By Keith Idec
We’re nine days away from a heavyweight title unification bout between two big, unbeaten champions.
They’re reportedly guaranteed roughly $25 million combined for a high-profile fight that’ll draw nearly 80,000 fans to a jam-packed stadium in Cardiff, Wales. Together, they’re 44-0 and have knocked out 38 of their opponents.
And all anyone can talk or write about is when one of them will fight the other undefeated heavyweight champion people really want him to face.
Unfortunately for Joseph Parker, Anthony Joshua-Deontay Wilder is the heavyweight title unification bout that has consumed most boxing fans and those that cover the sport.
It’s probably the biggest fight in boxing that hasn’t been made – a surefire slugfest in which England’s Joshua (20-0, 20 KOs) or America’s Wilder (40-0, 39 KOs) almost certainly will get knocked out. Seemingly, Joshua-Wilder would be a dramatic matter of which knockout artist could clip his opponent first.
Up until now, Joshua-Wilder has amounted to a ceaseless exercise of he said, he said, mostly between Wilder and Eddie Hearn, Joshua’s promoter. They largely go back and forth about potential purse splits for a Joshua-Wilder fight, whether it should take place in the United Kingdom or the United States, and who’s a superstar and who isn’t one.
Joshua has addressed possibly boxing Wilder when he is asked. The IBF/IBO/WBA champ made it abundantly clear, however, during a conference call Wednesday night that, unlike huge factions of fans and media, he is in no way looking past Parker as they move closer to their March 31 fight at Principality Stadium.
“You’ve gotta remember, a lot of the talk about me and Wilder started in 2017, after he beat Bermane Stiverne [on November 4],” Joshua said. “But I haven’t spoke much about it, you know? I’ve got great people in my corner that handle the business while I focus on the handling of my boxing technique. So we reached out to Deontay Wilder’s team before the fight with Joseph Parker was made, and once that fight didn’t happen and the fight with Joseph Parker was made, I put Wilder aside and focused totally on that.
“But I’m not the one overlooking Joseph Parker, and I’m not the one, you know, hooting and hollering about what’s happening next. I’m really focused on Parker because, as you know, if I don’t get past Parker it slows down the train and derails everything we’re trying to achieve, in terms of becoming undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.”
Hearn isn’t the least bit concerned that Joshua is underestimating New Zealand’s Parker (24-0, 18 KOs). Joshua’s promoter promised that the 6-feet-6, 250-pound Joshua is fully focused on a 6-feet-4, 245-pound opponent he understands could destroy everything they’ve built since Joshua knocked out American Charles Martin to win the IBF title nearly two years ago at O2 Arena in London.
“We never have to worry about Anthony’s focus,” Hearn said during the conference call. “He’s probably the most focused, single-minded, driven individual you could meet. And he knows the challenge in front of him is Joseph Parker. He knows the risks against Joseph Parker.”
Each of Parker’s three WBO championship matches have gone all 12 rounds. In his last fight, Parker struggled to edge England’s Hughie Fury (20-1, 10 KOs) by majority decision September 23 in Manchester.
Parker’s pedestrian performance against Fury is among the reasons Joshua is consistently listed as an 8-1 favorite over him. The 26-year-old Parker is unfazed by those odds and all the attention that has been paid to a possible Joshua-Wilder showdown.
“Yeah, I guess going into the fight it doesn’t really bother me,” Parker said. “I think everyone is entitled to their opinion and the fight they wanna see. I think that what’s important to us is that we focus on what’s in front of us, and that’s Anthony Joshua. So our full focus is on Anthony Joshua, and our focus is on being in great shape, being healthy.
“A lot of people wanna see that fight, but they can’t really see that fight because we’re in the way. And it doesn’t really upset us. It gives us motivation in training, and we know what our focus is. Our focus is Anthony Joshua. Our focus is March 31. And we’re focused on keeping healthy, keeping strong and putting on the best performance of our lives on March 31.”
Parker recognizes that he could destroy Joshua-Wilder by pulling off an upset a week from Saturday night (Sky Sports Box Office; Showtime). Wilder will watch from ringside, where he’ll serve as a guest analyst for Sky Sports’ coverage of Joshua-Parker.
The WBC heavyweight champion hopes Joshua wins and keeps his potential eight-figure payday intact. If that happens, Joshua isn’t interested in Wilder entering the ring and creating a WWE-like scenario to generate even more interest in their fascinating fight.
“One thing with Anthony, he’s not really too big on the hype,” Hearn said. “And this is where we talk about all this storming the ring after and all that sort of stuff. We’re not really into that unless we can fight. And when we got [Wladimir] Klitschko into the ring after the fight, we signed a contract two hours before [to solidify Joshua-Klitschko] if Anthony won against [Eric] Molina that night.
“So until that fight [Joshua-Wilder] is signed, Anthony won’t really get excited about that fight because he’s not really interested in talking about it or hyping it. We don’t need the hype. It’s the biggest fight in world boxing. But it’s a fight that’s completely irrelevant if he’s not victorious next Saturday.”
Hearn has said that if Joshua tops Parker he could make his U.S. debut against American Jarrell Miller (20-0-1, 18 KOs) sometime in August at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Miller’s hometown. Miller also would need to defeat France’s Johann Duhaupas (37-4, 24 KOs) on April 28 at Barclays Center to remain an option for Joshua’s next fight.
If Joshua-Miller materializes this summer, Wilder would be forced to take another bout before getting his shot at Joshua. Regardless, Joshua emphasized Wednesday night that he wants Wilder, though he didn’t mention when.
“A hundred and 10 percent,” Joshua said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that fight will happen. And there’s no doubt in my mind I’ll beat Wilder as well. This is where we’re heading.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.