IT’S true that Anthony Joshua looked far from unbeatable while handing Joseph Parker the first defeat of his career, and it’s true that watching Joshua knock out his rivals is a lot more fun. And it’s also true that he just comfortably defeated the man universally regarded as the third best heavyweight in the world to lay claim to three of the four major titles. True, too, that he’s only 21 fights into his professional career.
The following is not a declaration that Anthony Joshua deserves to be regarded as one of the best heavyweights of all time, but it is a plea for calm. A plea to wait and see how this all plays out.
Less than a year after he hauled himself off the floor to defeat Wladimir Klitschko, becoming the supposed saviour of boxing and some kind of superhero in the process, Anthony Joshua went 12 rounds for the first time and comfortably outpointed Joseph Parker. He never looked like going down or losing the fight, but the heights he reached in Cardiff, in terms of excitement and appreciation at least, were far below what came at Wembley Stadium, in front of 90,000 people, in April 2017.
Parker likely deserved to win more rounds in Cardiff than the judges ruled, two scores of 118-110 and another of 119-109 were arguably too wide, and the meddling, attention-seeking referee was an abomination and a thorn in the sides of both fighters. And, try not to forget, the the third best heavyweight on the planet was well beaten by someone who has every right to claim to be the first.
Mike Tyson was forced to go 12 rounds against James Smith and Tony Tucker as he unified the world heavyweight titles way back in 1987 in two bouts that were regarded as similar disappointments. Questions were asked of “Iron” Mike after those victories, and questions are being asked of Joshua now. Tyson soon returned to his destructive ways against the right opponents and Joshua, if presented with a rival he senses is ready to be taken out, might do too.
Or this Joshua, the careful Joshua, the moving Joshua with the intelligent jab, the Joshua who doesn’t want to endure the kind of struggle he was forced to endure against Klitschko ever again, might just be here to stay. And if that’s the case, his decision to box a little more smartly should only be judged so harshly if it turns out to be the wrong one.
Lennox Lewis, whose reputation continues to soar many years after he retired, was regularly criticised for making hard fights look easy. His biggest crime, in the eyes of those critics (and he had plenty when he was fighting) was also making those hard fights look exceptionally dull. Because he ultimately realised, like Joshua seems to, that winning should always be the bottom line.
The Joshua criticism, that is swirling on social media, is natural of course. A fighter who comes along and flattens everyone is less desirable when the flattenings cease. The care and attention becomes a little bit annoying. But winning is winning. And Joshua won again, this time against a top-level fighter who had never lost before, and did so over a 12-round distance the Englishman had not previously completed.
And, please, stop with the ‘Parker wouldn’t have been a contender in the nineties’ or ‘Joshua would have lost to Frank Bruno’ observations because they’re not observations that can ever have any true context. No fighter will ever be able to journey through time to prove themselves. What they can do, and what fighters of Joshua’s standing must do, is absolutely everything they can to be the best in their own time.
Tyson Fury might come back one day and prove Joshua’s not the finest of the current era. He might be able to come back after three years out and prove that all that bad living was no bad thing after all. The free-swinging menace of Deontay Wilder might also be able to beat him. But who can say for sure until they meet in the ring?
And therein lies the crux. We have to know for sure that Joshua can really say, like Tyson could and Lewis could and Parker can’t, that he’s the man. He’s nearly there, whether his critics like it or not.
And what to say about David Price?
His career as a professional prizefighter has to be over after his brutal loss to Alexander Povetkin on the undercard, but he can now walk away, in a manner that he could not if this fight had not occurred, without any doubts, and with a real sense of pride. At last, he knows he there is nothing more he can give.
The bout always appeared destined to have a gruesome ending given Povetkin’s drug-enhanced past and Price’s troubles with cheating villains, but the affable Scouser turned in an effort that threatened a fairytale, particularly at the end of the third when he sent the Russian reeling to the corner, to be proud of.
Not a nearly man, he didn’t get close enough to be that, but an honourable man who will be remembered for always playing by the rules in a sport where it’s too easy not to.