With Joshua-Wilder Now Close to a 50-50 Fight, It Must Be Next

This past weekend WBA/IBF heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua 21-0 (20) won a lackluster unanimous decision (118-110, 118-110, 119-109) over WBO title holder Joseph Parker 24-1 (18) in what may have been one of the worst officiated fights ever. Joshua now holds three of the four major title belts with only the WBC version held by Deontay Wilder 40-0 (39-0) eluding him. I saw it 117-111 Joshua.

For the first time in his career Joshua was underwhelming and didn’t clear the high bar he’s set for himself. Most of the boxing world expected fireworks between the two undefeated belt holders, but instead got a fight with little action which was partly the fault of referee Giuseppe Quartarone who continually broke off the action, preventing Joshua and Parker from engaging.

There were two major reasons for the lack of fireworks. For starters, Parker had no intention of taking the risks that he said he would. What he did instead was fire multiple jabs at Joshua when he inched forward, not so much to hit him but more with the intent of impeding his aggression and keeping him at range. And that gave Joshua just enough trepidation that it prevented him from opening up. Sensing Parker was strictly looking to bait him and wait for a mistake, Joshua wouldn’t oblige and therefore the fight became a jab fest. AJ fought smart and was methodical but was perhaps too complacent and content with fencing more than trying to open Parker up and forcing him to trade.

Parker stayed in the fight but never came close to winning it due to his unwillingness to commit. In preventing Joshua from working him over, he neglected to try and put any hurt on his opponent. Joshua didn’t set the world on fire and was lucky that he had a good jab to fall back on, because he kept his right hand under wraps. Moreover, his left hook was also missing in action. Joshua had some success landing his right uppercut but it too was more quiet than usual because of Parker’s insistence on keeping the fight measured and at long range. Unfortunately for Joshua, he didn’t do a good job cutting off the ring and never really forced Parker to fight with a sense of urgency. From the seventh round on, Joshua was more effective, scoring steadily with his jab, and that’s what created the gap in the scoring as he probably won the last five rounds. But credit Parker for getting into AJ’s head; that’s one of the things that enabled him to become the first man to go the distance with him.

“My strategy in there was stick behind the jab,” said Joshua after the fight. “It’s one of the most important weapons. As the saying goes, a good right hand can take you around the block, but a good jab can take you around the world.” (That wasn’t his intention before the fight, but it saved him on a night that he didn’t let his hands go nearly enough.)

Although it wasn’t a banner showing by Joshua, it certainly wasn’t a bad performance either and perhaps that may be the best thing for boxing. A fight with Deontay Wilder is now seen as more of a 50-50 fight and that makes it more compelling. Also, styles make fights and although Wilder can’t do all that Parker can, he has weapons like power, reach and awkwardness that could be a stumbling block for Joshua. And if Joshua can’t get in on Wilder and is forced to fight him on the outside from a distance, as he did against Parker, it’s not hard to envision him losing.

Now that Anthony Joshua holds three of the four major belts in the heavyweight division he needs to do the right thing – and that’s implore his promoter Eddie Hearn to make the biggest fight out there, the one that the public is clamoring to see.

Fighters usually have the least input regarding who they fight but Joshua isn’t your average title holder. He’s a superstar on the level of Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, and all he needs to do is instruct Hearn that he wants Wilder. If Wilder is interested in fighting Joshua they’ll be able to come to terms and consummate a deal. There’s no other heavyweight in the world about whom a plausible case can be made to beat Anthony Joshua and vice versa. With a combined record of 61-0 (59), all four titles up for grabs, both being at or near their prime,  and the pageantry that would come with the U.S. vs. U.K. angle, the fight doesn’t need a promoter.

Fans are tiring of the back-and-forth between the camps and have had enough of Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn saying Wilder has to fight Dillian Whyte first before he can get Anthony Joshua. Nobody buys that! Wilder is the undefeated WBC champ and after seven successful title defenses, he has nothing left to prove. The only question remaining is whether he can beat Joshua

In closing….if AJ says get me Wilder next, it will happen as long as Wilder grasps that Joshua holding three belts makes him the draw and the A-side. And the fraudulent mandatories on the part of both Joshua and Wilder shouldn’t be an issue because boxing fans care about the fighters more than they do the titles. They are in agreement that Joshua and Wilder are the two best heavyweights in the world and the winner of their fight will be bigger than any alphabet title. So if one of the belts gets stripped – well, good luck selling a fight between Dillian Whyte and Jarrell Miller for the vacant WBA heavyweight title.

The timing could not be more perfect for matching the two undefeated title holders. With all the meaningful heavyweight hardware on the line, the fight doesn’t need to marinate. So forget the Mayweather template — we saw how great the Mayweather-Pacquiao bout turned out five years after the sell-by date.

Maybe we’ll get lucky and we’ll get the only heavyweight fight the fans truly hunger for, and that’s Joshua vs. Wilder and not Joshua vs. Povetkin or Wilder vs. Whyte. However, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for boxing to do the right thing….because it never does!

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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