THEY worked hard and succeeded in keeping the identity of Dillian Whyte’s next opponent under wraps. First it was Kubrat Pulev, then it was Luis Ortiz, and, finally, we were told this morning (June 7) it will be Joseph Parker, with the fight set for July 28 at London’s O2 Arena.
Wiser heads realised it was never going to be Luis Ortiz, for reasons that should be clear to anyone with a grasp of the awkwardness of Cuban southpaws, while Pulev in Bulgaria, perhaps a case of needs must, was never the most appealing fight on paper. Not for Whyte, not for his promoter, Eddie Hearn, and not for anyone with an appreciation of a decent heavyweight fight, either.
News of Whyte vs. Parker, though, triggered wide acclaim, and no small amount of relief. Some surprise, too, for it was only three months ago that Parker tried valiantly – but unsuccessfully – to add Anthony Joshua’s WBA and IBF world heavyweight titles to the WBO one he used to own. Paid handsomely for that, the assumption was that the New Zealander would go away, eat a lot of pies, and then return in his home country against an opponent outside the top ten.
But Parker, to his credit, has decided to take a different approach. Rather than slowly rebuild, he’s looking to capitalise on his Joshua moment, make some more cash as an offshoot of the franchise, and join forces, work a bit of synergy, with another man who was once in the Joshua business but has since been diligently freelancing.
Together, Parker and Whyte will do business away from Joshua, but with Joshua’s sizeable figure lurking in the background. Moreover, they’ll do business on the Joshua platform, right there on Sky Sports Box Office, a decision that will infuriate some – idealists who still expect only quality world title fights and genuine superstars to grace this platform – and raise merely an oh-well shrug from others.
Make no mistake, the Whyte vs. Parker fight is fascinating. It’s fascinating for all the usual style reasons – boxer versus brawler, aggressor versus counterpuncher, and so on – and it’s fascinating because both are still relatively young, in heavyweight terms, and because neither have been considered world-class for all that long.
Whyte, 30, has been knocking off fringe contenders since losing a 2015 fight with Anthony Joshua, while Parker, 26, though a former WBO champion, was defending that title against fringe contenders before losing a 2018 fight against Anthony Joshua. Essentially, then, they’ve both been defined by defeats to Joshua.
Different defeats, too. Whyte, for instance, was hurt and wobbled early against Joshua, before rocking the current world heavyweight champion to his boots in round two. On the brink of victory, he somehow let an exhausted Joshua off the hook, and was eventually stopped, in somewhat brutal fashion, in round seven.
Parker, on the other hand, brought less drama to the dance, but did manage to show impressive movement, defence and shot-picking, even if, in the end, it was all in vain.
In some ways, it’s in defeat that Whyte and Parker have been most impressive. The exciting nature of Whyte’s loss, and the fact he was able to hurt Joshua more than anyone not named Wladimir Klitschko, has meant his name has remained in the frame for a rematch and a shot at a world heavyweight title, while Parker, admittedly less entertaining, still showed composure and toughness against Joshua, and ticked boxes previously unticked.
Outside of the Joshua defeats, the pair have been erratic to say the least. Whyte, 23-1 (17), was fan-friendly in a war with Dereck Chisora, sluggish and one-paced in a dour spectacle against Robert Helenius, and then cold-cocked Lucas Browne, setting up the shot behind some educated boxing and a solid jab, and all of a sudden it seemed, perhaps, we had a legitimate contender on our hands, one whose resume might be defined by more than just a left hook to the jaw of Anthony Joshua in a fight he ultimately lost.
For Parker, 24-1 (17), it’s a similar story. He can stand toe-to-toe with Carlos Takam and come out on top – no mean feat – just as he can find himself befuddled and outboxed, in spots, by the rotund but talented Andy Ruiz Jr and the cautious but equally talented Hughie Fury. Good some nights; not so good on others.
The Whyte we witnessed against Helenius probably loses to Parker. Indeed, the Whyte we witnessed against Chisora, for all its eagerness to please, probably loses against Parker. Similarly, though, the Parker we witnessed against Hughie Fury and Andy Ruiz Jr, probably loses to Dillian Whyte. It’s that kind of fight. Whyte and Parker are those kind of fighters: hot and cold, still unproven, still learning.
Frankly, this inconsistency is indicative of the heavyweight division circa 2018 and the ease with which prospects can suddenly become contenders and contenders can suddenly become champions. It doesn’t take a lot – of talent, of experience, of time, of patience. If you’re reasonably big and athletic and can punch a bit, chances are, you’ll be in and around the top in no time.
Better yet, you’ll be FIGHTING ON PAY-PER-VIEW!
It’s a pay-per-view fight in Britain because Anthony Joshua is the pay-per-view king of Britain and these two men, Dillian Whyte and Joseph Parker, have both been put to the sword by Joshua on pay-per-view in Britain.
The Britain part of that sentence is important, hence why it’s repeated, and it’s important because Britain, this so-called hotbed of boxing, is currently chock-full of heavyweight contenders – four in the top ten (Joshua, Whyte, Tyson Fury and Tony Bellew) – and has somehow managed to cultivate a playground all of its own.
Crucially, it’s in this playground that a fight like Whyte vs. Parker – likely an undercard attraction on a big US pay-per-view show – makes sense as a pay-per-view main event. It’s in this playground, one dominated by Anthony Joshua, that Whyte vs. Parker finds not only relevance but a backstory and half a million fans who have followed this backstory from the beginning (or at least from the moment Whyte and Parker touched gloves with Anthony Joshua) and are willing to pay £20 to see the next episode.
Of course, in an ideal world, a fight between two men famous for coming up short against one of the reigning world heavyweight champions wouldn’t be on pay-per-view television. But when Joshua, the heavyweight champion in question, is arguably the most marketable star in the sport, the dynamic changes ever so slightly, and there’s good fortune to be enjoyed by anyone who so much as crosses his path.
Basically, in The Cult of Anthony Joshua, disciples are happy just to sit at his feet, cross-legged, and hear him deliver his sermons, preach to them, and grace them with his presence and touch their foreheads. It leads to enlightenment and opportunity, even if, as is the custom, the cult one day turns sour and the disciples end up being exploited.
In this case, Whyte and Parker were mistreated and beaten up by Joshua. But they also gained relevance and importance in the process and can now make a final of a semi-final that isn’t even a semi-final because the final – two of them, in fact – has already been lost.
It’s a shot at a rematch, I suppose, but the illusion that this fight on July 28 leads to the birth of a new threat for Anthony Joshua couldn’t be further from the truth. It won’t. Whyte, if he beats Parker, will make for an interesting rematch – more importantly, a grudge match – down the line, yet a win for Parker, just four months after he blew his first chance, won’t have anyone calling for a repeat of his fight with Joshua. No, thank you.
Anyway, all that can wait. If we deal in the here and now, Whyte vs. Parker is just a damn good fight. Not a world title fight. Not a superfight. Not a grudge fight. In fact, Eddie Hearn today called it a “people’s eliminator”. It’s just a good fight. A damn good fight. A damn good fight that happens to be on pay-per-view.
The fact it’s on pay-per-view says less about Dillian Whyte and Joseph Parker, the promotion and Sky Sports, and more about the power of Anthony Joshua and the relative dearth of talent beneath him. It’s a sign, yet again, that characters and not credentials make the boxing world go round, and that in the heavyweight division there are two crucial lead actors, Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder, and a host of supporting actors vying to stay in shot, share scenes with them, and later launch their own spin-off show.