Contributor: Nolan Howell
Anthony Joshua was in a world of his own stepping into the ring Saturday night.
Coming out of the locker room at Welsh Rugby Union-owned Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, the crowd of nearly 80,000 made the fight seem like another worldwide spectacle, something unmatched in the world of combat sports today. Perhaps the only other man who could claim such an atmosphere is just a mark on Joshua’s ledger now, as he sparked Wladimir Klitschko in the 11th round of the fight of the year in April 2017. Still, even during Klitschko’s “Steelhammer” grip on the heavyweight division and fighting in soccer stadiums of eastern Europe, he could be relegated to tape delay or the back channels of your cable catalog. Joshua comes out to his statues of his initials in flames or standing atop a rising and sinking pedestal.
Defending the WBA, IBF, and IBO championships, Joshua welcomed New Zealander and WBO heavyweight champion Joseph Parker to the United Kingdom in a unification bout. Joshua was coming off the aforementioned Klitschko fight and another late TKO victory over Carlos Takam, a common opponent for Parker, who he defeated less spectacularly in May 2016 by unanimous decision. Parker came in off three straight decision wins, capturing the WBO title against Andy Ruiz in a close majority decision, a unanimous decision win over Răzvan Cojanu, and a debated win over Hughie Fury, the brother of former heavyweight titlist Tyson Fury.
Given all of that and Parker’s reputation as a domestic draw in New Zealand, the WBO champion was rightfully a +450 underdog coming into the fight. While the skills had been demonstrated against competition a few steps below the likes of Joshua many times over, Parker remained untested stepping into the ring in Cardiff. He looked undaunted coming into the ring, being led by two shirtless Samoan elders carrying the flags of New Zealand and Samoa. Joshua came by the flaming “AJ” and was again lifted on a platform in front of a storm of sparks and pyro.
Parker started throwing light jabs to get Joshua to react in the first and second, but Joshua seemed more interested in gauging range and how to get Parker against the ropes. Parker committed to the jab in the third a little more, but Joshua was ready to open up and connected with a short right uppercut inside and glanced him with jabs throughout. A left hook off a headbutt was the most significant offense for the round by Parker. Joshua opened with a left hook in the fourth and seemed to have found the range he wanted, and it showed in the fifth as a jab and hook seemed to rattle Parker a bit early. Parker came back with a 1-2 for the best punches of the round as he continued to demonstrate just being a bit faster than Joshua.
The fireworks went off in the sixth as right hands landed for both in the first minute, prompting the two to grapple and swing in the clinch and the referee stepped between the two for some reason. A right hand for Joshua connected after, but Parker with a body-to-head combo and an uppercut as Joshua ducked in. The jab from Parker kept Joshua from committing too much inside. The referee played a big part in the seventh round as well, with Joshua doing most of his work with the jab while Parker landed body blows in the clinch. The jab found a home for Joshua in round eight and landed a combo that put Parker in retreat, but the referee again found a space to separate the two with Joshua’s glove tape hanging off, much to the chagrin of the Showtime team.
With a stalemate in the ninth, Parker got cut over the left eye as he tried to work the body in the tenth. Joshua took advantage with the jab and straight right and got Parker cornered for a right uppercut, but the round seemed to end early with no referee stoppage as he fiddled with the tape of Joshua again. The eleventh was a bit of a cruise for Joshua early on and he won an exchange late with the right uppercut and left hook, though Parker got the punctuation with a short right hook at the end. Jabs in the final round seemed to bother Parker and give Joshua the edge as the fight closed.
Undercard Supserstar scored the fight 116-113 Joshua while the judges scored it 118-110 twice and 119-109 on the other to give the hometown fighter the win and three title belts. Anthony Joshua took home the unanimous decision by a wide margin.
It wasn’t the fight we were expecting, but Joshua stuck behind a solid gameplan and wasn’t rattled by the herky-jerky style and impressive speed of Parker. Both fighters looked impressive, even if it didn’t feature too many power punches or any knockdowns as predicted.
After the fight, Joshua made it clear he wants Deontay Wilder in England or Tyson Fury, but promoter Eddie Hearn made it seem like Wilder’s camp is holding up the fight.
In the undercard, Russia’s Alexander Povetkin looked to get a showcase victory against David Price to move up to the likes of the fighters in the main event and looked to be on his way early. The shorter Povetkin at 6’2″ caught the 6’8″ Price mid-combo with a looping left hook that put the British giant down in the first round, but Price caught Povetkin dipping on a overhand right in the second for a left hook of his own to send him falling back into the corner. Price wouldn’t last much longer though as Povetkin landed an overhand right over a lazy left from Price in the fifth to put him out on his feet and followed by jumping into a left hook that left Price flat on the canvas in the fifth.
Ryan Burnett ran away with a decision over Yonfrez Parejo in the other top undercard bout to retain the WBA Super World Bantamweight title.
-Nolan can be reached at email@example.com or @nolanundercard.