The biggest star in world heavyweight boxing, Anthony Joshua, puts all his belts on the line in a titanic unification clash in front of an expected 80,000 strong crowd at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on March 31st. In the opposing corner stands the WBO champion, New Zealand’s Joseph Parker who despite owning a world title is coming into this match up with the aura of a challenger. Two perfect records. 3 world title belts. Someone’s 0 has got to go.
Boxing in front of sold out stadiums is fast becoming business as usual for Joshua who has spearheaded the revival of the heavyweight division over the past few years. The big fight nights he has tasted thus far are certainly enough to provide us with a tick in the ‘experience’ box for Joshua over his adversary who will be entering an event of this magnitude for the first time in his boxing career.
Add to this experience that Joshua has the natural, physical height and reach advantages in his favour. By maximising these attributes and by opting to keep it straight and long in the most part, he could have the new Zealander in all sort of trouble. He has a well drilled, textbook jab and will be able to control his opponent with it but whether or not he has the discipline to opt for these tactics is debatable.
Joshua has a willingness to entertain the crowd as well as a fighter’s instinct to engage fire with fire when he gets hit. He tends to go into all-out war mode which is great for the fans and broadcasters but would enable Parker a chance to land clean on him.
Joshua came in for a small amount of criticism from some after his fight against Carlos Takam last time out but the criticism was a little too harsh in my opinion. It is harder to release full power on a punch when you are having to punch downwards. You don’t get such a seamless transfer of energy through the shoulder. This may have been one reason he struggled to look impressive against the short, compact and teak tough Carlos Takam.
Parker though will have used the Takam fight as encouragement. Despite being undoubtedly a heavyweight stature, he isn’t a giant of a man when it comes to height, so AJ will also be punching down against him too.
There is a real sense that Parker is being underestimated in the build-up to this one. The quiet, unassuming Kiwi comes across very respectfully himself despite some of the controversy his team has managed to stir up to beat the drum on his behalf and force the fight over the line.
He had valid reasons for not looking quite so impressive in his last couple of outings. He has fought very awkward opponents and been hindered with an elbow injury that has restricted him. Now he has had the operation to fix that problem he vows that he is back punching to his most powerful.
If Parker can force a high tempo in this fight and avoid shipping too much damage early on, then his chances to win the fight will grow substantially. To do this, he will have to gain the respect of Joshua by landing with some power early on. Even if he lands on the gloves or arms to make his opponent feel the weight of punches it is critical to not to start too timidly. Parker has not got the style to box and move on the back foot all night. By nature, he likes to get on the front foot.
Parker has talked a lot about being lighter on his feet, faster and more agile than the Brit and rightly so; it is no secret that Joshua muscle mass causes him fatigue. However, he will have to speed his feet up substantially from when he fought against Fury. Joshua for sure struggles with an intense tempo but when he is fresh he is fast and athletic, and his punch speed is perhaps being underestimated by the Parker team.
His team have also talked a lot about the fact Joshua’s chin and their belief that he has a glass jaw. Sure, Joshua has shown weakness and vulnerabilities; he is not impossible to catch clean. But the fact is, he lifted himself back up from that clean right hand from Klitschko. It isn’t so much that he has a weak chin it’s more that he is available to be caught with some good timing.
Any heavyweight in the division would have hit the canvas after shipping that clean right hand from Klitschko so I am not buying into the fact that he ‘can’t take a shot’. Alternatively, I take the view that it is just that he presents good fighters with opportunities to land and has not mastered his game defensively.
I would expect Parker to present more of a challenge than many are expecting. I don’t see this fight ending early. Parker is being underestimated and could cause Joshua some real problems in this fight but ultimately, I believe that it is likely Joshua will be able to find a way to break him down.