and Olympic silver medals to his name, Barry has enjoyed huge success a professional trainer. He took David Tua to a title shot against all-time great Lennox Lewis and guided Maselino Masoe to the WBA Middleweight title. Under Barry’s tutelage, Kazakhstan’s Beibut Shumenov claimed the WBA light heavyweight title in just his tenth pro fight – a world record that still stands.

As Parker’s mentor, Barry played a crucial role in the green youngster’s transition from Olympic drop out to the first New Zealand-born heavyweight champion in history in just four years.

But, with us Kiwis, the worm turns remarkably quickly.

Fittingly, given Barry’s head was already being sized up for the block following the loss to Joshua, the route from Team Parker’s London hotel to the O2 arena where he would face Whyte took the team bus past the Tower of London – a place notorious for shocking decapitations.

Barry knew full well there would be calls for his head if Parker lost – and this was a contest where victory was far from certain. The coach did everything in his power to help his charge win, however the indomitable Whyte rode his luck and the backing of a 20,000-strong crowd to a terrific victory.

In Britain, the fight crowned what was hailed as one of greatest nights of boxing in recent memory, thanks to a brilliant undercard being topped by a breath-stopping main event. Joseph Parker was hailed as a champion and gentleman, even in defeat.

There was not the slightest whisper that Parker’s trainer should take the blame. Why would there be?

Back inside Parker’s dressing room, team members took to their devices to gawp in horror as the tsunami of hate washed in from back home. The real loser, it was quickly clear, was Kevin Barry.

Kick em when they’re down. Kick em all around.

It's what we do.

Just a year after Snell set his second world record for the mile, he turned up for a race in Auckland suffering from burn-out and illness. He was beaten in the race, and beaten up in the media.

The harsh judgment of the countrymen who had so revered him wounded him deeply. So he left, setting up a new life in Dallas, Texas.

“What I've done is I've translocated myself into a place where they don't care,” Snell wrote. “And that is really perfect.”

Unless, of course, you're a tiny nation that could really do with retaining its finest citizens. 

It’s about time we Kiwis asked ourselves: who are the real losers?

- Steve Deane worked on the Joseph Parker fight as a PR contractor for Duco Events 

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