Story lines: Anthony Joshua vs. Joseph Parker
Today on Showtime (5:00 p.m. ET / 2 p.m. PT), Anthony Joshua and Joseph Parker unify the IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight titles at Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. Here are some story lines ahead of the biggest fight of the weekend…
No hiding from down under
Unlike his counterpart, Parker has been boxing for most, if not, all of his life. Born and raised in South Auckland, New Zealand, his father Dempsey, named after none other than American heavyweight of old Jack Dempsey, introduced him to the sport as a toddler but Parker, 26, really ramped up his education by competing around the age of ten. Of course, Parker, who is of Samoan descent, idolized David Tua growing up as a child and no one is really talking about it but he is stepping into the lion’s den with the same fearless mindset of the “Tuaman.”
“I feel it’s my time,” Parker said at Tuesday’s press conference. “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. I’m here to be part of history. I’m not doing it just for myself. I’m doing it for my team, my family and my country. (Joshua)’s at his best. I’m at my best. This is the perfect time for the fight. There are going to be no excuses. Whoever wins is the best on the day.”
Parker has plenty of good amateur experience across the globe but not much success, nor did he even qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, where Joshua won his gold medal. As a professional, Parker’s first notable win, in his sixth bout, was a knockout of a washed-up Frans Botha, then, after stopping journeyman Brian Minto in his ninth bout, Parker started to become a notable prospect. In 2015, Parker stepped up to fight the best within the Oceanic circuit, dominating all five opponents that year via knockout, which surged him near the top of the WBO heavyweight rankings, thanks to the regional trinket he won and defended countlessly after beating Minto.
Parker and Joshua share a common opponent but Parker beat Carlos Takam by decision 17 months before Joshua forced a stoppage on the 37-year-old fringe contender. Takam, who subbed in for an injured Kubrat Pulev, fought Joshua well, considering the circumstances, and the stoppage ruled in the 10th round was a tad dubious. Parker won the vacant WBO heavyweight title after edging Andy Ruiz Jr. by majority decision in Auckland. That was in December 2016 and, after one easy defense at home, Parker found himself fighting in Manchester, England against Hughie Fury, who got a mandatory shot once David Haye decided to fight Tony Bellew in a freaky, domestic payday. Not only was that a mistake for Haye but, after losing a wide majority decision to Parker last September, Fury, his band of brothers and the rest of his team were left scratching their heads. Like the Ruiz fight, it was close and competitive but Fury was nimble enough to force Parker to miss quite often and look bad overall. Fury – and everyone there – could smell the thrill of a celebration just before the scores were read but it wasn’t home cooking.
Parker, 24-0 (18), is considered lucky to even be here by many, especially those in the U.K., but he returns, confident enough to show up at Tuesday’s presser wearing it on his sleeve and through classic horn-rimmed glasses, a look that immediately reminds of the fearless Malcolm X and not Colonel Sanders because Parker is no chicken, especially when he’s already the Burger King.
The only shocking conclusion
Joshua (-700) is not an overwhelming favorite over Parker (+500) but, really, the only shocking conclusion to Saturday would be if the New Zealander stops the British superstar.
Parker hasn’t knocked anyone out since October 2016 (KO 3 Alexander Dimitrenko) and even in his wide unanimous decision win over Razvan Cajanu, in his gimme home defense, Parker didn’t exactly look impressive. Of course, the Fury fight wasn’t a good look either but it’s hard to look good against any Fury. Parker is a good boxer, from his hands to his feet, and if he can get around Joshua’s jab, starting at the body and working his way up throughout the fight is realistic. Joshua, who was famously dropped in his signature win over Wladimir Klitschko, has shown great perseverance in a fight and, against Takam in his most recent outing, didn’t have as many lapses in his defense. At Friday’s weigh-in, Joshua came in at a hulking 242.25-pounds, his lightest in a while up against Parker, 236.5-pounds, who had to look up at Joshua in the final stare down.
Should Parker find the perfect shot, or force Joshua to physically break down with body work and sustains an active approach, earning a close decision has been done before but it would be Earth-shattering should he win by KO.
Deontay Wilder stays home
Originally the plan for Wilder was to sit ringside at Joshua-Parker and meet the winner face-to-face after the fight, as a way to stoke the fire for a complete unification of the division. Earlier in the week, it was reported that Wilder wouldn’t end up going after learning he wouldn’t be allowed to get in the ring, post-fight.
Eddie Hearn, the playboy promoter of Joshua (Matchroom Boxing), has pretty much played his hand flawlessly, when it comes to Joshua and, to Wilder’s displeasure, he also possesses a wild card. Dillian Whyte, 23-1 (17), the WBC’s No.1 contender, just scored a thrilling knockout of Lucas Browne last Saturday and Hearn has been dangling him over Wilder’s head for about a year now. From Wilder’s perspective, Whyte his merely a blockade from getting the Joshua fight, which, of course, is THE fight everyone hopes for, out of all of today’s match-ups. It’s also one of the most lucrative fights in the sport today and Wilder will be watching from home, probably nerved that he’s not there, but he should be feeling good.
Wilder, 40-0 (39), just fought his most memorable bout, in his late-rounds knockout of Luis Ortiz, on March 3. Seemingly down on the cards, in the moment, Wilder came back to beat down the undefeated Cuban in the 10th, erasing all doubts in the prior rounds, and the thrilling win would be perfect going into a Joshua fight next, should Joshua beat Parker, of course. Then again, the best heavyweights out of America and the U.K. having a growing rivalry is a good thing for boxing, win or lose. They will fight one day but the nature of the business will have to make everyone wait until the guy holding all the cards is ready.
All eyes on AJ
Joshua, 20-0 (20), is already the biggest draw in the sport and his superstar will continue to grow remarkably, should he keep winning. He’s also getting better.
It wasn’t so long ago when Joshua dethroned “Prince” Charles Martin for the IBF heavyweight title. At that time, in Spring 2016, Joshua was still considered a prospect who happened to have a belt, and after blitzing Dominic Breazeale and Eric Molina easily, he matured before our very eyes against Wladimir Klitschko in one of the best heavyweight fights 17 years into this century. Attracting 70,000 boxing fans to his fights is now a repetitive footnote and there are plenty of bystanders who will be watching tonight, wanting to be in the AJ business.
Joshua has been featured in the United States on Showtime matinee telecasts for a few years now but, with a U.S. debut imminent and no long-term deal with the network, Joshua will be heavily pursued. It hasn’t been given much light but HBO – the rival premium channel to Showtime – has been bidding for broadcast rights to Joshua’s fights, only to be matched by Showtime, who currently holds the rights. An exclusive deal with HBO could be on the horizon, not to mention, Showtime also returning to the mix. There are a few factors when it comes to those two companies bidding for Joshua, however.
Showtime has been the leader of boxing programming in America for the past 18 months or so. It waited out the Premier Boxing Champions project and, once it fizzled, maintaining its relationship with manager Al Haymon is now paying off, as they have been able to construct consistent schedules featuring his legion of talent. On the other hand, HBO hasn’t been nearly consistent with its programming and the stars it does have under contract typically fight on pay-per-view. Joshua isn’t a Haymon client and Hearn has recently started an agreement with HBO regarding other Matchroom Boxing fighters, and his soon-to-be venture of his company in the U.S.
HBO, who is still going through the process of being acquired by the AT&T conglomerate, hasn’t had the budget to give its subscribers the amount of boxing its rival can. Top Rank striking an exclusive deal with ESPN certainly didn’t help but what that has done, if anything, is give HBO the opportunity save some money over the past year-and-a-half. With them trying their very best to get Joshua on this fight-to-fight basis, there’s no doubting their interest and the most lucrative thing for Joshua in America would be a long-term contract with either network. Rumors of UFC President Dana White’s Zuffa Boxing having interest in Joshua only stir the pot even further.
Has HBO been waiting patiently to get Joshua? Can Showtime counter its attempt, given its commitment to such a large stable already? Is Dana serious about getting into boxing? We may learn this through AJ.
In this game of poker amongst fighters, managers, promoters and networks, there is a joker who can shake things up in the heavyweight division. Tyson Fury, 25-0 (18), hasn’t fought since November 2015, when he beat Klitschko for three of the four heavyweight titles and the lineal tag attached to Wladimir at the time. Currently Fury is reportedly doing his best training since his fallout laced with drugs, alcohol, food and depression. It looking more and more like Fury will be returning soon and, should he show promise of reform, he will be a perfect addition to this era of heavyweight boxing.