In boxing, fans and media are constantly looking ahead to what's next for the in ring participants. As soon as the result of a contest is announced most of the time the focus is on what's to come. In some cases future bouts are being talked about and considered before current business has been taken care of.
I get the impression that this is the situation with the March 31 heavyweight unification fight between Anthony Joshua (20-0-0, 20KOs) and Joseph Parker (24-0-0, 18KOs). Assumptions have already been made about Joshua defeating Parker and much has been said and written about a potential end of year showdown between Joshua and WBC title holder Deontay Wilder.
While I fully understand the anticipation surrounding a box-office shattering event like Joshua vs. Wilder, I do feel like Parker..
..is being overlooked by many heading into this fight.
Although it would be considered an upset if Parker was to win it certainly wouldn't have the same shock value as past heavyweight title fights have provided. Douglas defeating Tyson or Rahman knocking out Lewis are two that instantly spring to mind. While getting excited about what they want to see down the line is understandable, it is perhaps sensible for all not to get too far ahead of themselves. As we know anything can happen inside the ropes on fight night.
In terms of where both men are in their careers this fight happening now makes perfect sense. Englishman Joshua is 28-years-old and owns the IBF and WBA versions of the heavyweight crown. Parker, from New Zealand and 26-years-old, will be putting his WBO title on the line. Both men are experienced but not yet with too much mileage on their clocks. The Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales will host the bout and a crowd exceeding 75,000 fans. It will be the first time two undefeated heavyweight world champions meet in a UK ring. Historic and, for what it's worth, I believe a competitive fight will unfold.
As his record tells us Anthony Joshua..
..has negotiated his professional campaign perfectly so far. He was already well known to the UK public after winning Olympic gold in the super-heavyweight division at the 2012 games. Since then his star power has continued to grow and he is now one of the most recognisable fighters in the sport. His earning potential and ability to attract fans to his fights appears to be limitless.
Joshua won his first world title strap (IBF) when he quickly dispatched Charles Martin in April 2016. He added the WBA belt in April of last year with his victory over Wladimir Klitschko. Joshua rounded off 2017 with a 10th round stoppage win over late substitute Carlos Takam.
The Takam fight took place at the Principality Stadium so Joshua will be familiar with the surroundings.
Looking specifically at Joshua's two bouts last year there are a range of emotions his followers must have experienced; from admiration and pride at how he survived the chin and gut check he went through against Klitschko to mild alarm at how close he came to defeat that night as well as not putting in a vintage performance against Takam.
One intriguing aspect regarding Joshua for this fight is his weight. As his campaign has progressed he has been gradually becoming heavier and heavier. His early bouts were fought in the 230-240lb range. More recently the poundage has been creeping up. He scaled 250lbs for Klitschko and 254lbs when taking on Takam. Against a speedy opponent with good footwork like Parker it will be interesting to see what number Joshua hits on the scales prior to the contest.
Joseph Parker became the WBO heavyweight champion in December 2016 – winning a close contest with Andy Ruiz by majority decision. He followed this up with a disappointing defence against late replacement Razvan Cojanu. The fight went the distance and although Parker won handily on the cards it was not a good showing from the New Zealander. A second defence of his title took Parker to Manchester, England in September last year. Parker faced Hughie Fury and prevailed in a scrappy, hard to score affair by majority decision.
On examining Parker's two 2017 outings there is room for much improvement. Perhaps these two showings are why so many observers aren't giving him much of a chance against Joshua. For Parker fans the hope is that the bigger stage and more high profile opponent will bring out the best in him.
Having already identified Joshua's weight as something to look for on weigh-in day, the same applies to Parker's mass. Pictured arriving in the UK last week the boxer who trains in Nevada with long term coach Kevin Barry looked lean and trim. Could we see him around 230-235lbs and employing a game plan based around speed and movement?
It would make sense as Joshua is taller and holds a six inch reach advantage. Parker seems to possess a solid chin – it is fair to say that at points in the upcoming bout his chin will be tested. Joshua probably holds the edge in power whereas Parker has the speed advantage. But which style will prevail?
In making it clear that I don't subscribe to the “one sided Joshua victory” school of thought I do think that ultimately it will be the English boxer who emerges with the win. I anticipate Parker having moments of success but after Joshua is taken the distance for the first time in his career he will have his hand raised. It should be a captivating matchup from a tactical perspective. Viewers may need to be patient as the sparks may take some time to fly but there will be enough pockets of action to hold the attention of hardcore and casual fans alike.
After the dust has settled one man will hold three of the four belts. The aforementioned Deontay Wilder has the other title and of course the hope would be that a bout to determine an undisputed heavyweight champion could then be negotiated. Wilder will be in Cardiff doing TV work so he will get a close up view of his future opponent and will no doubt offer plenty of opinion.
The overall feeling is that it will be Joshua who Wilder ends up facing for all the gold. If that does turn out to be the case it won't be because Joshua had an easy night at the office against Joseph Parker. It would be foolish for Joshua to get distracted and overlook the challenge which is immediately in front of him. Full focus on the matter in hand will be needed – both fighters, I'm sure, will be fully concentrated on each other. They will be happy to leave the speculation about what's next to the media and fans.