Frontline diary: The road to undisputed?
Photos Lawrence Lustig / Matchroom Boxing
From ringside in Cardiff at the Anthony Joshua vs Joseph Parker heavyweight mega-event, Chris Williamson ponders the meaning of the adjective 'undisputed', with a little help from Chris Rock, and, of course, the evening's combatants...
The Oxford English dictionary defines the adjective ‘undisputed’ as follows:
Not disputed or called in question; accepted.
‘the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world’
‘the claim is undisputed’
A row broke out in boxing circles over the use of the term in the run-up to Joshua vs Parker, with heavyweight all-time-great Lennox Lewis joining the social media fray. Lewis was irate at Showtime television describing ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson as the last undisputed heavyweight champ, partly due to the emergence of the WBO in 1989 and partly because long-time unified champ Wladimir Klitschko never held the WBC belt - leaving aside that he might not have been the most effective heavyweight in his own family. Whatever the semantics, real fans know it when they see it and we’re getting close to crowning an undisputed heavyweight champion to preside over the sport.
Boxing News editor Matt Christie neatly and sanely suggested that the sanctioning bodies should be largely ignored in deciding who the real champ is, but the smile on Anthony Joshua’s face at around 11.30pm on Saturday night - as wide as the Severn Bridge – suggests that belts matter. The only remaining two fighters in the way on his path to undisputed status now are WBC champ Deontay Wilder and - arguably - the soon-to-return ‘lineal’ champ Tyson Fury.
It seems fitting that Joshua swept up another piece of the world title in Cardiff, where the great Lewis staged by far his biggest fight on U.K. soil vs Frank Bruno back in 1993 at the National Stadium, which has since made way for the vast Principality Stadium which Lewis’ successor AJ has adopted as a base.
Cardiff based BM colleague Glynn Evans - who wrote a terrifically detailed report on the main event here and undercard here - was present the night of Lewis vs Bruno and has some terrific stories of the local scene. Evans once wrote about the history of the Lord Lonsdale belt featuring Cardiff’s The Royal Oak pub, once ran by relatives of the great ‘Peerless’ Jim Driscoll and housing his National Sporting Club belt, the precursor to the Lonsdale version. Evans jokes that he never had to buy a pint in the pub again once the article was displayed on the walls.
They really know their boxing in Wales. A week before the fight an old friend texted me having uncovered his grandfather’s signed copy of Howard Winstone’s autobiography, ‘The Welsh Wizard’ while clearing out the loft. On Saturday, as the rain stopped, enterprising salesman hawked fight-themed clothing with the castle a dramatic backdrop. This being the U.K. in March, scarves appeared to be selling particularly well.
There was an incredibly dramatic comeback in the very first fight of the night as New Zealand’s Mose Auimatagi Jr kicked the show off in sensation fashion with a sixth-round stoppage victory over Wales-based South African super middleweight Morgan Jones. The previously unbeaten Jones was comfortably winning, including registering a heavy knockdown early in the sixth, before a last minute overhand right by Auimatagi wobbled him and successive power punches to body and head persuaded the referee to stop the contest with just seconds to go.
Hot welterweight prospect Josh Kelly chalked up his sixth straight win with a solid ten-round decision over former IBF 11 stone champ Carlos Molina, who presented a significant step-up in quality for Kelly, having previously mixed with the likes of Erislandy Lara, Kermit Cintron, James Kirkland, Cory Spinks, Ishe Smith and Cornelius Bundrage.
Former amateur star Kelly smiled at friends and family just behind me, oozing the confidence of a fighter who enters to Michael Jackson’s ‘Pretty Young Thing’. Despite the higher quality of opponent, Kelly barely changed his approach, dancing around the ring with hands down and relying on superb reflexes to duck and slip the visitor’s punches. Kelly’s jab was sharp and hurtful and when he puts his hooks together in combination he really is a joy to watch, aesthetically similar - dare I say it - to ‘Terrible’ Terry Norris.
Inescapable film symbolism filled the cool Cardiff air as Alexander Povetkin prepared to face David Price in the heavyweight chief support. The makers of 'Creed 2' filmed crowd scenes moments beforehand as the star of the first movie Tony Bellew stood nervously in support of long-time friend Price. The big Liverpudlian’s choice of an Ennio Morricone theme as ring-walk music suggested a gunslinger swaggering into town, ready to fire shots in search of bounty, in this case a possible shot at the (disputed) heavyweight title.
On the night, Price - a huge underdog - thrilled the crowd with a do-or-die attitude, exchanging left-hook knockdowns with the Russian during a sensational third round. Soon after, the horror scene we feared - the one we have seen before - played out in the fifth as the scouser was badly stunned from a right hand to the temple, causing his body to lapse into a standing statue effect, to which Povetkin accepted the invite to deliver a final, brutal left hook. The gunslinger was shot down in front of a huge audience and as he said the following day, “I’d do it all again.”
Shortly before the main event David Higgins of Duco, Parker’s promoter, told the New Zealand media of a disagreement over Parker’s hand-wraps, with team Joshua asking for them to be redone. According to Higgins, Robert Smith of the BBB of C sided with the visiting team.
One of the pleasures of international events like these is the chance to meet media and fans from around the world. Certain New Zealand media were very insightful and close to Parker and Duco, breakfasting with the former champion several times in the lead-up to the fight. Certain other media appeared to struggle with the temperature, with one spotted carrying his ticket in one hand and an electric radiator in the other.
As for the main event, from my vantage point it was a good performance by Joshua, who solidified his position as the number one heavyweight in the world with an absorbing decision win.
Parker too performed well in periods, establishing his jab in the opener, with Joshua controlling the centre of the ring and landing with hooks and body shots. The early rounds followed the same pattern as Parker was active but Joshua landed with the heavier hooks. Parker stung Joshua in the third with a left hook after their heads came together as Joshua began to establish his own, more powerful jab.
Joshua weighed 12lbs less than for his last defence against Carlos Takam and returned the favour in the fourth with his own left hook. By the middle rounds it was becoming clear that Joshua’s punches were a little faster and a little more direct as though a more extensive amateur schooling was beginning to tell. Parker was looking visibly diminished, his punches wider and slower.
A body shot near the end of the seventh hurt Parker and, sensing this, the WBA/IBF champ smiled at his opponent as the bell sounded. Joshua hurt Parker more seriously in the eighth with a vicious combination up close and later with a right uppercut not unlike those Lennox Lewis used to throw. Parker refused to wilt though through what became an enjoyable technical match. Both champions were stung at the end of the eleventh, with Joshua having the last word landing a brutal left hook.
The home fighter took the final round as he heard the final bell for the first time in his pro career. The judges scoring was more lop-sided than many of us had it at ringside, with scores of 118-110 twice and 119-109.
The US comedian Chris Rock once quipped “if it’s undisputed, then what’s all the fighting about?” Long may the fighting continue and perhaps the very fact we are disputing the meaning of the term indicates the heavyweight division is in rude health, for we are nearly there.