TO BE COMPARED to Wladimir Klitschko and come off second best is no great shame, nor a fair reflection of a fighter’s ability.
But Rob McCracken, while aware of Joseph Parker’s threat level heading into Saturday’s (March 31) heavyweight unification title fight with Anthony Joshua, feels it’s only right to distance a man who defended the world heavyweight championship 18 times over a nine-year period from a man whose best opponent so far is a toss-up between Carlos Takam, Andy Ruiz Jr and Hughie Fury.
“I think Klitschko is his (Joshua’s) toughest test to date, without a shadow of a doubt,” said McCracken at a west London press conference this afternoon. “He had 53 knockouts to his name and was massively motivated for the Joshua fight. But this is his next biggest test and a hurdle Anthony must overcome.
“Parker’s an unbeaten opponent, so he doesn’t believe he can lose. But being fast and calm and relaxed – all things you need going into a big fight – doesn’t prepare you for getting in the ring with Anthony Joshua. It really doesn’t. He hits you and you don’t know why you’re getting hit.”
On paper, there can be little argument Parker, 24-0 (18), surrenders top spot to Klitschko, 64-5 (53). He is a relative neophyte who finds himself in the position of WBO world heavyweight champion due more to the splintered nature of the division, and the splintered nature of Tyson Fury’s personality, than because of any great, defining wins. But that doesn’t mean Parker, the heavyweight with it all to prove, won’t end up giving Joshua his toughest test on Saturday night. Nor does it mean he won’t come away victorious.
“We’ve had the best training camp,” said Parker’s coach Kevin Barry. “I know trainers say that all the time, but over the last two years we’ve had a rough time with problems with Joe’s elbows and it has shown in his performances. He had two surgeries before Christmas and now he’s back to his best.
“As a result, the 11 weeks we spent in Las Vegas was the most enjoyable time we’ve spent together in the five years (we’ve been working together). As a trainer I could not be more confident and happy with the preparations of my fighter.”
They say a happy fighter is a dangerous fighter. Rob McCracken, however, is of the belief that you need a bit more than a warm and welcoming grin to defeat a reigning WBA and IBF heavyweight champion of the world who seemingly grows and improves with each and every fight.
“Anthony is in great shape,” said McCracken. “He just sees it as another fight on the ladder to becoming undisputed champion. That’s why it’s taking place. Parker is WBO champion, he’s undefeated, and it’s a great challenge.
“Anthony’s eaten a little bit less (than in past camps) and he’s sleeping better. The pull-out by (Kubrat) Pulev nine or ten days before was difficult last time in Cardiff (in October) and he probably sat around an hour or two longer than he normally would during fight week. But he learns all the time. His sleeping is great and his training is great. He’s in great shape and he’s had a smile on his face throughout camp. Parker is a good fighter and Anthony respects him. That’s why he has worked so hard in this camp.”
Whether it’s ‘Big Josh’ or ‘Not-As-Big-But-Still-Really-Big Josh’ who steps into the ring on Saturday night, Kevin Barry feels confident his fighter has the skills and speed to cause the six-foot-six champion serious problems.
“We’re talking about two very skilful guys who are young and at the top of their game,” said Barry. “Usually when you have two champions who are undefeated and very skilful in the ring it comes down to who can execute the game plan on the night.
“With this fight, we decided from the get-go we would not let the occasion beat us. One of Joseph Parker’s huge strengths has always been how he controls his emotions. Whether it’s 80, 800 or 80,000 people in attendance, it will be the same Joseph Parker. He has wanted this challenge for so long. He has wanted this opportunity to prove he’s the best heavyweight in the world.
“I’ve always said that Joseph Parker, of all the heavyweight champions, has the best skills. We’ll find out on Saturday night whether I’ve been dreaming or saying the right thing all along.”
Parker isn’t the first unbeaten heavyweight to express his aim to topple Joshua, 20-0 (20), and turn the whole heavyweight picture on its head. And McCracken, someone whose general demeanour screams been-there-done-it, is fairly sure the New Zealander won’t be the last, either.
“The beautiful thing about boxing is that until the bell goes nobody knows what will happen,” he said. “But he (Joshua) will put on a performance and deliver like he always does.
“That’s not always the case with fighters. We’ve seen that in the past with Parker. We haven’t seen that with AJ. He backs up his talk and delivers what he says he’s going to deliver.”