DAVID HIGGINS, the promoter of Joseph Parker, thought he had Anthony Joshua trapped against the ropes, perhaps backed into a corner, the moment he started talking about knockdowns and fragility and the possibility that his man, Parker, might hold a better shot than the Watford man when the pair clash in a WBA, WBO and IBF world heavyweight title unification fight on March 31 in Cardiff, Wales.
But then Joshua – sat alongside Higgins and Parker at today’s press conference in London – just as quickly, and quite adeptly, took the power back and detailed how the three times he has been hurt in his boxing career have served to improve him as a fighter and strengthen his belief that he is destined to flourish as a world heavyweight champion.
“In most countries it’s customary in sports to analyse strengths and weaknesses of the opponent,” began Higgins. “It’s not personal. In tennis and Formula One, the media and the public analyse strengths and weaknesses.
“Apparently in English boxing, though, it’s not customary to do that. It came as a surprise when we started pointing out chinks in Anthony Joshua’s armour and there seemed to be shock. How dare you speak of these things? It wasn’t personal. It wasn’t trash talk. It was statement of fact. Joshua has been dropped a few times and we pointed that out.
“People said, ‘Who the hell is Joseph Parker?’ We educated the market about Joseph Parker. There’s another world champion named Joseph Parker. It made Joseph a bigger name here. It created a rivalry and built this fight up.
“Joseph has never been dropped in is life, which makes it very interesting. They both come forward and look for the knockout. If they are trading, what do we know? We know one guy hasn’t been dropped and the other has.
“A lot of people think it is a one-horse race and they write Joseph Parker off. The bookies write him off. But experienced boxing people know Joseph is probably quicker with his hands, definitely has a better chin and I would add that he’s mentally tougher.”
It was at this point Joshua, leaning forward, eager to respond, finally had enough. Rather than dispute the claims, however, thus denying any vulnerability, he instead displayed a certain strength – indeed, mental toughness – in his honesty.
“A lot of people have spoken about me getting dropped and I’ve used it as a PR stunt the way you are,” the IBF and WBA champion told Higgins. “It’s a marketing strategy.
“When you want to talk about facts, one of the three times (Dillian Whyte might argue a fourth or fifth) I’ve been hurt or dropped was in the European Championships, when I was banned from the GB team because I was still getting in trouble. I went back to Watford, stopped boxing, and two weeks before that European Championships I was called up to represent the country. I was very unfit. I didn’t get dropped. I was stopped. When your gas tank is empty it’s hard to perform.
“The second time was against David Price. I came out of a police cell and went straight to training. I’m not going to use that as an excuse. David Price is a puncher. It was a lack of experience.
“And then the third time was against (Wladimir) Klitschko. Do you know what those experiences taught me? It will take more than a human to stop me doing what I’m destined to do. The rumours you have heard are fake news.”
Rob McCracken, Joshua’s long-time amateur and professional coach, explained further: “I took him to the European Championships in 2011 on two weeks’ training to teach him a lesson about international boxing. He was a novice, a domestic champion. He had three fights in five days. He hadn’t had three fights in four months before that.
“We thought long and hard about putting him into the third fight in the quarter-finals. We put him in, he won the first two rounds and was miles ahead, but took some heavy shots and we retired him. But that’s seven eight years ago.
“The Pricey thing was the same. Anthony was a novice boxer and possibly shouldn’t have been in the ring with those experienced boxers at the time. It was a long time ago. That’s why it has riled him a bit. It’s not real, it’s fake news.
“There are one or two boxers who claim to have knocked him down or out but it’s not true. I’ve been with him seven or eight years and seen all those spars.
“If it gives Team Parker a bit of confidence, great. But the reality of talking about boxing Anthony Joshua and actually getting in the ring and doing it are very different.
“The Klitschko fight was two or three fights early when we took it. But that’s the way Josh is. He was two or three years early when we took him to the Olympics and the World Championships. He stepped up to the challenge. He’s different to most fighters. He’ll do it in half the time it takes to reach their potential.
“Parker is a good fighter; he knows what he’s doing. He’s done really well to win a WBO title belt and has fought some decent opponents. But he hasn’t fought Anthony Joshua. Talk is very cheap. We saw that in Parker’s last fight with [Hughie] Fury. He was a strong favourite to win but he struggled very badly. We believe he’ll struggle badly on March 31.”