John Wayne Parr: Training with GSP

Written by Zach Broadhurst

The incredible career of Queenslander ‘John’ Wayne Parr (JWP) is well documented; a 10-time world champion who is considered one of the best non-Thai muay Thai fighters of all time, his retirement last year lasted just six months before that fighting itch saw him sign a new three-fight deal. He’s since claimed six straight victories, and recently landed the plum job of assisting long-time UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre (GSP) with his striking game. The two met early this year and Parr’s dominating skills impressed the Canadian so much that he offered the Aussie icon a coaching role. If GSP can translate JWP’s tutorage into a knockout victory in his title defence this month, Parr might soon be training elite fighters worldwide.

JWP and GSP 

Wayne, for those who don’t know, how did your role with GSP come about and what was it like?

It was insane. The opportunity came to go to Canada in January and I got to spar him for a few rounds then; I took some photos and said goodbye and thought I’d never see him again. Then a month later I got an email asking if I’d like to come back and help him train for his upcoming fight against (Johny) Hendricks and it was just the biggest buzz.

So I got over there and Georges put me up in a hotel on the main street in Montreal; it’s the same hotel where Freddie Roach stays and apparently Rafael Nadal stayed there the week before me. The training was really good; he was just like a normal student and was really respectful.

Then he asked if I was interested in going to New York, so he booked some planes and next thing we are flying first-class to New York. We went and trained at Renzo Gracie’s gym in the heart of New York and then we stayed in another five-star hotel there; he’s definitely a superstar.

Did you guys get noticed much out and about?

He can’t walk down the street without getting stopped; it’s just insane how famous this bloke is. I’ve never seen anything like it in my whole life.

He said you were the best striker he’d ever seen; what was it like having him say that about you?

It was pretty cool. When I was sparring stand-up with him it was probably 70/30 my way every time we sparred. This one time we sparred, he threw a jab and I came over the top and placed my shin right on his neck. He was like, “Oh my god, that would have knocked me out for sure. Thanks for pulling your kick because anyone else in this gym would have tried to knock me out with it.” And every time we would spar, we’d touch gloves and he would say, “Oh no, you’re going to bash me again.”

What is the perception of muay Thai like over there in the US at the moment?

It’s getting better. It sort of died a few years ago but a lot of people are starting to come back to it now. It’s getting more exposure with the UFC and people are really starting to understand what it is.

So what do you think is the biggest difference between MMA and muay Thai striking?

There are just so many different things they have to learn and they don’t really focus on striking 100 per cent. They are sort of like 30 per cent striking, 30 per cent wrestling, 30 per cent jiu-jitsu and then 10 per cent fitness, so it’s all over the place. Watching them do wrestling and jiu-jitsu is just nuts; they are just so good at it and that in itself is a totally different art form. I can understand why they are very good at some things and not so good at others, because with [MMA] you can’t neglect one aspect to focus on the other; it’s just such a hard sport.

So, in that respect, do you think most of these MMA fighters are even up to scratch with their stand-up striking?

No. I was confident with everyone I sparred with over there. These are all world-class elite MMA fighters and I pretty much dominated everyone I sparred. At no stage did I feel under threat from any of the MMA guys, I was very confident (laughs).

Are there any plans for you and GSP to work together in the future?

Apparently, yes. We got on so well and he was such a good dude and we just became really good friends. Faraz [Zahabi], Georges’ trainer, was saying, ‘We will definitely get you back over. You are the first person to come over here as a muay Thai trainer with a game plan.’ Apparently everyone else that had come over was only worrying about concentrating on fitness. I was the first person to say, ‘Okay, we are fighting Hendricks and he has a big left hand, he has an okay knee, so we have to move to our left, we have to do this, we have to do that’, and they were blown away. I think there will definitely be an opportunity in the future for me to get back over there and be part of the team.

So you brought a bit of a fresh approach?

I just didn’t worry about all the fancy stuff. I just got him to do three or four basic techniques and kept drilling him until it became automatic. You don’t have to worry about doing the fancy ‘Superman punch’, even though it looks spectacular, at the same time you want to keep the power and get his attention from the very first time you punch him in the face. Just little things that you’d expect in Australia that we do every day, you take those things over there and it’s suddenly new and exciting. Every time we sparred I just went southpaw and tried to mimic Hendricks as much as possible. I would throw that caveman left hand just so he’d get used to his style.

Are you going to get him down here and show him a bit of Australia?

Yes, I offered him that opportunity. I asked him if he wanted to come and watch me fight in December; he has to go to Africa around that same time but possibly there is a chance he will come. Depending on how he goes with his schedule…but I think the 36-hour flight might put him off (laughs).

What about you in the UFC, is GSP putting a good word in there for you?

Looking back now, I don’t really want to be a UFC guy. I’d much prefer my legacy to just be muay Thai and if I try MMA there is a good chance I’m just going to be taken to the ground and just be laid on. I don’t want to be that guy who sacrifices everything I’ve done and gives it away to some third-rate MMA guy who’s going to wrestle me to death. I really just prefer for these guys to stand with me and let me bash them (laughs).

Has working with GSP made you want to pursue a career as a striking coach?

It all depends what happens. If GSP can do the business and knock Hendricks out, I really believe that’s going to open some doors worldwide. It will definitely get me some attention being the guy who helped him get back that power he used to have three or four years ago, and his aggression. A couple of weeks is a very short time to try and change someone’s style when it’s something they have been doing for 15 years, but hopefully I have made him a little harder.

So what plans do you have for the rest of the year now?

Well, I have my fight on 8 November against Cosmo Alexandre from Brazil and on 7 December is CMT4 [Cage Muay Thai] where I will be fighting Yohan Lidon — so, two tough fights four weeks apart. Also, GSP will be fighting Hendricks on 16 November, right in the middle of my two fights. I haven’t been invited to work in the corner yet but if the opportunity comes, it’s like, what do I do? I really want to be in his corner but I don’t want to sacrifice losing and being jetlagged, so it’s a tough one.  

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