ANTHONY JOSHUA, the IBF and WBA heavyweight champion, and Joseph Parker, the WBO champion, finally are set for that rare thing in heavyweight boxing: a meaningful fight that absolutely makes sense.
In fact, for Joshua and Parker, there is no fight that makes more sense. There are better fights, of course. Bigger fights, more exciting fights, crazier fights. But this one, at this juncture in their respective careers, is truly the next best step. It works for Joshua; it works for Parker. Money will be made, points will be proven, belts will swap hands.
It also helps to clean up the place, get stuff in order, before the really big and meaningful heavyweight battles of 2018 commence. Essentially, it kills time long enough for Deontay Wilder to knock someone else out with a windmill finish, call AJ a “chicken”, and for Tyson Fury to continue dropping weight and perhaps drop a tune-up opponent or two. Call it killing time in the most productive way possible.
If you need any further convincing that Joseph Parker is the perfect next opponent for Anthony Joshua, and that this is the best heavyweight fight to open 2018, here are seven additional reasons why:
1. Parker has the WBO title
You could begin and end the list here. After all, without Joseph Parker’s WBO heavyweight title, there’s no fight. There’s no reason for Joshua to entertain the idea of facing an undefeated New Zealander and there’s no reason for Team Parker to prance about like boys with the golden ticket to the chocolate factory.
In short, Parker’s WBO title gives the fight an authenticity it would otherwise be without. It gives it a point. Joshua wants to collect titles and Parker, the man with one of them, wants to use his to leverage his position and make some life-changing money. He also wouldn’t mind shocking the world and taking everything Joshua currently owns.
2. Parker is likeable
Believe it or not, there are many who would love nothing more than for Anthony Joshua to get his comeuppance and fall flat on his face in front of a stadium crowd. They’re sick of the hype. They’re sick of the staying hungry. They’re sick of seeing him win.
For these individuals, those keen to witness his demise, there are few boxers easier to support than Joseph Parker, a smiling slab of kiwi who chooses not to trash-talk but do whatever his promoter says – for better or worse – and fight whenever, wherever and whoever he’s told to fight. It remains to be seen how good Parker actually is at the elite level, but one thing is already clear: he seems an affable, down-to-earth bloke (one who deserves an opportunity like this).
3. Parker has David Higgins
Nearly as important as the WBO title is the presence of David Higgins, the promoter of Parker, who, much like Ian Faith of This is Spinal Tap fame (“I just think their appeal is becoming more selective”), seems to have a wonderful way of seeing things the way he’d like them to be seen and then persuading doubters this is the way they were always meant to be seen. Maverick or moron, Higgins, a promoter who thinks nothing of gatecrashing his own press conference, brings an unpredictability and unconventionality to a soap opera that, were it pushed solely on the chemistry between the two fighters, might be short on drama and levity.
Hearn, his rival, likes supporting characters. He says they help sell the event. The bigger, the better. The crazier, the better. In Higgins, he has found a good one. It might not be pretty, it might not always seem professional, but, with Higgins around for the next three or four months, you’ll watch every otherwise bland press conference and Anthony Joshua knockdown compilation video and consider it time well spent.
4. Parker has fought a Fury
It was a bout watched by hundreds rather than millions, and presumably rewatched by no one, but the YouTube PPV stinker Parker created with Hughie Fury, cousin of Tyson, went some way to both introducing the New Zealander to a British audience and also attaching his name to the Fury clan. The former helps Parker’s quest for a UK-based unification title fight; the latter helps his quest for a Tyson Fury showdown.
(This wasn’t any old Hughie Fury, either. It was a Hughie Fury who, according to his promoter, Mick Hennessy, showed ‘shades of Ali’, meaning Parker, the 1971 Frazier to Fury’s Ali, probably deserves more credit than he got for somehow prevailing.)
5. Parker has a fan-friendly style
Joseph Parker doesn’t want to be chasing opponents around the ring any more than he wants his fights televised on YouTube pay-per-view. It’s not his style. It’s certainly not his preference.
Recent bouts against Hughie Fury and Andy Ruiz Jr. were never designed to make Parker look good, which is why, when chasing those two around the ring, he didn’t look good. But those fights should be ignored when analysing his next one. The next one will see Parker matched against a more static, willing target, albeit one carrying greater danger, and that alone should bring out his best. He will be comfortable. He will be able to plant his feet. When involved in this kind of fight, his kind of fight, he will punch with his opponent, throw hurtful shots inside, and have greater success on account of his variety and sheer doughtiness.
Basically, stick Parker in with Anthony Joshua, a heavyweight who moves his hands better than his feet, and it should make for an entertaining scrap, irrespective of how long it lasts.
6. Parker is unbeaten
Almost as important as the WBO title and the presence of David Higgins is the fact 25-year-old Joseph Parker carries a 24-0 unbeaten record and can therefore be billed as The Next Big Thing or by some other label that might work its magic on those blinded by a large number followed by a zero. He can be pushed as something he is perhaps not. He can be sold to the masses. He can freely boast and puff out his chest without any fear of retribution – for no man has bettered him in the pro ranks.
Best of all, though, Anthony Joshua has the chance to defeat a man who has never before been beaten, for whom there is no blueprint, and that seemingly counts for something even if, ultimately, it might mean nothing.
7. Parker is beatable
For all his 24 consecutive wins, Parker isn’t the kind of undefeated heavyweight who intimidates, much less terrifies. He’s not a 20-0 Ike Ibeabuchi. He’s not even a 27-0 David Tua. Instead, Parker is a respectable puncher who has been promoted well, matched even better, and now approaches the first genuine test of his career with a pretty record, a title, and plenty of questions still to answer.
In fairness, he has shown good attributes along the way and beaten a few decent fighters (Fury, Ruiz Jr. and Carlos Takam to name three). At 25, there’s clearly potential; solid foundations on which to build. But, ultimately, Parker, in racking up his 24 wins, has revealed enough flaws to guarantee his name ranks highly on the ‘Most Wanted’ list of any heavyweight circa 2018.
Anthony Joshua, it would seem, has got there first.