IBF/WBA heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua 20-0 (20) of the U.K., perhaps the biggest star in boxing, is about to take another step toward reaching his goal as undisputed champ. By all indications, he will fight WBO champ Joseph Parker 24-0 (18) of New Zealand this coming April.
Joshua, 28, has made four title defenses. His last two bouts, stoppages of Wladimir Klitschko and former Parker foe Carlos Takam, drew 90,000 and 78,000. Parker, 25, has defended his title twice and was forced to go the distance against Razvan Cojanu and Hughie Fury who he met in Manchester, England, this past September. If Joshua defeats Parker he’ll hold three of the four most treasured titles in boxing (IBF/WBA/WBO) minus the WBC title currently in possession of American Deontay Wilder 39-0 (38). And if Joshua were to beat Wilder, he’d be the first heavyweight champ to hold all four belts at the same time.
“I want to unify all the titles and fight all the champions by the end of 2018,” said Joshua, who also has Tyson Fury on his radar.
If Joshua realizes his goal and defeats Parker, Wilder and then Tyson Fury who is the lineal champ, he would become a star of incredible magnitude globally and rival the status Mike Tyson last held as undisputed champ in 1988. And that’s why it’s been said repeatedly in this space that Anthony Joshua is the most important fighter in boxing. Sure, boxing is on solid ground below heavyweight with fighters like Terence Crawford, Errol Spence, the Charlo brothers, Mikey Garcia and Vasyl Lomachenko exciting fans, but they’re not heavyweights.
AJ is more than just a well-proportioned heavyweight with knockout power in both hands. Joshua has the “It” factor when it comes to charm and personality. He looks impressive and projects the type of strength one thinks of when hearing the words heavyweight champion. Joshua is a versatile boxer who puts his punches together well with fundamentally correct technique and form and he seeks to win every fight via knockout – something fans expect to see from the alpha heavyweight in boxing. Some have questioned his chin, but he’s already shown he can rally back to win after being down and hurt when he looked dead in the water against Wladimir Klitschko.
“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.” – Joseph Parker
Parker’s mindset is admirable and I have no doubt he has total belief in himself. At 6-foot-4 with a 76-inch reach he won’t be towered over by the two inch taller Joshua, and with his weight being in the 245-247 range, he’s close to AJ who was 254 for his last defense. The one disparity in their size is Joshua has about a five inch reach advantage and that will make it a tall order for Parker getting to him. The question for Parker is does he have the skills and requisite weapons needed to get the job done? It’s not like Joshua is without a few holes in his game, but whether Parker can exploit his lack of head movement and tendency to back straight up remains to be seen.
Parker is a solid overall fighter but lately has seemed confused as to how he wants to fight, alternating between pushing the action and then sliding away, looking to counter. His stylistic identity appears to depend on who he’s fighting. That’s in contrast to knowing what Joshua is going to do – he’s going to push the fight from behind his left jab while looking to smash Parker with his big right hand. If AJ is successful in doing that he’ll force Parker to fight with his back to the ropes, leaving him two choices — either look to spin and turn out of Joshua’s line of fire or pick his spots when to hold his ground with the intent of hopefully impeding AJ’s aggression. On paper that’s plausible but with Joshua pressing him, looking to find a home for his right hand so he can get inside and cut loose with his powerful hooks and uppercuts, Parker is going to need an equalizer to stem that tide and I don’t see it as part of his arsenal.
Regardless of what’s said by Team Parker between now and the fight, against Joshua he’ll have no choice but to fight as the boxer, something I doubt he can do effectively, at least not for long. I think he’ll be at the mercy of AJ’s jab and greater physical strength. To beat Joshua you need to bring something that might cause him to think about taking his liberty as he tries to impose himself. Deontay Wilder doesn’t do one thing better than Joshua but he has the power to give Joshua trepidation and the threat of that alone could open up other things for him when they eventually meet. However, Parker doesn’t have that luxury.
Parker, being a more or less middle of the road heavyweight, suits AJ perfectly. He’s not a great puncher but he isn’t feather-fisted either. Perhaps if he caught Joshua with the perfectly placed right hand on the way in he could hurt him, but everything would have to fall in line perfectly for that. And even then I’m not sure he could finish AJ if he managed to shake him. Parker is a solid boxer but he’s not a great one and we may find down the road that it will take a multifaceted fighter to out-box Joshua and he may require the chin and durability of an Ali or Holmes to pull it off. Parker has good speed but it’s not the type that can’t be nullified with distance and timing, which Joshua has become pretty good at gauging as he’s gained experience.
Another concern is Parker’s defense. Against Joshua he’ll not only have to make him miss but at the same time he has to find a way to nail AJ when he does, because engaging him could easily be his undoing. No, Parker isn’t the easiest fighter among the elites to hit, but his three best opponents managed to find enough openings to stay in the fight with him and they didn’t bring anywhere near the offensive arsenal and power that Joshua will.
Joshua will not walk right through Parker, but I see him winning more impressively and looking better than he did in his last bout against Carlos Takam whose style troubled him. Joshua-Parker is a compelling fight because they’re both title holders and have never tasted defeat. But it’s hard to find the path to victory for Parker because he’s facing a guy who is bigger, stronger, hits harder, who can also box, and has overcome adversity, something Parker hasn’t been confronted with yet.
A win over Parker gets Joshua three quarters to where he desires to be. If Deontay Wilder beats Luis Ortiz, as they are penciled in to fight this March, the path will be clear and there will be no excuses for Joshua and Wilder not to get on with their much anticipated showdown with all the meaningful hardware on the line before the end of 2018.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com
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