By Eric Lunger
There looks to be big news coming in the heavyweight division, as Anthony Joshua, the WBA, IBF, and IBO champion, is close to finalizing a bout with WBO kingpin Joseph Parker, for a date most likely in late March. While both camps have indicated that a deal is close, no announcement has been made. Boxinginsider caught up with Kevin Barry, Parker’s long-time trainer and former New Zealand Olympic medalist, and Barry is confident that a final agreement is imminent. “Eddie Hearn and David Higgins have been in constant contact; we expect the fight to be named [soon]”, said Barry, “they’ve been working on the fight for the last eight weeks and it is closer every day: both parties want this fight.”
Photo Credit: Kevin Barry
Even though Parker (24-0, 18 KOs) weathered a strong challenge by Hughie Fury in Manchester, England, last September, many boxing pundits still don’t give the New Zealand heavyweight much of chance against the charismatic Joshua (20-0, 20 KOs), a gold medalist for Britain at the 2012 London Games.
A large part of this pro-Joshua tendency is what might be termed the “Klitschko Afterglow.” The April fight — in which AJ dethroned the king — was so exciting, so dramatic, so theatrical even, that is it little wonder that AJ glows in the eyes of many commentators. I confess that it was, for me, one of the most thrilling fights of the year, hands down. But we should also remember that Klitschko had the former Olympic gold medalist in real trouble in the latter part of the fifth round, and then in the sixth round, as Dr. Steelhammer dropped Joshua with a blistering straight right.
There are two areas where I think the Kiwi champion actually has the edge: in the combination of footwork and hand speed, and in his conditioning. AJ will certainly have the edge in crowd support, but this can cut both ways, as we will see.
First, Parker probably has the fastest hands in the division, and he really had to learn how to move in the ring in order to beat Hughie Fury. Joshua does not fight off his back foot (like Fury), and thus the two British fighters are quite different. But if Parker can use his feet to create some difficult angles and to benefit his double jab, it will give him an edge over the slower-moving Joshua. Parker uses his jab to the body and the head, and follows it with a straight right, exactly the type of punch that put Joshua on the canvas in the Klitschko fight.
Intimately related to footwork is conditioning, and here I think Parker has a clear advantage. The Kiwi went twelve rounds with Fury, who back-pedaled most of the bout, but Parker looked as fresh and quick in the twelfth round as he did in the first. Barry said his fighter was frustrated by Fury’s style, but “Joe wasn’t tired at all” after the bout. the knock on Joshua is that he tends to get tired during rounds, and needs to recover on his stool. Klitschko exploited this, and there were points in Joshua’s fight against Carlos Takam in October where the big British champ looked gassed out. A highly conditioned and aggressive Joseph Parker will not let Joshua take time off during a round, and that could be the difference maker.
So, where do Anthony Joshua’s supposed advantages lie? Barry discounts the notion that Joshua has the edge in punching power: “a lot of people are saying that, if it comes to a throw down, Anthony Joshua will have too much power. When it comes to a throw down, I can promise you that Joe will be throwing down at the same time. When Joseph Parker hits Anthony Joshua on the chin, and he goes down – and he will go down – we will not let him off. There is no way we will let him back in the fight. When Joe puts him on the canvas, Joe will finish him off.”
Barry sees Parker’s durability as the flip-side to Joshua’s power: “I know this about heavyweight boxing: you need to be able to give a punch – and both these guys can give a punch – and you need to take a punch. Joseph Parker has never been down as an amateur, as a professional, or in sparring. I’d back him against any heavyweight in the world, and we are looking forward to backing him against Anthony Joshua.”
Maybe Joshua’s advantage lies in the support of a raucous home crowd, and he certainly is wildly popular in the UK. Again, Barry thinks AJ’s advantage in this regard is over-rated: “Eddie Hearne made comments the other day, saying that he believes when Joseph Parker gets in front of a huge crowd, that he would become a different person. I can tell you this, Joseph Parker is the most relaxed fighter I have ever worked with as far as controlling his emotions. Whether it’s two, five, ten, or eighty thousand people, it is going to be the same guy that walks to the ring, the same routine that we’ve had for the last five years.” In fact, Barry feels the pressure is really on the home fighter: as the favorite, and especially after a lackluster outing against Takam, “the pressure is on Joshua for a great performance.”
Finally, it clearly rankles Team Parker that there is so much hype around Anthony Joshua and that AJ is looking past Parker: “Joshua is already talking about Tyson Fury and Wilder – this is laughable to me. If he’s really looking past Joseph Parker, he is in for a huge, rude awakening. Joshua has two names on his resume that garner respect, Carlos Takam and Wladimir Klitschko. Takam took the fight on twelve days notice, and Klitschko was 40 years old.”
Nonetheless, Barry has been in the fight game his whole life, and he can see the big picture here: “this is a great, great fight on paper, both these guys are young and both undefeated. Both are world champions, but both guys are far from the finished product. This makes for a highly exciting unification fight, and the boxing world — especially heavyweight boxing — we need this fight. There hasn’t been a unification fight for seven years. This is a great fight.”