For how long will Anthony Joshua be allowed to enjoy this gritty, gruelling victory, in the first heavyweight unification fight ever held on British soil?
Joseph Parker, a previously undefeated world champion who nevertheless arrived on these shores the overwhelming underdog, became the first man to take Joshua the distance in his professional career and even briefly threatened to drag him into deep water. But after the unanimous points verdict was announced, it took mere minutes for his efforts to be forgotten and talk to switch unceremoniously to that one remaining feudal lord of the division: Deontay Wilder.
“Wilder. Let’s go baby, let’s go,” shouted Joshua from inside the ring, to the raucous delight of some 80,000 brylcreemed boyos. “I don’t believe the hype around him. Let’s get the business done and let’s see what the future holds because I’m down for whatever, whenever. Get him in the ring and I’ll knock him spark out.”
Such is the life of a heavyweight champion and the golden boy of British boxing. This was another promising performance from Joshua, who weighed in almost a stone lighter than when he beat Carlos Takam back in October. And worryingly for the likes of Wilder, Alexander Povetkin, Dillian Whyte and, yes, even Tyson Fury; he is getting better. Pre-fight doubts over his ‘glass jaw’ and gas tank were most emphatically debunked.
For all the excitement and considerable glitz and glamour of having three major world titles up for grabs — four if you count the much-maligned IBO strap — this fight always felt like something of a procession for Joshua, certainly ahead of the first bell. “The Road to Undisputed” ran the billing. Joshua’s journey remains on track. Parker, shorn of his WBO belt but aged just 26, will need time to regroup, to recalibrate and to come again.
“I lost to the better champion tonight,” he remarked modestly in the ring after his maiden defeat, as the half-interested, moderately satisfied crowd made quick for the illuminated exits, in search of a portion of chips and perhaps even some violence of their own. “We will come back again stronger and I am happy that I went the twelve rounds.”
Parker’s boxing ability had been severely underestimated in the build-up to this fight. After all, as Steve Bunce noted in his fight preview, “Joshua is beatable and far from the finished product — something that is constantly overlooked to please, to promote and to create a great fighter with a global image”. But although the barrel-chested boy from South Auckland demonstrated a wincing capacity to weather Joshua’s biggest shots, he started the fight too slowly and failed to force the question.
The opening few seconds were decent enough, granted, as Parker flicking out his sharp left jab, which spat out like a snake’s tongue and caused Joshua some momentary discomfort. But then Joshua took up position in the centre of the ring. And from that position he went on comfortably dominate the first four rounds, his superior reach and jabbing ability keeping Parker sternly on the back foot, a Takam with a bauble.
In the Kiwi’s corner, Kevin Barry was experienced enough to know where this one was headed. After the fight, in some stuffy bowel of the Principality with a solid row of video cameras directed at him and his man, Barry admitted Parker had lost all of these opening rounds. During it, in particular at the end of the fourth, he demanded aggression, hovering above his boxer and pleading for more.