Risky business: Joshua vs Parker preview

Graham Houston
30/03/2018 4:30pm

Anthony Joshua looks unstoppable, but anything can happen in a heavyweight title fight and, Graham Houston suggests, Joseph Parker has the skill, power and self-belief to pose a risk to Britain’s boxing superstar... 

Britain has had popular heavyweights, box-office attractions, even folk heroes, but never anyone quite like Anthony Joshua. When Joshua fights, it’s a mega event. He has become a superstar at home and abroad. He brings a sense of danger to the ring, the feeling that something spectacular could happen at any time.

It could be said that Joshua is still learning and progressing but the AJ express shows no sign of slowing down. An Olympic gold medal, then 20 consecutive KO wins as a professional, with 16 opponents failing to get past the third round — who could ask for more?

Joshua showed fighting grit when getting off the floor to stop Wladimir Klitschko in the 11th round and shrugged off a bloody nose to overpower the durable Carlos Takam in the 10th in his last two fights, so we know he can battle through adversity and retain his punching power late in a fight.

Yet while Joshua looks unstoppable at the age of 28, heavyweight boxing can be unpredictable, and that’s why, even though AJ is a prohibitive favourite, old hands might feel a frisson of anxiety when the big man climbs into the ring against New Zealand’s Joseph Parker at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on 31 March.

Parker is young (he turned 26 in January), big, strong and heavy handed. He can box and he has shown a solid chin. Joshua, massive and muscled, is the taller man by a couple of inches and will likely outweigh Parker by about 10lbs. Parker, however, is a big man by any standards at 6ft 4ins and 245lbs. There is something that can’t be measured, though, and that is self-belief. Parker, too, is an undefeated boxer (24-0, 18 KOs) and he believes he can beat Joshua. He is coming to win.

While Parker wasn’t impressive in his last fight, he was meeting a tricky, elusive opponent in Hughie Fury. Parker did a good job of keeping the pressure on Fury and two of the judges had him winning widely in what was a very difficult fight. Parker was far from spectacular but he showed discipline. He didn’t allow himself to get frustrated or get into a swing-and-miss mode. Parker kept up a patient pursuit and did his best to make his punches count against a skilled opponent who isn’t easy to hit with flush shots.

The fact that Parker’s last three fights have gone the distance and that he hasn’t scored a knockdown in his last 36 rounds of boxing doesn’t mean that somehow he has lost his punching power. Andy Ruiz Jr is a durable fighter, while Parker just didn’t seem very motivated against the huge Razvan Cojanu, a late substitute and a former sparmate — and, of course, Hughie Fury always looked like being in there for 12 rounds.

Parker has scored some devastating KO wins, such as the two-round demolition of Francois Botha, a faded but very experienced former champion who was considered a stiff test at that early stage of Parker’s career. Parker meets a towering champion in Joshua but it’s worth noting that he has scored spectacular KO wins over some big men, such as the 6ft 5ins Kali Meehan and the 6ft 7ins Alexander Dimitrenko. Parker can definitely hit, despite what his last three bouts seem to tell us.

Yet Joshua really does seem to be a puncher on another level entirely. Whereas Parker went 12 rounds against Carlos Takam two years ago, boxing his way to a well-deserved, unanimous decision, he never looked like putting a dent in his tank-like opponent. Joshua, however, basically beat up the game and tough Cameroon-born French heavyweight. The stoppage in Joshua’s favour in the 10th round wasn’t popular with the crowd, but Takam was cut over both eyes and getting rocked.

Going solely by their respective performances against Takam, one would have to consider Joshua a superior fighter to Parker and a much bigger hitter, although it could be said that the New Zealand boxer has improved and matured since the May 2016 bout with Takam.

There has been a hint of vulnerability where Joshua is concerned, however. Dillian Whyte wobbled him, Wladimir Klitschko had him down and in dire straits.

In a heavyweight fight, more than in any other weight division, there is the possibility of something happening suddenly, dramatically and unexpectedly, especially early in the fight (say, Michael Bentt knocking out Tommy Morrison in the first round) but also late (Bonecrusher Smith knocking out Frank Bruno in the 10th and last round, Mike Weaver knocking out Big John Tate in the 15th, with the fight almost over). So, obviously, Joshua will need to be a bit careful. He’s in with an opponent who is capable of hurting him and who clearly believes in himself.

Joshua, though, has the experience of coming through rocky moments. Even if Parker gets to his chin, Joshua now has the know-how to negotiate a path back into the fight. Joshua also has the punching power to make an ambitious rival pay dearly for any errors of judgement. The problem that faces Parker, or indeed any Joshua opponent, is that just when they think they are doing well, the roof can cave in on them.

Parker is a good fighter. He has hand speed, boxing ability, a good chin and he can punch. Yet Joshua can box very well, too. Joshua seems to have the superior jab. He is bigger, surely stronger — and when it comes to firepower, no one has an advantage over Joshua.

While Parker has come through solid tests, Joshua has rallied from adversity to prevail. Apart from his power, size and physical tools, Joshua also has a good boxing brain. After getting dropped in the Klitschko fight he held steady and even talked to his much more experienced opponent. (I believe he was telling Wladimir: “OK, come on then.”) Joshua put doubt in Klitschko’s mind. As the old-time British boxing guys would have said, he “kidded him out of it”.

Parker must be respected but Joshua simply looks the higher-calibre fighter. There is risk in this fight, a rare heavyweight unification title bout that matches the WBA “Super” and IBF champion (Joshua) with the WBO champion. Unless my memory is letting me down, I believe this is the first fight between two reigning heavyweight champions in British boxing history.

While Joshua is something like a 10-1 on betting favourite, the fight, to me, is more dangerous than the odds suggest. That said, it is very hard to go against AJ. I believe he can outjab Parker and, if it comes down to it, outfight and out-power him. That’s no disrespect to Parker. It’s just that, well, there’s Joshua and then there’s the rest.

I believe it would take something catastrophic and out of the blue for Joshua to lose this fight, such as Parker catching him cold early in the bout or landing a surprise blockbuster against the tide of battle.

Joshua has momentum, he’s always focused on the task at hand and he has a fierce competitive drive. It is very unlikely that an opponent will ever catch AJ on a so-called “off night”.

I do expect a strong challenge from Parker and there could be rounds where things don’t go Joshua’s way, but by the midway stage I believe AJ’s jarring jab and thudding right hands will have the situation under control. It wouldn’t surprise me if, for the third fight in a row, AJ gets extended past the ninth round but it does look unlikely that the fight will reach the final bell. I’ll say Joshua TKO10.