Joseph Parker was supposed to be the real deal.
While he clearly was the least terrible fighter in the ring over the 12 rounds he borderline sparred gangly heavyweight contender Hughie Fury over the weekend in Manchester, England, he certainly accomplished nothing in the fight to retroactively warrant the ostentatious praise he’s been lavished with since entering the heavyweight scene.
Parker looked slow, ineffective and downright uneducated against a tall fighter who basically just jabbed and circled for the entire fight. The 25-year-old Mancunian’s title defense made bout watchers long for the WBO glory days of Siarhei Liakhovich, Shannon Briggs and Sultan Ibragimov.
Will the real heavyweight champion please stand up?
Presently four would-be kings occupy the throne. Ring Magazine champion Tyson Fury, IBF and WBA titleholder Anthony Joshua, WBC champ Deontay Wilder and WBO belt wearer Parker all claim a portion of the world heavyweight championship. None of them have accomplished a body of work yet to warrant genuine excitement.
Fury’s unanimous decision win over longtime heavyweight king Wladimir Klitschko two years ago signified the dawning of a new era in the division. Klitschko had ruled boxing’s glamour division for over a decade, accumulating enough wins to be considered one of the most statistically dominant heavyweight champs ever. Almost ten years and 18 title defenses slot him second behind Joe Louis for longest reign, and few heavyweights ever have dominated the competition so thoroughly.
But Fury’s giant frame and awkward fighting style befuddled the aged Klitschko, and while the action was difficult to watch throughout long stretches of the fight, the end result saw Fury box his way to a brilliant, career-defining victory.
But Fury has been shelved since. Instead of defending his newly attained status as lineal heavyweight champion and unified belt holder, Fury has battled cocaine addiction and inner demons instead. The subsequent stripping of every title except the Ring Magazine honor has opened the division up to a myriad of other title claimants.
None of these men have done enough to prove they’re the best.
The most lauded of the bunch, at least by the boxing media, is current WBA and IBF titleholder Anthony Joshua. Joshua retired Klitschko earlier this year via Round 11 knockout in a back and forth battle for the ages.
But questions remain about Joshua’s ability to clean out the division, and while Klitschko was a huge step up in competition for the 27-year-old, he has yet to face the other belt holders to become what most fight lovers expect him to be.
While Joshua is widely accepted as the cream of the heavyweight crop, some wonder if his tendency to leave his head in place while he punches might fell him against other top heavyweights. He had to get off the floor against a 41-year-old Klitschko to nab that win, and a younger, hungrier hitter might be able to get to his chin the same way with greater ease.
America’s heavyweight hopeful is WBC titleholder Deontay Wilder. A late starter in the sport, Wilder is an athletically gifted freak of a nature that has slowly been built up from the ground up to become at least serviceable in the skills department. He has a nice jab and tremendous power. His hands and feet are fast, and his self-belief might be unparalleled in the sport.
Critics argue Wilder just doesn’t appear to have the precise mechanics a top heavyweight needs. He tends to throw his punches hard but then leaves them there like he’s posing for a picture, and any legitimate heavyweight championship threat might simply step around the side and bomb him out of existence.
WBO titleholder Parker has been the hardcore boxing fan’s dark horse candidate for a few years now, but as he has risen the ranks and faced a higher level of competition, Parker’s power and ability to be aggressive effectively has been called into question.
Over the weekend, Parker won the majority decision versus Hughie Fury, the lanky, robotic cousin of Tyson Fury, who might have pulled out the upset win had he been inclined to throw punches like he wanted to win it. Instead, the bout boiled down to two limited heavyweights who looked more like early night undercard fighters pretending to be main eventers than actual heavyweight contenders.
Maybe the best heavyweight right now is someone without a title claim.
In fact, the most intriguing of all heavyweights right now might be Luis Ortiz. The Cuban southpaw has built a reputation as one of the most avoided fighters in boxing over the past couple of years, and his superb technique and lighting bolt power will be a tough out for anybody.
Ortiz faces Wilder in November in a highly anticipated clash between two undefeated big men with real boxing talent. The winner of that bout should rival Joshua as the odds on favorite to be the man once all the dust has settled.
Unfortunately, this is boxing. Even the heaviest dust in the sport might float around for years until promotional entities and accompanying television networks get their acts together to actually make the fights that really matter.
While Wilder-Ortiz is an exceptionally palatable fight, Joshua’s October battle against Kubrat Pulev and Parker’s reportedly planned fight with Japan’s Kyotaro Fujimoto are decidedly less so.
Whoever is going to become the great heavyweight of the next era might simply be the man who gets the opportunities he needs to prove it. Joshua and Wilder seem best positioned for such runs at the moment, but as fans of the heavyweight division know quite well, one punch can change the course of history.
Joshua, Wilder, Parker, Fury or Ortiz? Who is the best heavyweight in the world today? At the present, there is no real answer.
What we do know is that if Parker is going to be the one to do it, he’ll have to be a lot better than he has appeared over this last three fights. In 36 rounds against H. Fury, Razvan Conjanu and Andy Ruiz, Parker has done exactly nothing to separate himself from the pack.
If anything, he has displayed all the reasons he’s not going to end up being a heavyweight worth remembering. He doesn’t know how to land power punches. His feet are heavy and slow, and he can’t cut off a ring to save his life.
The Parker who defeated H. Fury isn’t the type of fighter who should be paraded around the world as a champion. That fallacy is simply a byproduct of boxing’s alphabet belt overload. It might be better just to reference the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board’s heavyweight snapshot.
Who is the real heavyweight champion? That’s easy. There isn’t one.