New Zealand boxer Joseph Parker.
New Zealand boxer Joseph Parker. Hannah Peters

Down syndrome man welcomed to 'Team Parker'

WORLD boxing champion Joseph Parker says a young Samoan man with Down syndrome will be part of his ring walk for the rest of his heavyweight career.

Nathan Keil led the Kiwi into the ring last weekend, flanked by two of the fighter's uncles who have become regulars in Parker's pre-fight entrance. It meant Keil took centre stage ahead of Parker's titanic WBO title fight showdown against Andy Ruiz jnr at Vector Arena in Auckland.

After meeting Keil in Samoa just over a year ago through his father - Samoan TV station owner and former government minister Hans Joachim "Joe” Keil - Parker says he and the Keils have become great friends.

Parker now looks on 31-year-old Keil as a key member of "Team Parker”.

"Nathan enjoys it. After the fight he tells me that he's thankful and that he loves me. For me that's really special,” Parker said. "He's definitely a good friend of mine.

"(With my two uncles), these are the three that will be walking me to the ring from now on, for the rest of my career.”

Keil, who lives in Lotopa near Apia, has previously also walked David Tua into the ring - and, staggeringly, is also connected to wrestler-turned-Hollywood movie star Dwayne Johnson, otherwise known as "The Rock”.

"When The Rock came to Samoa, Nathan got on stage and started dancing with him,” Joe Keil said. "He ended up taking Nathan's hand and holding it in the air, it was amazing to watch.”

Joe and Nathan's mother Celine say they are incredibly proud of their son, but also of Tua and Parker for helping promote awareness for people with special needs.

"Folks with special needs see Nathan walking in with these famous people and they can rejoice that one of their own can be included with 'normal' and well-known people. Nathan does not think he is different from anyone - although he does recognise his own kind and he will always say 'like me',” Celine said.

"He loves the limelight but he also loves Joseph because he treats him like an equal.

"The public awareness for young people with special needs is huge and priceless.”