Anthony Joshua isn’t the only undefeated title-holder heading into the March 31 clash.
Hailing from New Zealand 26-year-old Joseph Parker has managed to climb the ranks of the heavyweight division, seemingly unnoticed, capturing the WBO strap along the way.
After 66 fights as an amateur he made is professional debut in 2012 with a TKO victory in the second round. As a pro he’s remains victorious, winning 24 bouts in a combined total of 123 rounds – compared to Anthony Joshua’s undefeated record of 20 wins and a total of just 65 rounds.
Parker’s record of 24-0-0 boasts 18 wins coming by way of knock out. His latest victory was a dubious majority decision victory over Hughie Fury – cousin of former heavyweight champion Tyson Fury –, which stunk out the UK’s Manchester Arena. The bout will be best remembered (if remembered at all) for being the first boxing YouTube PPV event.
His record doesn’t show any majorly recognised names from the heavyweight division, and he’s yet to defeat a world titleholder. Parker captured the vacant WBO championship, defeating Andy Ruiz Jr by majority decision at the end of 2016.
He received criticism after his first defence of his title against the widely unknown, albeit awkward opponent, Razvan Cojanu. In a dirty scrap, Cojanu used his head and elbows as well as trash talk during the fight in an attempt to unsettle the champion.
The challenger was eventually deducted a point by the referee for repeatedly pushing down on Parker’s neck. Parker admitted afterwards it was not a great fight and he struggled to connect with Cojanu with any real success.
British heavyweights Tony Bellew and Dillian Whyte took note – both saying they could defeat Parker easily given the chance. Carlos Takam, the man who put up a brave fight against Joshua back in October, also suffered defeat at the hands of Parker in 2016 – losing via unanimous decision.
The fight with Anthony Joshua not only makes sense for AJ, who will be the heavy favourite going into the fight, but for the New Zealander as well. Not only because he’ll finally be fighting in a major PPV event, which will of course make him a life-changing sum of money, but he’ll finally have the chance to prove himself against someone of genuine quality on the world stage. The fight also gives him the chance of adding the WBA and IBF titles to his mantelpiece.
Parker’s style is that of a heavy puncher, he won’t be dancing around the ring against Joshua. Instead, he’ll likely rely on throwing bombs and his toughness to get him through the fight. Joshua’s not much of a mover either, which works in favour of the WBO champion, who will be happier slugging it out than chasing shadows.
Does anyone give Parker a chance? Probably not. But as Wladimir Klitschko, and even Carlos Takam showed, Joshua isn’t the indestructible force many thought when he was when blowing opponents away earlier in his career. Joshua slowed in later rounds, and was even put down, by the ageing Klitschko. Against Takam, a broken nose, albeit suffered by a head-butt, seemed to bother the Champion, who never really got going in the fight – despite leaving the ring victorious.
Parker can take heart from the fact that unlike Joshua’s previous opponents, he too is an undefeated heavyweight champion with something to offer.
What’s more, he’s a likeable guy with a crowd-pleasing style and something to prove, which can only make for an interesting fight, and if ever there was a fight to prove he’s a legitimate world champion, this is it.
Fury has not fought since taking four belts from Wladimir Klitschko in September 2015, but, with his well-publicised problems with UK Anti-Doping now behind him, the 29-year-old has returned to training.
The Manchester-born fighter still needs the British boxing Board of Control to return his professional licence, but he has spent the last week telling Joshua, in several interviews and on social media, that he will be back soon to retake the titles he was forced to give up.
Not that the 28-year-old Joshua, who holds the IBF, IBO and WBA belts, has been paying much attention as he prepares for his next fight at the end of March, most likely against WBO champion Joseph Parker.
Speaking to Press Association Sport at BBC Sports Personality of the Year on Sunday, Joshua said he had not heard Fury’s latest claim that he was just a muscle-bound “carthorse” and these taunts were just “what I deal with in my industry”.
On the more important issue of when Fury might be ready to back up these words in the ring, Joshua said: “I don’t know if he is back or what his situation is, but, as I always say, I stay consistent with what I’m doing and it’s up to him to get back on the gravy train.
“So calling somebody out is irrelevant when you don’t know if you’re going to live up to your words.
“I’m sure he will, but at this present time he’s saying he needs warm-up fights. So tune in to what’s important and then focus on the bigger picture – that’s your strategy.”
Joshua, who beat Klitschko in arguably the fight of the year at Wembley in March, believes Fury would be better served by “working his way back” over the next two years, but, if the self-styled ‘Gypsy King’ is in a hurry, so be it.
“If he wants to get straight in the ring with me in the summer, let’s rock and roll,” the London 2012 Olympic champion said.
“The ball is in his court but either way I’m ready to roll – I don’t mind what we do.”
One potential opponent for Fury on the road to a clash with Joshua is Tony Bellew, who is scheduled to fight another former British world heavyweight champion, David Haye, in May.
Bellew and Fury have enjoyed several sessions of verbal sparring and the Liverpudlian told Press Association Sport he would gladly take on the returning champion.
“To tell the truth, I just want to see him back in a boxing ring,” said Bellew.
“I’d love to be his first fight back because if he meets me it will the quickest comeback in the history of boxing.”
In the meantime, Joshua has an appointment with a specialist to check that his nose has healed after Carlos Takam tagged him in an otherwise routine defence of his belts in October.
“It didn’t break but it had all the symptoms,” explained Joshua, who was the hot favourite to win Sports Personality of the Year but finished fourth on a night of surprises in Liverpool.
“He definitely changed its position and I was bit bunged up for a little while after.
“But I’m going to see a specialist next week just to make sure there’s no internal damage, because obviously breathing is so important with boxing, that’s all. It’s all right.”
A statement from Showtime Sports said the August fight between boxing star Mayweather and mixed martials arts king McGregor generated 4.3 million pay-per-view buys in North America.
Only one other fight – Mayweather’s 2015 bout with Manny Pacquiao – has ever drawn more, racking up 4.6 million buys to earn around $600 million.
The Mayweather-McGregor pay-per-view total is almost double the third-biggest fight of all time, Oscar De La Hoya’s 2007 fight with Mayweather, which had 2.48 million buys.
Showtime said in a statement that global revenues, including ticket sales, sponsorship and international distribution, Mayweather and McGregor had exceeded $600 million.
“The pairing of Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor brought together two very significant and distinct global fan bases in one truly unprecedented event,” Showtime Sports chief Stephen Espinoza told ESPN.
“The remarkable results are all the more impressive considering that the planning, marketing and execution took place across a span of just 72 days from the initial announcement to fight night.”
The Mayweather-McGregor fight was widely dismissed as a circus before the bout, which was eventually won by Mayweather – returning from a two-year retirement — with a 10th round knockout.
Meanwhile Philippine boxing hero Pacquiao said last week he too was seeking his own showdown with McGregor, confirming he had opened talks with the Irishman to possibly fight in April.