Anthony Joshua, taken the distance for the first time in 21 paid bouts, collected a third world title belt when he cruised to a convincing if drama-free win over the WBO champion, Joseph Parker, and looks in good shape to raise his game for what will be a more demanding assignment against Deontay Wilder.
Two of the judges saw it 118-110, and the third had it 119-109 – a bit harsh on the New Zealander, who might have had a share of the sixth and a shout of stealing the seventh in a fleeting period of success. But the verdict was, overall, fair. It was a technical fight, a clinical victory.
As Joshua said in the ring: “I was always going to stick behind the jab, one of the most important weapons in boxing, and kept the right hand up. This is boxing. It’s what we do. Forget the hype. Joseph Parker is a good world champion. As I said before, this would be about boxing. The main thing now is I am the unified heavyweight champion of the world.”
And as for Wilder? ‚“Let’s go baby, let’s go!‚“ Joshua said. “And we’ll do it in London.” There is a rematch clause, which will have to be firmed up if Parker is to get his wish to “have another go”.
After a 25-minute preamble – from ring walks to three national anthems and Michael Buffer’s stentorian lead-in – the Samoan New Zealander and Watford’s most famous fighting son finally got down to some rumbling. Both looked nervous – as they should do; at stake were Joshua’s WBA and IBF titles and the WBO belt that Parker brought to the negotiations, as well as the prospect of mega-fights up the road against Wilder and, perhaps, Tyson Fury.
The referee, Guiseppe Quarterone, was controlling his first full world title fight. This was also the first world heavyweight title fight in this country between two unbeaten champions, a distinction that speaks to the chaos in the sport as much as the excellence of the combatants.
All distractions were set aside when the fighters let the punches go.
Joshua, 12lbs lighter than in his last defence at 17st 4lb, still outweighed Parker by nearly a stone, and the visitor kept his distance in the early sounding out. Remarkably, this was his first outing since surgery in early December on both elbows; that, surely, generated unwanted uncertainty. Joshua was in the shape of his life.
The British fighter, buoyed by the support of 80,000 fans in his third consecutive stadium fight (it was Parker’s first), stalked his man methodically, wary of a countering right that has kept the New Zealander unbeaten. He is heavy-handed and busy rather than devastating, but Joshua was taking no risks.
The Joshua jab dictated the pace and intensity of the fight, and blood seeped from Parker’s bottom lip. A short uppercut stunned him in a clinch in round three, the first inkling of vulnerability. Parker had never experienced such quality pressure in 24 fights and Joshua sensed it as he widened his lead.
The Parker camp, led by his experienced trainer, Kevin Barry, urged more aggression at the start of the fourth, but his boxing was not good enough to get him into range, and Joshua, whose own skill set improves by the fight, punished his occasional charges.
Frustration and concern spread on Parker’s face, which was starting to swell around the eyes. His main avenue back into the contest was to turn a boxing match into a brawl. He tried in the fifth and sixth, but was soon on the back foot again.
Comfortably in control at the halfway stage, Joshua had only to stay focused to become a three-belt champion. Parker’s chin has always been sound but was trusting it to a dangerous degree. The choice for Joshua was to try for a finish or to manage the more frequent assaults of his anxious but determined opponent. So he waited and watched for awhile, perhaps giving up the seventh.
With five rounds left, Parker suspected he probably needed a knockout. The danger was he would lose concentration and Joshua capitalised on his anxiety with a solid eighth. Joshua ran to centre-ring at the start of the ninth but remained watchful and cautious – and just a little annoyed with Parker’s indiscriminate use of the head.
Even when he shook Parker, Joshua remained conscious of the threat of retaliation, respectful all the way to the end. Parker, bleeding slightly around the left eye, had some success switching to the body, but not enough to change the course of the contest.
A short left hook that would have floored most fighters,rocked Parker’s head back in the penultimate round, but he was still there when the bell went. The final round was a microcosm of the 11 that had gone before, with Parker’s solid chin absorbing Joshua’s power.
But the gap was as wide at the end as it was at the beginning. And, despite the few niggles they had during an engaging rather than exciting fight, they embraced at the end, as we knew they would.