British sport turns to the boxing ring on Saturday night, with a Heavyweight unification on Sky Box Office. Peter Wells gives his take on the showdown between Anthony Joshua and Joseph Paker

 

When Manchester City and Chelsea clash in an FA Cup Semi-Final, in spite of how great the match itself may be, the wider eyes of the world is focusing on what will come next in the Final. No different to when Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic meet in the Wimbledon semis. So we should not be surprised when a fight like Anthony Joshua vs Joseph Parker encounters the same problem.

But unlike the aforementioned FA Cup and Wimbledon, what comes next is never guaranteed. One could consider this month’s Heavyweight championship fights of Deontay Wilder vs Luis Ortiz and Joshua vs Parker as semi-final’s leading to the final between the two winners. But this is boxing, and one semi-final could lead to…well another semi-final.

Joshua vs Wilder is everyone’s Heavyweight final, but if and when that takes place is anyone’s guess.

But for the first time since this bout between two reigning world champions was signed off, let’s just focus on this exact fight itself. As much as it pains so many boxing fans to actually enjoy the drama going on right in front of their eyes, let us concentrate on a match-up between two unbeaten Heavyweight champions of the world, and not fill articles and forums with talk of what we wish to see next.

The WBA, IBF and WBO titles will reside in one hemisphere after Saturday night, with England’s Anthony Joshua posting his 20-0(20KO) record up against New Zealand’s Joseph Parker 24-0(18KO’s).

The two have met valuable challenges along the way, and the burden of world championship boxing has brought along it’s hardships for both.

Parker, a shorter but notably hard hitter, has yet to find his touch as WBO king. Andy Ruiz Jr pushed him close, as did his most recent challenger, Hughie Fury in Manchester. And unheralded Razvan Cojanu taking Parker the distance pretty much summed up Parker’s reign thus far. It has been successful, but far from convincing.

As for Joshua, his early baptism was simple. Charles Martin, Dominic Breazeale and Eric Molina were all cast aside – only Breazeale left with his head held high after AJ’s 2016 crowning year.

But then came the test, in the form of the great Wladimir Klitschko. The WBA and IBO titles were added around the waist of AJ after he proved his stamina and power late in the contest.

But his perfect knockout record should have been halted last time out, when a game – but outgunned – Carlos Takam was unfairly halted in the 10th of a fight that was destined to hear the final bell.

Takam was down in the 4th that night, and looked in some distress with a cut over his left eye in those middle rounds. But the short, but well-built African never looked in trouble with Joshua’s power.

If Parker needs any encouragement, well there it is. If Joshua can’t hurt his rival, then the man of Samoan descent could take advantage, winning rounds with his own well drilled boxing ability.

There are many scenarios that can come from such a fascinating clash. But all but one seem to lean in favour of one man.

AJ may feel he has a point to prove, so going for an early blowout would not be out of the question, but it would not come without consequences should Parker evade an early hiding.

As risky as it could be, Parker’s best shot is to find his way in close. He has a significant deficit in reach, and standing at arm’s length gives Joshua the opportunity to land with maximum force. At short distance, Joshua will be unable to generate significant power from his huge upper frame.

The quicker Parker gets his feet moving and his head underneath the punches of AJ, the better his shot is at winning. But while being up close is likely to tire Joshua, it may also tire the man working so hard to get up close.

While there is a chance of a spectacular knockout, it is a rather slim chance. Whether a stoppage comes early or late, it will not be the sort of finish that lights up the highlight reel like Dillian Whyte’s KO last weekend.

The opening three rounds will be scruffy. Parker will try timing his bursts up close with a shell like defence. Using his own experience should see Joshua target the body in these early goings, but he will also need to be lighter on his feet to avoid losing optimum position.

Then comes the defining question of the fight. Will Joshua’s best punches early hurt Parker? If not, then the chances of a stoppage in favour of the favourite will be reduced. A knockout for Joshua is likely to come between rounds 4-8 and not in the latter rounds.

While Parker will have the skillset and game plan to take Joshua the full 12 rounds, and even win a good number of rounds, one struggles to overlook the sheer gulf in size between the two. Parker will be tough, but even up close he is not physically big enough to cause AJ enough problems.

Eventually a right cross will wobble Parker, and doing his best to see out the situation, Parker will land bombs of his own. But having found his range, Joshua will see his success increase, finally taking control of the contest in the 6th, where he will once again hurt and this time stop the proud New Zealander on his feet.

 

(photo credit FightHub TV Youtube channel)