Liam Paro Q&A: ‘Devin Haney is the money fight’

Liam Paro contributed to the recent transformation of the super-lightweight division when, as the underdog, he travelled to Puerto Rico to dethrone as IBF champion the feared Subriel Matias. 

A year on from having to withdraw from a fight with the then-WBC champion Regis Prograis, because of a career-threatening injury, he has changed not only his career, but his life.

His promoter, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom, has since spoken about plans to deliver for him a homecoming title defence in Australia later in 2024. 

Brisbane’s Paro, 28, discussed the new picture of his career as a consequence of his biggest win.

How has the reaction been to your victory?

This was a huge win. It was massive – the magnitude of it. The way it panned out – going into enemy territory – was nuts. I’m still kind of pinching myself about it with how it all played out. It’s crazy. It really is. It’s the perfect way to win a world title, I believe. 

It’s going good. I’ve been getting a lot of coverage. It’s been good from the people back home in Australia; it’s still sinking in, really. It’s unreal. I just can’t wait for the next big one, really. I want to be back in the gym, and ticking off the next names.

I’ve done a fair few interviews. The phone’s been blowing up. I had a week in the Bahamas, just me and my partner [Laura] – we chilled out there. A bit of downtime – it was a long, hard camp in Miami, and I was away from my family for about three months. It’s been good. It’s just been good – it’s a good balance to take a step back a little bit, because boxing camps are flat out. We’re trying to relax, but at the same time keeping on top of everything – you’ve got to expect that. I just took out the Boogeyman, so it’s going to be pretty flat out from here on in.

Victory also represented a significant positive for Australian boxing…

One hundred per cent – and going back to the way I won it. In enemy territory – that’s what makes it that extra special. No one gave me a shot. We’re just proving to the world – me and my team knew what we were capable of, and we had a perfect game plan and executed it perfectly. I’m a proud Aussie, man, and to get that win and put us back on the map, it really sticks close to my heart for sure. I want to bring the big fights back there. 

My messages have been flat out. Everyone’s sending me well wishes and congratulations. The likes of Tim Tszyu; [George] Kambosos; Anthony Mundine; Danny Green; Jeff Fenech. It’s a wide range of Aussie fighters that have reached out – even some cricketers and footie players. It’s pretty good. I’m getting a lot of exposure, and it’s good – it makes me proud to fly the Australian flag.

How do you reflect on the injury that prevented you from fighting Regis Prograis?

It’s crazy. A year ago – pretty much – I was injured. There was a lot of uncertainty, and it was a pretty dark time in my career. It was two injuries back to back. You’re never prepared for that. Until you’ve been taken away – from something out of your control – it was scary. But it just shows – in time, one year, I’m now champion of the world. It’s crazy. It spins you out, but I think it’s just gonna make better chapters of the book. When it’s all said and done, it just shows that it’s not all smooth sailing – we’re gonna go through rough times and it’s just how you handle it. It lit the fire in my belly again – getting dragged away from what I love. I think in a way it was just the world preparing me for this. I’ve really seen how much I love it.

I was asking my mates up in north Queensland about the mines, and jobs like that. It was just the uncertainty that scared me the most. It’s always in the back of your head, but when it’s there, it’s scary. You’re in a dark place, and you’re not ready for it to end like that. I still had so much to do, and I had the title on the line. It was a lot of emotion, and I was lucky to have my family – my loved ones – around us. A major sponsor – I told him I was looking at the mines, and he was like, ‘There’s no way’, so he helped me out. Anything I needed to get me through those times. All I can say, it was dark. It was really dark. 

I’m a very positive person, but it’s to the point where – it’s just real. It seems so real, and you just try and get your head around everything. I just keep going back to the uncertainty, which was scary. You just had no idea how it was gonna happen. With the Achilles, too, it was a slight tear – I was lucky enough that I didn’t have to surgery. If I’d had to have surgery it’d have been two years before I’d walk again. The Achilles isn’t a little injury either, so it was scary. I’ll admit it – it was terrifying.

You returned on the undercard of Prograis-Devin Haney – a fight for the same WBC title you’d just missed out on. That must have been difficult…

A little bit, yeah. It was hard. It was a hard one to swallow. It was so close – my dream was right there. It was signed; sealed. I was in preparation for it, and it just got taken away. It was crazy. It spins me out now – now, I’m in the driver’s seat, just a year later. That’s what people don’t see about boxing. It’s how cut-throat it is. We put our bodies through the ringer for the entertainment of the fans. It’s the stuff they don’t see – that kind of stuff. The injuries, and what goes on behind the scenes. But it was crazy. It’s still spinning me out now. It’s just crazy how things happen. In just a year’s time, the whole world’s changed for me. 

Did you consider Subriel Matias a tougher fight than Prograis?

One hundred per cent. One hundred per cent. I’m always confident in my ability. I’ll fight anyone, anywhere, and I proved that going to his hometown. That’s the best way to win a title, I believe. I think that’s a lot better win – a lot more recognition. It’s bigger all round – to beat Matias the way I did – compared to that fight. You’ve just gotta have faith, and God has a plan, and that’s what it boils down to.

His work-rate. We always knew he was a good puncher – his record speaks for itself. But he’s more accumulation. People sit there and let him start teeing off, but we didn’t do that. We just had a good game plan; we didn’t let him set his feet. Just the whole aura around him – no one wanted to fight him. No one was even talking about him. That all plays a part in making that win way more special, you know?

Matchroom have plans to take you back to Australia…

I did have the fight against Brock Jarvis in Brisbane [in 2022]. I want to bring the big fights to Australia. I’m a proud Aussie. We deserve it – we’re diehard fighting fans. I want to bring the big fights there. Opponent-wise, not sure yet. We’ve got to talk about that, and I’m sure my team will come to the best deal and the best way.

The idea’s bubbling around that we want to bring the fight to Australia, and hopefully we can get it done. October, November maybe. Just depending. I’m ready to get back in the gym now. Quick turnaround; my body’s good; there’s no injuries. I want to stay busy. I’m a fighter. I fight. I want to keep busy. That’s the best way.

We’ll start making a game plan, and see what’s floating around and what options are available, and what path we’re going to go down.

Ryan Garcia’s been banned; Haney’s vacated the WBC title; Jack Catterall’s fighting Prograis…

It’s a schemozzle at the moment. Haney was my target. He was the guy there, I believe, with the belt; now it’s [Alberto] Puello, so it’s anyone now. My vision’s just on the other belt holders now. Them guys are out of the way. I’m not gonna stick around waiting for them. It could happen in a year or two’s time, but I’m just gonna stay busy, stay fighting, and defend this belt as many times as I can.

What’s your take on, specifically, Garcia?

There’s no room for cheaters in this sport. It’s already hard enough. I’ve got no time for it at all. If you can’t do it without cheating, don’t do it at all. You’re risking your life in there, and there’s guys cheating like that. We’re not playing tennis, you know what I mean? People can get killed. It’s disgusting. I’ve got no time for it – for cheats. 

[Haney’s] got his record back to being undefeated. It’s a bit of a circus at the moment, but it is what it is. We’re just gonna stay in our lane; continue doing what we’re doing. They can keep fart-arsing around or doing whatever they’re doing. But if the fight’s there, I’ll fight any of them. You know what I mean? Fighter’s fight and I’ll fight anyone and I’ll keep proving that, so if a fight eventuates in the future, bring it on. If he wants a shot at the IBF title, I’ll happily give him a shot at that.

Are you among those who believes he’s attempting to avoid Sandor Martin?

I think so. It’s a bit of a circus at the moment. He might be avoiding him. Who knows? I think the loss and the whole Garcia thing’s really stuffed him up a little bit, mentally. Just by the way you’re seeing him. I just believe it’s played a big part in him.

What did you make of the WBO champion Teofimo Lopez’s recent victory over Steve Claggett?

Claggett’s had a fair few losses now, and as a random opponent, I believe it was just an easier defence. He got the job done; hopefully we can line up a fight in the future. I thought he’d get him out of there.

Who’s the world’s best super lightweight?

Me now. I’m the man in the division. I took out the guy. I took out the Boogeyman – the most avoided guy. Haney was on my radar, opponent-wise, after I had the belt. You gotta admit – he is the money fight. I’m 100 per cent the guy at 140. I took out the guy that no one wanted, so I’ll stick by that, and anyone disagrees, I’ll come and prove it. 

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