Where is Parker Place in this heavyweight Monopoly?
Joseph Parker is real, even if few fans or pundits give him a real chance of upsetting Anthony Joshua today (Showtime, 5 p.m ET/2 p.m PT). This despite Parker being a heralded Olympian with an unblemished record, for which Parker beat back credible tests and challenges from Alexander Dimitrenko, Carlos Takam and Andy Ruiz Jr. Outside of New Zealand, Parker is largely dismissed as a small player in his own title defense. Instead of news features celebrating the unification showdown, fans are fed headlines about Joshua readying to sign a 500-million-dollar deal from the UFC. Or pundits ignore Parker to devote features on a potential Anthony Joshua-Deontay Wilder match-up in the summer. It’s enough to make you root for the 10-to-1 underdog (the general consensus at most sport books), which might be a gamble worth taking.
As far as popularity is concerned, the WBO titleholder Parker is the equal to the IBF/WBA titlist Joshua, in his native New Zealand, where he is hugely in demand. However, the always-accommodating Parker has been reeled in by his team this time, keeping the normally loquacious fighter focused and away from distractions. With the exception of the final press conference, in which an assured Parker spoke defiantly and had the look (attired in a tweed suit and black-frame eyeglasses) of a professor giving a lecture, “We love challenges. We see (Joshua) as a big challenge and that’s the reason we want to fight him. I feel ready, confident and sharp. I’m doing it for my team, my family and my country. I feel better than ever and I’m taking these belts back to New Zealand.”
New Zealand is robust and famous for its indigenous Maori culture, the All Blacks Rugby team and as the film location of the “Lord of The Rings” movie trilogy. If Parker defeats Joshua, it can add home of the recognized world heavyweight champion to its majestic resume. Parker has matured into a power-punching ring tactician and has logged more professional rounds and fights than his fellow champion. At a solidly-sculpted 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, Parker has the dimensions to trouble Joshua and perhaps stand up to his vaunted power. Parker says he wants test himself…and, more importantly, Joshua, “He’s at his best. I’m at my best. This is the perfect time for the fight. There are going to be no excuses.”
The main character in his own saga is not only confident but well-prepared, according to Parker, who sees options where others observe obstructions, “I’m going to beat Joshua. I haven’t decided how I want to beat him yet. I don’t know if it’s a knockout or if it’s points or decision. We’ll see how I feel on fight night.” Trainer Kevin Barry is equally confident in their preparations, “When you have two very skillful, undefeated fighters in the ring together, it will come down to who can execute the game plan the best. I’ve said all along that I believed, out of all the heavyweight champions, that Joseph Parker has the best skill. I believe he can do more. I believe he has the fastest hands. On Saturday night, we’ll find out whether I’m dreaming or whether I’ve been right all along.”
They have an unexpected source of encouragement in former heavyweight king Tyson Fury, who name-checked his potential rival In a TV interview, two years ago, “I really rate him. I’d like to share the ring with him,” even going as far as calling Parker “The future of heavyweight boxing” but that may also be interpreted as a passive-aggressive dig at Anthony Joshua. Still, I concur a bit with Fury, as Parker has very quick hands, throwing a lot of combinations for a heavyweight. His active feet keep Parker elusive, creating the right distance but, when he gets too comfortable, Parker allows himself to be hit too much.
Finding a comfort level had been a problem in previous training camps, as Kevin Barry explained at the final press conference, “I think we’ve had our best training camp and I know trainers say that all the time but, over the last two years, we’ve had a really rough time with Joseph’s elbows. I think it’s shown in his performances. We’ve had a couple of surgeries just prior to Christmas last year.” In order to get the best sparring, they also had to leave New Zealand. “This camp, 11 weeks in Las Vegas, have been the most enjoyable time that Joe and I have spent together in the five years that we’ve had.”
Aside from reaching a physical peak, Barry puts a high value on mental preparations, ascribing to the theory that a top athlete must remain calm and meditative to prevent burning off valuable energy, “Our camp is full of relaxation. It’s very loose. It’s the way I train Joe in the gym; it’s the way we’ve always trained. You’ve seen our dressing room on fight night; it’s full of laughter, dancing and people who have put the hard work in and have nothing to fear.”
Anthony Joshua’s team sees Parker as a legitimate threat but stop short of praising Parker as the type of boxer who will be able to dethrone their champion on his home turf. Joshua’s trainer, the well-regarded Robert McCracken, pointed out dangers they have evaluated, “(Parker)’s a good fighter. He’s unbeaten and he’s a challenge that AJ is up for. Parker is a different opponent than Takam or (Wladimir) Klitschko. He’s undefeated, so he doesn’t believe he can lose. But being fast and being calm and relaxed doesn’t prepare you for getting into a ring with Anthony Joshua. Not just the size of him, he’s very imposing in the ring but he hits you and you don’t know where you’re getting hit.”
Complacency and overlooking opponents is a pitfall Joshua has avoided, to date. Joshua says the future is solely dependent on his performance against Parker and is properly focused for Parker – and only Parker, “I take it 1,000 percent one fight at a time. A lot of talk has been happening about AJ vs. (WBC heavyweight titleholder) Deontay (Wilder). People need to be realistic. I’m looking at Joseph Parker, who is a lively challenger. He’s a champion for a reason.” Even when pushed by the media at the final press conference, Joshua never drifted too far from the subject of Parker, “Let’s say we look into a crystal ball and I’m victorious, then we can start talking about future plans. But for now, my future starts on Saturday. That’s where I’ve got to look to and not really beyond that moment.”
Looking past this fight is not a problem for Parker, who was not asked about a potential showdown with Deontay Wilder or future aspirations. This left it to Parker to talk himself up, which was not a problem, as it turned out, “There’s no excuse on my side. I’m feeling strong and I’m going to leave it all in the ring. I’m punching hard; I’m punching with way more speed, so I’m looking to put on a display. I feel it’s my time. I’m young; I’m fast. I’m strong and I’m determined to win. I’m not here for a payday. I’m here to take those belts back with me.”
Personally I see Anthony Joshua as enjoying every imaginable and real advantage. So unless Joshua gets overconfident, as his predecessor Lennox Lewis did on occasion, I do not see Joshua slipping up. Joshua has shown he can elevate his game facing down the stern challenge of Wladimir Klitschko, while Parker has yet to be tested on that level. At this time, I only see someone with superior speed and lateral movement besting Joshua. I don’t believe Parker has the firepower to pressure Joshua either and, by the fourth round, he’ll be on his back foot and in survival mode. The question for me is whether there will be a stoppage to retain Joshua’s 100% kayo ratio.