Former sailor kickboxing his way to the top
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Kevin Parker laughs when he gets smashed in the nose. A kick to the gut and he winks. He shimmies his shoulders, stops to pose for pictures and occasionally gets an elbow in the face for his trouble.
Believe Parker’s broken nose and broken eye socket: Kickboxing hurts.
But Parker’s prowess as a “charisma fighter” — one who throws in a little flair with the punches and kicks — has vaulted the former USS Kitty Hawk sailor into the professional circuit of Shin Nihon kickboxing.
He’s a smiling commissary cashier at Yokosuka Naval Base by day, but on the weekends he’s “Hideo Maximus” — his kickboxer persona. And this weekend, Parker is fighting his first A-class bout against Japan’s No. 4 ranked kickboxer.
Parker isn’t intimidated, he said, even though it will be his first three-round fight.
“I’m a little cocky — it’s part of the attitude,” Parker said. “That’s why the crowd responds to me.”
As an A-class fighter, he gets to choose his own entrance music — D4L’s “Betcha Can’t Do It Like Me” — and he’s prominently displayed on the promotional poster. Besides, he has the “best abs” in middleweight, he said.
Parker, 24, began martial arts with a bone to pick with a bully in his Alabama hometown. The bully went down with a dragon punch Parker learned from a library book, he said.
Parker’s Muay Thai fighting and kickboxing — a brutal form of martial arts employing hands, shins, elbows and knees — started in Japan after he arrived as a sailor on the Kitty Hawk.
Parker turned pro after he got out of the Navy in 2005. He’s had seven fights so far: six in Japan, one in Thailand. He was fast-tracked for his entertainment value, Parker said.
“I’m really loud and always smiling and winking at everyone — I’ve gotten hit a few times for that,” Parker said. “But though it may lose me points on the card, it wins points with the fans. You have to make the crowd care about what happens to you — otherwise, why bother?”
At first, his popularity won him fights he wasn’t ready for, Parker said. But his record is 6-1, and he feels stronger and more well-rounded, he said.
But becoming a fighter in Asia is no cakewalk, Parker said. Besides fighting against people who have been training since birth, Parker had racism to contend with on two fronts: He’s American and he’s black. It took time for people to accept him, he said.
“When I first got here, I was basically used as a punching bag for the other fighters because they didn’t take me seriously,” Parker said. “They think foreigners don’t care about training, because most of them don’t.”
In a Thailand training camp, his trainer would refer to him only as “Black Hawk Down,” he said. Parker eventually graduated to “Blade” — a vampire killer played by Wesley Snipes in the movies. He finally was called “Kevin” before he left, he said.
It’s important for foreigners to avoid being intimidated by Asia’s martial arts history, Parker said.
“You can’t just sit in the background being amazed at everyone,” Parker said. “You have to get in there and do better than them.”
Parker’s “sensei,” Hirohiko Watanabe, says Parker’s success is due to his discipline.
“I have never seen a person like him,” Watanabe said. “He trains a very short time but very hard. He came in with no experience and he has jumped very quick. He is a good fighter.”
Parker trains six days a week, twice a day. His job at the commissary gives him the flexibility he needs to travel around Japan and Thailand for fights and training, he said. But even though he’s surrounded by food at work, he can’t eat any of it during fight week.
“I still have 2 pounds to lose,” Parker said. “If I eat, I have to run.”