Joshua, Parker Go Toe-to-Toe in Unification Bout


Today, boxing’s marquee fight is a major event as IBF and WBA champion Anthony Joshua (20-0; 20 KOs) faces WBO champion Joseph Parker (24-0; 18 KOs). Winner walks away with all major titles outside of Deontay Wilder’s WBC belt, while the loser walks away with his first loss

A nthony Joshua has been a revelation since turning pro after winning gold at the 2012 Olympics, not only living up to the highest possible — and frankly somewhat irrational, on paper at the time — expectations, but becoming the sort of new generation superstar that boxing needs in a post-Mayweather era.
The fact that Joshua has yet to fight in the United States doesn’t even matter that much. He’s made such a name for himself fighting at home in the United Kingdom, and with such style and presence, that he’s already started to see that American interest in his career rise. Showtime jumped on board early, sensing there was real star potential in this fighter, and they were right.
So far, Joshua’s best win is a titanic struggle with a past-prime Wladimir Klitschko. While it’s good that we saw an epic Fight of the Year in the heavyweight division, there are still bridges for Joshua to cross, and one is beating a true, in-prime top heavyweight. Is Joseph Parker that guy? That remains to be seen.

Sure, Parker has the WBO title, but lots of far-from-elite fighters hold titles in today’s boxing world, and it’s been that way for a long time. That’s what happens when every division has at least four recognized “world champions.”
Parker is no pushover, or at least that doesn’t seem to be the case, but there is at least some sense that Joshua is simply better than him, that there’s really nothing Parker can bring to the table to pull the road game upset. Joshua is favored and he should be — so far, he’s been the better pro fighter, more impressive in his best wins, including against a common opponent, the credible and solid Carlos Takam. Parker struggled to beat Takam in 2016, with Takam’s own poor execution as much to credit as anything Parker did exceptionally well. When Takam fought Joshua last year, he was overmatched and stopped in 10.
Anthony Joshua is meant to be one of boxing’s new top draws and a serious star. They’re already talking about a fight with Deontay Wilder, and there’s even that bajillion dollar potential UFC boxing offer out there in the news cycle. But he does have to take care of business with Parker first.
Joseph Parker deserves some credit. He could have been content to be WBO heavyweight champion, facing a true who’s-that list of challengers, staying at home in New Zealand, comfortable and making money.

He clearly doesn’t want to do that. He wants to be the best, so he’s fighting the best. Even his trip to Manchester to defend against Hughie Fury last September deserved more credit than it got. Fury may not be a top contender, really, but going on the road to face a talented young opponent is more than a lot of fighters in boxing are willing to do. Parker did it to increase his visibility, and now here we are, and he’s headed to Cardiff for this massive fight with Joshua.
That’s the good stuff. The not-so-good stuff? I’m not sure, again, that there’s anything Parker can do to win this fight. I think of three fights in particular that give me pause. One, the aforementioned Takam bout, where Parker was, in my view, lucky to get out with a win. Not because he didn’t deserve it on the scorecards; he did. But because Takam gave that fight away in various rounds. It was a puzzling performance.
The second came in December 2016, when Parker beat Andy Ruiz Jr for the vacant WBO belt. Ruiz went to Auckland and lost a majority decision. I had that fight a draw. It easily could have gone the other way. Again, it’s not that Parker didn’t deserve it. In this case, it’s that it was truly debatable in the end, and I don’t think anyone is confusing Ruiz for Anthony Joshua any time soon.
The third was last September, when he fought Hughie Fury. Miserable fight to watch, truly dreadful. Again, a majority decision in Parker’s favor. Again, I scored a draw, but the Ruiz fight wasn’t hard to score, and this one was. Parker also got a pair of 118-110 cards, which I thought were wide, but you could probably make that case. The fight was ugly and hard to score. But the thing I came away thinking was that nobody did anything effectively.

So those are three performances, against his three best opponents, where I didn’t think Joseph Parker, while solid, looked like a real top-level fighter. Certainly not on par with what we’ve seen from Anthony Joshua.
That said, hey, styles make fights. Just because a guy struggles against the style of Hughie Fury or Andy Ruiz Jr doesn’t mean he can’t figure out a way to beat Anthony Joshua. I’m just saying I see it as unlikely. Highly unlikely. It would be a real upset.

How did these two get here?
With Floyd Mayweather retired, if you wanted to argue that Joshua was the most popular fighter in boxing you would certainly have a case. The 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist has been the great hope for British Heavyweight boxing since his debut in 2013, and he’s absolutely lived up to those expectations, with a flawless record. He had a major test last year against Wladimir Klitschko, and he got off the mat to put Klitschko away in the Fight of the Year and the best Heavyweight title fight in many, many years. Amazingly, he also looks like he wants to be fighting the actual top talents out there. He is bringing the spark to Heavyweight that has been missing for so long, and it’s amazing to watch.
Where Joshua is the young fighter representing the hopes of England, Parker is the young fighter representing the hopes of New Zealand. Parker has been a pro since 2012 and started picking up steam on the international scene in the past 3 years. He won Tyson Fury’s vacant WBO title in 2016, and has defended it twice. Like Joshua, he’s a world champion and he’s undefeated, but his path to this point is quite different. Where Joshua has been shining under the increased expectations, Parker has seemed to be just getting by. He’s gone the distance in his last three, often scraping by with wins he really shouldn’t have to struggle for. He’s a legit top five Heavyweight, but he’s also taking a big step here.

What can fans expect?
There’s no doubt Joshua is the more well-rounded fighter, with more to his game – this should be his fight to win. Both men have power, but they aren’t the kind of wild one punch guys you see in Deontay Wilder. Parker’s best tool is his jab and his movement, but I’m not convinced he’s better than Joshua in either of those areas. It seems unlikely Parker can get the KO here, so he’ll need to outpoint Joshua and take him to the cards (and in Wales, to win on the cards he likely will have to REALLY outpoint him). That all seems like far too big a mountain to climb for Parker.