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Joshua vs Parker: Fight preview and matchup

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It’s a heavyweight unification on Saturday in Cardiff.

Anthony Joshua

Anthony Joshua And Joseph Parker Media Workouts Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images

Record: 20-0 (20 KO) ... Streak: W20 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 6’6” / 82” ... Age: 28

Thoughts: Anthony Joshua has been a revelation since turning pro after winning gold at the 2012 Olympics, not only living up to the highest possible — and frankly somewhat irrational, on paper at the time — expectations, but becoming the sort of new generation superstar that boxing needs in a post-Mayweather era.

The fact that Joshua has yet to fight in the United States doesn’t even matter that much. He’s made such a name for himself fighting at home in the United Kingdom, and with such style and presence, that he’s already started to see that American interest in his career rise. Showtime jumped on board early, sensing there was real star potential in this fighter, and they were right.

So far, Joshua’s best win is a titanic struggle with a past-prime Wladimir Klitschko. While it’s good that we saw an epic Fight of the Year in the heavyweight division, there are still bridges for Joshua to cross, and one is beating a true, in-prime top heavyweight. Is Joseph Parker that guy? That remains to be seen.

Sure, Parker has the WBO title, but lots of far-from-elite fighters hold titles in today’s boxing world, and it’s been that way for a long time. That’s what happens when every division has at least four recognized “world champions.”

Parker is no pushover, or at least that doesn’t seem to be the case, but there is at least some sense that Joshua is simply better than him, that there’s really nothing Parker can bring to the table to pull the road game upset. Joshua is favored and he should be — so far, he’s been the better pro fighter, more impressive in his best wins, including against a common opponent, the credible and solid Carlos Takam. Parker struggled to beat Takam in 2016, with Takam’s own poor execution as much to credit as anything Parker did exceptionally well. When Takam fought Joshua last year, he was overmatched and stopped in 10.

Anthony Joshua is meant to be one of boxing’s new top draws and a serious star. They’re already talking about a fight with Deontay Wilder, and there’s even that bajillion dollar potential UFC boxing offer out there in the news cycle. But he does have to take care of business with Parker first.

Joseph Parker

Anthony Joshua And Joseph Parker Media Workouts Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images

Record: 24-0 (18 KO) ... Streak: W24 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 6’4” / 76” ... Age: 26

Thoughts: Joseph Parker deserves some credit. He could have been content to be WBO heavyweight champion, facing a true who’s-that list of challengers, staying at home in New Zealand, comfortable and making money.

He clearly doesn’t want to do that. He wants to be the best, so he’s fighting the best. Even his trip to Manchester to defend against Hughie Fury last September deserved more credit than it got. Fury may not be a top contender, really, but going on the road to face a talented young opponent is more than a lot of fighters in boxing are willing to do. Parker did it to increase his visibility, and now here we are, and he’s headed to Cardiff for this massive fight with Joshua.

That’s the good stuff. The not-so-good stuff? I’m not sure, again, that there’s anything Parker can do to win this fight. I think of three fights in particular that give me pause. One, the aforementioned Takam bout, where Parker was, in my view, lucky to get out with a win. Not because he didn’t deserve it on the scorecards; he did. But because Takam gave that fight away in various rounds. It was a puzzling performance.

The second came in December 2016, when Parker beat Andy Ruiz Jr for the vacant WBO belt. Ruiz went to Auckland and lost a majority decision. I had that fight a draw. It easily could have gone the other way. Again, it’s not that Parker didn’t deserve it. In this case, it’s that it was truly debatable in the end, and I don’t think anyone is confusing Ruiz for Anthony Joshua any time soon.

The third was last September, when he fought Hughie Fury. Miserable fight to watch, truly dreadful. Again, a majority decision in Parker’s favor. Again, I scored a draw, but the Ruiz fight wasn’t hard to score, and this one was. Parker also got a pair of 118-110 cards, which I thought were wide, but you could probably make that case. The fight was ugly and hard to score. But the thing I came away thinking was that nobody did anything effectively.

So those are three performances, against his three best opponents, where I didn’t think Joseph Parker, while solid, looked like a real top-level fighter. Certainly not on par with what we’ve seen from Anthony Joshua.

That said, hey, styles make fights. Just because a guy struggles against the style of Hughie Fury or Andy Ruiz Jr doesn’t mean he can’t figure out a way to beat Anthony Joshua. I’m just saying I see it as unlikely. Highly unlikely. It would be a real upset.

Matchup Grade: B+. It’s a big unification fight in front of what will be a huge, loud crowd in Cardiff. I love the balls Parker is showing going after this fight, and I love that Joshua was willing to make it happen, too. Either of them could have taken something easier on paper; Joshua can sell mass amounts of tickets against just about anyone, and Parker, again, really could have stayed home and counted his money with easier fights. They both are showing desire to be great, and that’s good for the sport, good for the fans, good for everyone. And beyond that, I think the fight flat-out could be pretty good to watch, too.

Undercard

  • Alexander Povetkin vs David Price: By all rights, Povetkin (33-1, 23 KO) should chin Price (22-4, 18 KO) sooner than later. Price just doesn’t take punches very well, he leaves himself open to get hit too often, and he’s been stopped in all four of his losses. And my official pick would be Povetkin by KO within five or six rounds, no doubt. But there’s a little scratchy, nagging thing in my brain that says this could be a weird trap fight for Povetkin. Price can punch and this could be his One Shining Moment sort of night if he can do it. It’s not impossible. Still, the smart money is Povetkin steamrolling him. He’s a better fighter and Price has a fatal flaw. In all reality it’s not a good matchup at all. Grade: D+
  • Ryan Burnett vs Yonfrez Parejo: Belfast’s Burnett (18-0, 9 KO) is defending his WBA “super world” bantamweight title against Parejo (21-2-1, 10 KO), a Venzeulan who gave Zhanat Zhakiyanov a tough fight back in 2015. Burnett beat Zhakiyanov pretty handily last October, and has a lot of momentum right now. I don’t know enough about Parejo to offer much more than a hope that this will be a good undercard bout.
  • Josh Kelly vs Carlos Molina: The last time I watched Carlos Molina fight, he got dogged by K9 Bundrage in Cancun, and that was in 2014. He’s moved down in weight since then, flirting with 140 before settling at 147 after a long run at 154. He’s also lost two straight fights and Kelly (5-0, 4 KO) is a top prospect. Molina (28-8-2, 8 KO) isn’t a puncher and always got by on craftiness and a bit of an awkward, frustrating style. Kelly is still somewhat raw as a young fighter, and if Molina still has the tricks of the trade, he could make this a tough night. Or he could find himself overwhelmed against a better, younger athlete. Either way, this is confident matchmaking for someone in their sixth pro fight.