WBO Heavyweight Champ Joseph Parker is Good, Just Not Good Enough

Call him the odd man out or maybe even the heavyweight division’s Rodney Dangerfield, because WBO title holder Joseph Parker 24-0 (18) doesn’t get much respect. Parker (pictured with his trainer Kevin Barry) has been the WBO champ for nearly a year. He’s made two quiet defenses of the title, beating Razvan Coganu in May and Hughie Fury in September, both by decision. Yet for the last year Parker has been completely overshadowed by IBF/WBA champ Anthony Joshua and WBC titlist Deontay Wilder.

Maybe that’s because Parker’s WBO title is the least highly regarded of the four major belts among the championship hardware in boxing. But the most logical reason why Parker isn’t thought of as a player in the heavyweight title picture is simple: it’s hard to envision him beating either Joshua or Wilder in a unification bout. Recently, there have been reports of Parker possibly being the next opponent for one or the other, and if that came to fruition he would be an overwhelming underdog.

“I don’t think I’ve ever gotten the respect of being a world champion, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” Parker said. “I feel as a world champion I have achieved something incredible in our country and am very happy with what I have achieved. But I don’t think I get the respect.”

“Now I have the WBO, I want the WBC. I want the IBF. I want the WBA. AJ (Joshua) is a fighter who is champion of the world. My goal is to unify. My goal is to grab his belts and to say that I am the real champion. I don’t think I would have problems knocking them [Joshua or Wilder] out.”

I love Parker’s mindset, but I don’t think his skill-set can carry him to his goal. Parker is 6-4 with a 76-inch reach and weighed between 245-247 for his three title bouts. That’s a good size for a heavyweight who is moderately athletic. On paper, Parker, aside from his reach, is nearly as big as Joshua and a solid 25 pounds heavier than Wilder. The problem, as I see it, is that he lacks the needed tools to beat either one of them. Granted, both Joshua and Wilder have holes in their game, but it’s a reach thinking that Parker is good enough to exploit them.

When I have observed Parker, two things stand out that cause me to doubt he could knock out either Joshua or Wilder as he says he could, the first being his performance against the three most legit guys he’s fought. In his IBF title eliminator against Carlos Takam, Parker was solid, but seemed at times to be confused as to how he wanted to fight, alternating between pushing the action and then sliding away, looking to counter. He clearly had the better of it but he certainly didn’t stand out.

When he fought 256-pound Andy Ruiz in Auckland, New Zealand, for the vacant WBO title, he was forced to use his legs and fight in retreat. Parker had some good rounds during the fight – his jab was sharp and it kept Ruiz from closing in on him. During the second half of the fight Parker tired a little and Ruiz had better success getting inside and landing some well-timed counter right hands over Parker’s lazy jab. As the fight neared the end, Ruiz slowed and Parker again steadied the action with his jab.

The majority decision in favor of Parker didn’t sit well with Ruiz’s corner which felt they were a victim of home town bias in Parker’s native country. I disagree with the Ruiz faction. Parker won without much room for debate. However, he didn’t run away with the fight and only got the better of Ruiz because he was more consistent with his work rate.

His last fight against Hughie Fury this past September was another close call. Fury, who is awkward and hard to look good against, forced Parker to press the fight as he looked to time and counter him. It wasn’t the finest hour for either fighter, but Parker escaped with another majority decision victory fighting on Fury’s home turf in the UK. After the fight I wrote “It was a dreadful fight to watch with biased and clueless commentary. Fury had moderate success in patches while Parker had a little more success in patches fighting as the aggressor.”

I scored it 115-113 Parker but don’t have an issue with anyone who saw it a draw or a 1-point win for Fury. The point in highlighting these three fights are that Parker only beat one of the three best guys he’s fought, Takam, without any controversy attached to the decision and he didn’t score a single knockdown over the 36 rounds. If Parker was pushed to the brink fighting Takam, Ruiz and Fury, that’s not a coincidence. The thought he could overwhelm Joshua or Wilder borders on the unrealistic.

This leads to my second observation…..and that is that Joseph Parker doesn’t do anything exceptionally well as a world class fighter. He’s a good boxer with nice fundamentals, but he lacks that one thing that Joshua or Wilder would have to address before they could go about doing what they intend to do against him. Parker has good hand speed, but it’s not the type of speed that would give him a discernible edge during exchanges with Joshua or Wilder. If he were to fight Wilder, he’d most likely fight as the aggressor, which means he’d be in range for Wilder to nail with his right hand. From what I’ve seen, Parker has a dependable chin, but he’s never been in with a puncher like Wilder so it’s anyone’s guess as to how he’d handle Wilder’s Sunday punch.

In a matchup with Joshua, Parker would have to fight as the boxer, looking to use the ring and pick his spots, something I doubt he could do effectively, at least not for long. I think he’d be at the mercy of AJ’s jab, and once that started to get through more frequently, it would only be a matter of time before the big right hands and left hooks to the head started to find the target. In turn I don’t think Parker could do anything about it, at least not enough to change the result.

Parker is a good heavyweight and excluding Joshua and Wilder he wouldn’t be in over his head against anyone else, other than perhaps Luis Ortiz, if Ortiz still has something left at almost 39. Being that he’s only 25, Parker has time to get better, but I believe his lack of a truly identifiable weapon will cost him if he fights Joshua or Wilder. At best he’d come up just a little short.

If one were to describe Joseph Parker, one couldn’t say he’s a great puncher, but he isn’t feather-fisted. He’s a solid boxer, just not a great one. He has good speed but it’s not the type that can’t be nullified with distance and timing. He isn’t the easiest contender in the division to hit, but his three best opponents managed to find enough openings to stay in the fight with him. He is without a doubt one of the upper echelon fighters in the heavyweight division, but I don’t think he’s good enough to make Joshua or Wilder, in particular Joshua, an ex-champ.

That said, if Parker were to sign to fight either in a unification bout, there would be considerable interest on the part of many boxing fans.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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