It is one of the most evocative titles in sport: the world heavyweight boxing champion.
Yet it is a title that has too often been fractured as a result of the rise of numerous different governing bodies in the years since the outstanding Muhammad Ali was stripped of the title in the late 1960s for refusing United States military service in the Vietnam War.
But the current picture will become clearer when Britain’s Anthony Joshua, the IBF and WBA champion, faces New Zealand’s Joseph Parker, the WBO title-holder, in a heavyweight unification bout on Saturday.
Some 78,000 spectators are expected at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium, a testament to the enduring appeal or the heavyweight crown in general and the pulling power of Joshua in particular.
Joshua’s life story reads like the outline plot of a movie – a boy who fell in with the ‘wrong crowd’ but avoided prison because of his involvement in boxing and went on to win an Olympic gold medal in front of his home London crowd in 2012 before turning pro and building up an unbeaten 20-fight record in the paid ranks.
But Parker, two years younger at 26, also has a perfect professional record with 24 wins, 18 by way of knockout.
Saturday’s fight will be the first time two undisputed heavyweight champions have met for the title in Britain and should move the winner closer to a bout against Deontay Wilder, the American who holds the WBC’s version.
– ‘Hunted’ –
Joshua may be the favourite in the eyes of many pundits but he said this week: “You still need to keep that challenger’s mindset. I’m still the challenger in my head.
“Sometimes I try and not be seen with the belts too much, I let other people do the enjoyment because I’ve got to do the challenger mindset.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge of Parker but, just because now I’m the hunted, it’s not time to put my feet up and relax, I’m out there defending my throne on Saturday night.”
Joshua’s punching power – all 20 of his wins have been knockout victories – has revived interest in the heavyweight division and helped make him a box-office draw.
He has fought before at the Principality, defeating Carlos Takam there in October and Joshua believes this will give him an edge.
“I’m ready for the challenge. Parker is not,” wrote Joshua in his column for Thursday’s London Evening Standard.
“He won’t have encountered anything like the roof closed – a Dragon’s Den at the Principality Stadium.”
Will it be @anthony_joshua or @joeboxerparker who will move one step closer to #undisputed? Canada and Germany stand up. Log onto @dazn_ca or @dazn_de to stream the #JoshuaParker fight LIVE online or mobile! #DAZNfightclub pic.twitter.com/Y1rlv0vw0a— Lennox Lewis (@LennoxLewis) March 29, 2018
Joshua added: “He’ll find out very quickly on Saturday night that there is nowhere to hide with 78,000 fans wanting to see me knock him out.”
Parker, however, believes an edge in movement and ringcraft, will help him overcome the heavier Joshua’s reach advantage.
“I’m young, hungry, fit and strong,” he said. “I’ve got my speed back and I’ll show you on Saturday.”
The Principality is best known as the home of the Wales rugby union team, and when world champions New Zealand come to Cardiff, they usually leave with a victory – the last time they lost to Wales in the Welsh capital was back in 1953.
But the Principality was also the venue where the All Blacks suffered a shock quarter-final defeat by France at the 2007 World Cup.
“The All Blacks always do great here in Wales so I’m looking forward to keeping that record clean,” said Parker.
But one clean record will be lost this weekend as boxing moves one step close to the goal of an undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.
Provided by AFP Sport
By the age of 32, Carl Frampton had planned to be sat in front of the TV, with his feet up, championship belt on the mantle, enjoying retirement with a perfect, undefeated record.
Yet having just turned 31, he finds himself training harder than ever, running around Spain’s Mount Teide looking to regain the world title he lost a little over 12 months ago.
It’s been a tough time of late for the former two-weight champion, having tasted defeat for the first time in his 25-fight career following his WBA featherweight crown loss to Leo Santa Cruz in Las Vegas.
Away from the ring, things haven’t been much easier for ‘The Jackal’ either with a High Court battle over a financial dispute with former promoter Barry McGuigan and Cyclone Promotions. Thankfully, after a stressful few months and having cut ties with his promoter and trainer Shane McGuigan, Barry’s son, Frampton has been able to get back to basics and focus on matters with the gloves on.
Since his loss to Santa Cruz, the Belfast-born boxer got his career back on track last November with a unanimous decision victory against Mexican Horacio Garcia, in front of his home fans in Belfast’s SSE arena. Frampton returns to the scene of the crime in April when he faces a tough test against the tricky Filipino Nonito Donaire.
Despite all that’s gone on in the last year or so, Frampton told Sport360 in this exclusive interview that he’s enjoying life more than ever.
“I wish I felt like this five or six years ago,” he said. “I know I’m coming to the end of my career but I’m finally enjoying it. The change of faces and fresh ideas make me feel happy and excited to get into the gym everyday, whereas before it was a bit of a chore.”
“I’m training in Tenerife at the moment, which I’ve never done before, this is the first time I’ve done any sort of warm-weather training before a fight. We’re up the mountains every other day, running around Mount Teide, which is pretty hard. I’ve also reduced the number of rounds I’m doing now with my current trainer compared to what I was doing with my previous team,” added Frampton, who’s now under the watchful eye of former boxer Jamie Moore.
Manchester-based Moore, a former Commonwealth and European light middleweight champion himself, has been working with Frampton for the past few months – getting him in shape for next month’s bout.
Having been picked up by promoter Frank Warren, Frampton admits he’s eyeing a dream world title fight at Belfast’s Windsor Park, the home of the national football team, before hanging up his gloves.
“I want to win a world title in the home of Northern Ireland and I don’t think there’s a man in the division who will beat me,” he says.
“You can hear the crowd when you’re in the ring and it probably adds five per cent to my game. You’re talking small margins in boxing so that’s actually quite a lot. I wouldn’t say you hear individuals as such it’s more of a wall of noise but it’s something I feed off.”
Frampton added:”I don’t know what it would be like to be the opponent on the end of that because if you get hit, even if it’s not full-pelt the crowd gets excited and you’ve got to be a mentally strong person to cope with that. The atmosphere in Belfast is special so it certainly helps me.”
Seemingly rejuvenated with his re-found love of the sport, the former champ doesn’t wish to overlook Donaire knowing in this game any opponent can be a dangerous one if taken lightly. The concentration needed as a fighter when you’ve got your eyes on stadium fights and world titles is as tough as the physical training itself, admits the Belfast man.
“You need to be incredibly strong mentally. It’s a tough, individual sport, and once the bell goes you’re on your own so you have to be focused. There’s no such thing as an easy fight and the advice I would give any young fighter is you can’t be half-in with boxing. You need to either give everything you’ve got or don’t bother. It’s a short career so you’ve got to be completely dedicated to it,” he explains.
With a change of faces in the gym and a new routine, boxing is no longer just about making as much money as he could so he can quit the sport, which was Frampton’s previous mind-set. Now, he’s got the same zest for fighting as he had as a youngster, chasing his first world title belt.
“I’m not a superstitious person so my approach is training hard and believing that if I perform in the gym then that should be enough to beat any featherweight in the world, that’s where I get my confidence from,” he says.
During his chat with Sport 360, Frampton’s rekindled love for boxing is evident as he talks openly about the sport and offers his thoughts on the potential heavyweight blockbuster between current heavyweight champions Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder.
“They’re such big punchers and they’ve both showed vulnerabilities in their last fights but come back to get the win so it would be a great fight. I would edge with Joshua but I don’t think Wilder gets the credit he deserves as a boxer because of the windmills he throws when he’s got someone in trouble. He can actually box and he has a nice jab as well,” he says.
While Anthony Joshua v Joseph Parker will certainly capture the imagination of the casual fans, Frampton’s scrap with Donaire should prove equally intriguing and if the Belfast man is as rejuvenated inside the ring as he appears out of it, his world title fight will no doubt be just around the corner.
Frampton v Donaire is live on BoxNation on Saturday April 21 from the SSE Arena in Belfast.
Joseph Parker is confident he will be in the “best shape” of his career when facing Anthony Joshua in their world heavyweight title unification bout after overcoming elbow injuries.
Undefeated World Boxing Organisation champion Parker will step into the ring against Joshua, the International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Association title-holder, at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium a week on Saturday.
Parker feels he will at last be able to fight at full capacity having struggled with a longstanding elbow injury before an operation in December.
“We tried to schedule in surgery numerous times, but (fight) opportunities came up so we pushed back, and the past two years we’ve been training and fighting below 100 percent,” said Parker, speaking at a work-out session in London on Friday.
“Since the surgery there’s been a lot of benefits,” added the New Zealander, who travelled to Manchester to beat Britain’s Hughie Fury in September.
“We’ve been training with no injuries; this is the best camp we’ve had for a long time, and that’s why we’re so confident in putting on a great display and a great fight,” Parker explained.
“I feel like I’m in the best shape I’ve been in. My face is a bit skinnier, and I’m also starting to see some abs come along.”
Parker’s trainer, Kevin Barry, was taken aback by the boxer’s progress since surgery.
“The pain Joe had to go through — how he was even able to achieve some of the successes he’s had is mind-boggling,” he said.
“The surgeon sat down when he looked at the initial damage and said, ‘How was he able to perform at an elite level?’.”
Promoter David Higgins urged the ringside judges not to be swayed by a home crowd and score the fight fairly, even though Parker’s previous fight in Britain ended in victory.
“We’re grateful to the British Boxing Board of Control, this time they’ve opted for a balanced panel,” said Higgins. “That means a neutral referee, from Italy, a neutral judge from the United States, one judge from the UK, and one judge from New Zealand.
“This fight is so big, and there’s so much scrutiny on the officials, they should know they won’t work again if they favour the home man, obviously.”
Meanwhile Parker accused Joshua of snubbing travelling media from New Zealand and Samoa by refusing to speak to them at a workout session on Wednesday.
He did, however, speak to other reporters and it was by no means certain Joshua had deliberately avoided taking questions from overseas journalists, although that did not stop Parker drawing a comparison with his own accommodating attitude to British media.
“It’s a little disrespectful because they’ve travelled a long way to come and see him, and they respect him, as a fighter and (for) what he’s achieved,” Parker said.
“We were in camp in Vegas, we had a lot of British media come over and we were very friendly.
“He (Joshua) should just be a bit more respectful in talking to everyone who was there. Hopefully in future he can make it better.”