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Joseph Parker is a soft-spoken, under-the-radar type of guy who isn’t prone to hyperbole or fits of ego. He’s 6 feet 4 inches, 245 pounds and an unbeaten heavyweight champion.
He’s part of the heavyweight division’s “Big Three,” if you will, though it’s unquestioned that at least at this point, he is the most lightly regarded of the heavyweight title holders.
Parker, the WBO champion who is 24-0 with 18 KOs, is almost being disregarded in his match on Saturday in Cardiff, Wales, against IBF-WBA champion Anthony Joshua. He isn’t angered by the lack of respect or demanding recognition. Joshua and WBC champion Deontay Wilder are a combined 60-0 with 59 knockouts and the world is buzzing about seeing them in a ring together later this year.
Though nearly 80,000 fans are expected to see Parker battle Joshua in Wales, the focus is on seeing Joshua get the KO to set up the showdown with Wilder for all the heavyweight titles. Parker has been relegated to a bit player in all of this.
It’s a mistake to overlook a championship opponent, particularly a big one like Parker who can punch. But by his own admission, Parker hasn’t been himself in the last two fights, decision victories over Razvan Cojanu and Hughie Fury, and some of the luster he’d built up en route to a 22-0 start with 18 knockouts was lost.
But Parker concedes he didn’t perform to his capabilities in his most recent bouts. He’s got power in his hands, but his calling card is his speed and his athleticism, and he was slow and flat-footed for long stretches of times in those bouts.
After winning the title from Andy Ruiz, he just kind of muddled his way through the Cojanu and Fury bouts, impressing few, least of all himself.
“I felt like I fell back from the performances I put on in the past,” said Parker, who is a plus-600 underdog at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. “Those last two fights, if they’re judging me on that and thinking that I’m coming into this fight being the same fighter and they feel I’m going to put on the same performance, well, this is different. I feel like we’re going back to the days where we showed a lot of speed, we showed a lot of movement [and] we showed a lot of combinations.
“That’s what’s exciting. Everyone is underestimating us and thinking we’re going to put on the same performance, but we’re going to give everyone a surprise. That’s what excites me.”
Parker said “there was a lot going on in the background” during his fights with Cojanu and Fury.
Whatever it was, it led to him becoming a shell of the guy who excited so many experts a few years ago as he was moving up the rankings.
His trainer, Kevin Barry, didn’t allude to any outside-of-the-ring distractions, but said an attempt to add bulk to Parker’s frame turned out to be a mistake.
It took away the speed that made him special.
“Joe’s still a very young heavyweight,” Barry said. “We’ve been together for five years and we’re still a long way away from a finished product. Last year, we bumped Joe up quite a bit. We put a bunch of muscle on him. We put an extra 10 pounds of weight on him and it actually doesn’t really work out for us.
“So we sat down, Joe and I, and we said that we felt he was a busier fighter, a more mobile fighter, his feet and hands were faster, when he was lighter. So for a fight like this against a big, strong, powerful guy like Joshua it was important that we went back to a mobile, lighter fighter.”
Against a powerful and aggressive guy like Joshua, who tends to move in straight lines, a flat-footed fighter is only seconds away from being a finished fighter.
But a fighter who can create angles, move away from Joshua and turn him can have success, not only by nullifying his power but also by creating openings for quick, hard shots.
Parker expects to get back to that type of fighter after his experiment with bulking up, as well as cleaning up issues with his team.
“There were numerous amounts of things that could say why we were like that,” Parker said of his ho-hum wins over Cojanu and Fury. “There’s injuries; there’s things happening in the background with my promotional team and management team, all these different things. So sometimes, when you’re focused on a fight but you have other things in the background, it may cause an upset in your training or in the fight.
“I’m not making any excuses, but this is probably the clearest my head has been and the best and most focused I’ve been. So when everyone says the last two fights haven’t been the best, I agree with them. I know I can do a lot better.”
If he does a lot better on Saturday, it would come at the most opportune time, with three of the division’s four belts at stake and the eyes of the world focused squarely on him.
Barry believes things have come together at the perfect time.
“Speed is the key,” Barry said. “We’ve always believed that Joe’s the fastest heavyweight in the world. I also believe that out of all the heavyweight champions, I think Joe has the better skill. I think he does things better than Joshua does. I think he’s more complete than Joshua. Is he as big as Joshua? No. Is his reach as long as Joshua’s? No. Joshua’s got a 100 percent knockout record but I believe Joseph Parker is a better skilled fighter than Antony Joshua and I think when we put the movement, the hand speed and the skill together, it’s going to be a very good combination and a successful combination on [Saturday].”
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