by Cliff Rold
On Saturday, we get one step closer to one.
In an ideal world, each of boxing’s seventeen weight divisions would have only one world champion. Too often, most weight classes have so many making the claim that they ultimately have none.
There is only one world after all.
How do we know if the WBC titlist at 105 lbs. right now, Wanheng Menayothin, could beat WBA titlist Knockout CP Freshmart if they haven’t fought? We don’t and likely won’t find out.
The lack of clarity there is unfortunate but it also isn’t all that consequential. Unified, singularly recognized champions are great in any class. It says here that the class where it means most is heavyweight, now and forever.
The reason is simple. Everyone else can be champion of their class. The heavyweight champion of the world, the leader of the unlimited class, has always been more than just another champion. The heavyweight champion, when there is a clear one, is the king of the whole sport. Having a single titan to point to gives the sport focus even if in the era of fractured belts it’s harder than ever to keep a mess of belts together.
Heavyweight unification, when there isn’t a clear champion, matters more than in any other class.
Since Tyson Fury ‘retired’ after winning the lineal crown from Wladimir Klitschko (and it’s worth recalling he beat him first and even easier than Joshua), there hasn’t been a clear single champion. Fury’s impending return has historical title implications. Among active fighters, Joshua is perceived as the top dog but he hasn’t fully proved it yet.
The winner of Anthony Joshua-Joseph Parker will have three of the four most recognized belts. WBC titlist Deontay Wilder waits in the wings and Fury, if and when he gets back in the ring, will factor in as well. Optimally, we will be able to point to one clear king no later than 2019.
Who will advance this weekend?
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Title: IBF heavyweight (2016-Present, 4 Defenses); WBA heavyweight (2017-Present, 1 Defense); IBO heavyweight (2017-Present, 1 Defense)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 242 ¼ lbs.
Hails from: Watford, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom
Record: 20-0, 20 KO?
Press Rankings: #1 (TBRB, Ring, ESPN, Boxing Monthly, BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 5-0, 5 KO
Last Five Opponents: 164-10-2 (.927)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Charles Martin KO2, Wladimir Klitschko TKO11
Titles: WBO heavyweight (2016-Present, 2 Defenses)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 236 ½ lbs.
Hails from: South Auckland, New Zealand
Record: 24-0, 18 KO
Press Rankings: #3 (TBRB, ESPN, Ring), #4 (Boxing Monthly), #7 (BoxRec),
Record in Major Title Fights: 3-0
Last Five Opponents: 127-6-2 (.948)
Current/Former World Champions Faced: None
The Case for Joshua: The 2012 Olympic Gold medalist at Super Heavyweight is an impressive physical specimen at any weight but the scale on Friday made an impression. Perhaps Joshua, who came in at his lightest since Michael Sprott in 2014, recognizes that he needs speed more than size with the challenges ahead. Parker, Wilder, and Fury are all fighters where every tenth of a second may matter. A quicker, less bulky Joshua can likely go deeper into the fight before he needs a second wind. Joshua already has fast hands for a big man, and an excellent jab. He’s also arguably the best infighter for his size since Riddick Bowe. Along with a devastating right hand, Joshua can snap off a sudden counter left hook. If Parker charges forward, as he did at times against Hughie Fury, those skills will matter. If Parker elects to try to box off the back foot as he did against Andy Ruiz, Joshua’s six inch edge in reach could mean a long night with Parker getting tattooed with the lead. If Parker can take the power of Joshua, Joshua is still capable of controlling him at range. Parker has proven vulnerable to right hands. Andy Ruiz and Carlos Takam found him often with simple 1-2’s. Joshua has as good and true a jab-right hand combo as anyone in the game.
The Case for Parker: Parker has been less than impressive since beginning to step up his competition with the Carlos Takam fight. Both the Ruiz and Fury fights could have gone the other way and growing girth added to sluggishness. Parker went from 234 for Takam to 245 for Fury and it wasn’t for the better. At the least, we can see Parker put in the work he needed for this one. This is the lightest he’s been since the Solomon Haumono fight and he’ll need to be quick. His chance to win is to be inside Joshua’s jab, snap off combinations, and then hold or get moving. If he stays in the trenches recklessly, he can be caught blind. If he stays outside, he probably can’t win a battle of the jabs. Joshua isn’t flawless. Joshua can sometimes side arm the right hand when he goes to the body from outside. When he does, Parker could have a big countering opportunity and he will need to take advantage of any moments like that to test the chin of Joshua. A big question mark for Parker is whether he has the power to deter Joshua. Joshua has survived bigger punchers, including being wobbled by Dillian Whyte and coming off the floor against one of the great punchers of all time in Klitschko. While Parker racked up lots of stoppages early, he’s gone the route in four of his last six and doesn’t always turn his shots over. Parker can do a lot of arm punching. That included a career worst performance against Razvan Cojanu two fights ago. Cojanu lost nearly every round but talked trash and mocked Parker throughout the fight no matter what he landed. Parker will have to get some respect early to make Joshua think about how to approach him.
When they were coming up the ranks, it looked like Joshua and Parker were headed for a showdown someday as the two best heavyweight prospects out there. Joshua has handled the transition from prospect better and is the favorite for a reason. He’s more complete, more balanced, and hits harder than Parker. At the least, this is a big step in weeding out the division. This is Joshua’s fifth undefeated foe in his last eight fights; it’s Parker’s third in his last four. The shape they’re both in is a positive. Parker came in great shape for him. Joshua came in at a make-a-statement weight. Both men are clearly here to fight and this could exceed expectations in the way Wilder-Luis Ortiz did earlier in the month if Parker can catch. A good fight doesn’t mean an unexpected one. There just isn’t anything in his fights since Takam suggesting Parker can win here. It doesn’t mean he has no chance. There are just less reasons to think he can win than there are with Joshua. At 242, Joshua may be quicker than him, he’s longer, and he’s been more impressive against better overall competition. Parker can raise his stock here with the right kind of loss even if he doesn’t win. If he gives a great account, it will erase some of the stink of the Cojanu and Fury fights. That might be the best-case scenario as the pick here is Joshua to win and keep his knockout streak alive.
Rold Picks 2018: 6-4Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]