By: Ste Rowen
Two years ago, Anthony Joshua was deep into camp, preparing for his first world title shot against the newly crowned IBF champion, Charles Martin. A shot at one of the most prestigious belts made available due to Tyson Fury being stripped of the IBF strap almost immediately after ripping it from Wladimir Klitschko, along with the WBA and WBO belts in 2015.
It’s strange to think, just 27 months ago, 3 of the 4 recognized belts were held by one man and seemed so unattainable, then within a few months, for the first time since the early 2000s they were scattered across the division. It seems even stranger now then that we’re one weekend away from one man holding the IBF, WBA & WBO once again and, in theory, one fight away from becoming the first undisputed champion since Lennox Lewis.
Photo Credit: Esther Lin/Showtime
Joshua did of course win the IBF belt that night from Charles Martin; the American who won the title by accident, after he watched Vyacheslav Glazkov tear his meniscus and ACL in the 3rd round and being unable to continue, meaning the history books will show that Martin won the IBF via 3rd round TKO. He had no such luck against Joshua though, when the 2012 gold medallist needed less than five minutes to wipe out the man who supposedly, ‘walked the earth like a God.’
‘AJ’ now, 20-0 (20KOs) will face a much sterner test this weekend in the form of WBO world champion, Joseph Parker. The New Zealander, 24-0 (18KOs) won his world title in his 22nd fight, as opposed to Joshua winning the IBF in his 16th; coming up against the Abel Sanchez trained, Andy Ruiz Jr, fighting for the vacant WBO. Parker’s earnt his straps in bouts including Joshua’s most recent opposition, Carlos Takam, winning via unanimous 12-round decision, impressive blowout victories over Alexander Dimitrenko and domestic rival, Solomon Haumono. Even when he’s failed to impress, including his most recent awkward encounter with Hughie Fury, Parker will have come away from the fight with a lot to learn from, but an accomplished trainer in Kevin Barry to enhance his style with.
Joshua has more than earnt his stripes on the road to this weekend’s unification clash. Almost eleven months ago, ‘AJ’ stepped into the ring with a future hall of famer, dropped him in the 5th, got dropped in the 6th and found an unbelievable second wind in the 11th to finish off Wladimir Klitschko, not just that night, but it was of course the prodigious man’s final bout after 66 professional fights.
It was truly one of the great heavyweight title clashes, arguably the best in terms of up-and-down action since Lennox Lewis took on Wladimir’s brother, Vitali in 2003. That night Anthony displayed more than just power, and the ability to stalk his opponent, attributes we knew he had in abundance going into the fight. The relevant clichés apply obviously, heart, determination, the will to get back up off the floor, but perhaps more importantly a skillset he hadn’t had to show he’s capable of yet in the pro ranks.
Joshua displayed the finesse to fight off the back foot from the first bell as Klitschko was the man doing the pressing early on and then almost entirely through rounds 6 to 10. Unless it’s been out of choice, never before in his previous 19 bouts had ‘AJ’ been forced into reversing, and time his counters to keep the Ukrainian away. We also saw Anthony’s chin properly and consistently tested for the first time. Of course, as proven in the 6th when Wladimir landed a wonderful straight right hand sending Joshua to the canvas for the first time as a pro, the Brit’s chin is not unbreakable, but it’s certainly not made of the soft stuff. And it’s not just the physical side of being landed on, but the mental fatigue that comes with being cleanly hit more than you have been in any previous bout.
From that ensuing fight, and an ugly tussle with Carlos Takam in October, which resulted in a dubious 10th round stoppage, Joshua, speaking to Sky Sports, believes he is the man responsible for reigniting a failing division,
‘I think I’m leading the pack and that’s the way that it’s going to stay. If I wasn’t leading the way, there would be no eyes on the division. The division was dead and we brought it back to life.’
‘One fight doesn’t define us, if it did I would be sitting back on the throne after my Klitschko fight. But I’ve got to keep on going.’
On this Saturday’s fight, Joshua isn’t shying away from the significance of the night, as he told BBC Sport,
‘This is history. This is a unification fight with two heavyweights undefeated…You know when you come here to fight myself there’s going to be blood, a fighter hurt and 20 times out of 20 I’ve been victorious so expect the same routine.’
‘He’s (Parker) a king where he comes from so he has that pride on his back as well. He has to represent the heritage and that’s important.’
Even with the rematch clause in place for Saturday’s fight, the outcome is so significant to how the next few years at the top of the heavyweight division plays out. Being a realist, if Joshua beats Parker, a fight with Wilder probably won’t happen next, but a defeat pushes it back even further, most likely into late 2019, early 2020 – that is of course as long as Joshua wins a potential rematch with Parker.
But it’s safe to assume ‘AJ’ won’t allow himself to be distracted by the potential future bouts, his trainer, Rob McCracken certainly won’t, especially when they look back on how quickly the Klitschko fight turned on it’s head.