By Keith Idec
Anthony Joshua went the distance for the first time in his pro career Saturday night.
The unbeaten British superstar still separated himself by plenty from Joseph Parker in the eyes of the three judges at a sold-out Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. Joshua beat Parker by unanimous decision in their 12-round heavyweight title unification fight.
England’s Joshua (21-0, 20 KOs) won by big margins on all three scorecards in what mostly amounted to a boring bout during which both boxers exercised caution and rarely fought inside. New Zealand’s Ian Scott scored their tactical encounter 119-109 for Joshua, while England’s Steve Gray and America’s Steve Weisfeld each scored it 118-110 for the 2012 Olympic gold medalist.
The 6-feet-6, 242-pound Joshua, who went off as approximately a 7-1 favorite, boxed behind his jab, but had difficulty luring Parker into exchanges while going the distance for the first time in 21 professional fights. The 6-feet-4, 236-pound Parker rarely took chances on his way to losing for the first time in his 5½-year pro career (24-1, 18 KOs).
Joshua, 28, defended his IBF, IBO and WBA titles, and won the WBO championship from Parker. New Zealand’s Parker, 26, lost a title he defended twice after winning it by edging American Andy Ruiz by majority decision in December 2016.
“My strategy in there was kind of stick behind the jab,” Joshua said in the ring following his victory. “It’s one of the most important weapons. The old saying is the right hand could take you around the block, but a good jab will take you around the world. And that secured another championship belt. So I stuck behind the jab and I made sure anything that was coming back, I was switched on, I was focused and 12 rounds, baby! I thought it was hard, right?”
CompuBox unofficially credited Joshua with landing 139-of-383 overall punches, 38 more than Parker (101-of-492).
Joshua connected on 93-of-270 jabs, nearly twice as many as Parker (49-of-316). According to CompuBox, Parker landed more power punches than Joshua (52-of-176 to 46-of-113).
Parker didn’t complain about the decision in the ring after suffering his first defeat.
“Today I got beaten by a better champion, bigger man,” Parker said. “A lot to work on. It was a good experience being here. Thank you all for the opportunity to fight in this big stadium. We’re gonna go back, train hard, plan again and come back stronger. No regrets, you know, take it on the chin. … So we’ll be back again.”
When asked what he would do differently, Parker added, “Work harder. Come back stronger, more punches. But I would love to have another go. Just back to the drawing board.”
Parker doesn’t have a rematch clause in his contract. There was a rematch clause in their contracts that called for an immediate rematch if Joshua would’ve lost.
The first heavyweight title unification bout between unbeaten champions since Mike Tyson out-pointed Tony Tucker in August 1987 drew a crowd of roughly 78,000 to Principality Stadium. Joshua’s last three fights have attracted nearly 250,000 fans combined – 78,000-plus for wins against Parker and Carlos Takam at Principality Stadium and 90,000 for his epic stoppage of Wladimir Klitschko 11 months ago at Wembley Stadium in London.
The nearly 80,000 fans that packed Principality Stadium on Saturday night witnessed a very strategic clash that didn’t include many flush punches landed by either fighter.
Joshua applied pressure for much of the 12th round, but couldn’t hurt Parker, who mostly moved away from him for those final three minutes.
Joshua drilled Parker with a left hook and Parker returned fire with a right to the body during an exchange that took place with about 10 seconds to go in the 11th round.
An accidental elbow by Joshua opened a cut around Parker’s left eye early in the 10th round. Joshua just missed again with a huge right uppercut when there just over 30 seconds remaining in 10th.
There was a break in the action with 51 seconds to go in the ninth round, as Joshua’s trainer, Rob McCracken, fixed the tape on his left glove. That break came after an accidental head-butt made referee Giussepe Quartarone examine Joshua and Parker for cuts (neither drew blood).
Joshua clipped Parker with a short left as Parker leaned down late in the eighth round. Parker tried to hold soon after taking that punch, but Quartarone stepped in separate them as Joshua was trying to throw a right uppercut.
Quartarone warned Joshua for throwing a right uppercut that just missed Parker as Quartarone was trying to separate them from a clinch in the seventh round.
A physical, clumsy clinch made Quartarone pull Joshua and Parker apart as the action picked up early in the sixth round. Joshua and Parker went back to their tactical standoff once Quartarone brought them back together.
Joshua’s short left hook backed up Parker 25 seconds into the fifth round. Parker clipped Joshua with a jab and a straight right hand right around the one-minute mark of the fifth round.
Taking those shots made Joshua go after Parker, but he couldn’t land anything clean.
The fourth round mostly unfolded like the first three rounds. Joshua pursued Parker throughout that round, but he couldn’t close the distance for long because Parker kept flicking his jab toward him.
Joshua’s jab was a factor early in the third round. Once Parker came forward, Joshua just missed a right uppercut with under two minutes remaining in the third, which caused Parker to hold him.
An accidental clash of heads initiated a brief break later in the third. Neither fighter suffered a cut from that accidental head-butt.
Joshua landed a solid right hand to Parker’s body with under a minute to go in the second round. Mostly, though, Joshua couldn’t catch up to an elusive Parker to land anything hurtful during that round.
Parker spent most of the first round on his back foot and trying to establish his jab. There wasn’t much action during those first three minutes.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.