Anthony Joshua is giving fans what they want with Joseph Parker unification bout

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Britain’s Anthony Joshua (20-0, 20 KOs) will meet New Zealand’s Joseph Parker in a heavyweight title unification bout in Cardiff on Saturday. (AP)
Britain’s Anthony Joshua (20-0, 20 KOs) will meet New Zealand’s Joseph Parker in a heavyweight title unification bout in Cardiff on Saturday. (AP)

Boxing is a business, as we’ve relentlessly been reminded by promoters, managers, boxers and television executives who have done their level best to suck the life and excitement out of the sport.

In the name of business, they delay – or avoid altogether – fights the fans (their customers) want to see. They remind us with their words and actions that what goes on in the boardroom is more important than what happens between the ropes.

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A few people who work in boxing have the noble idea of leaving it in a better place than they found it. But most want to suck it of everything it will give them and move on, unconcerned about future generations.

But then a guy like Anthony Joshua comes around and helps restore your love of the sport, despite the business.

The IBF-WBA heavyweight champion is the biggest star in the sport and it’s precisely because of his joie de vivre. It’s obvious he loves what he is doing, and so we love to watch him.

He’ll meet WBO heavyweight champ Joseph Parker in a title unification bout on Saturday in Cardiff, Wales, and a U.S. television audience on Showtime.

This is a bout that simply doesn’t happen in boxing these days, at least not without a long and protracted struggle. It took years to get Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez into a ring with each other.

Jose Ramirez just won the WBC super lightweight belt, and instead of pitting him against his mandatory challenger, interim champion Regis Prograis in what figures to be an outstanding bout, his team is trying to get around that edict and give him a few lesser defenses in his hometown of Fresno, California.

Business, baby.

But the business in this case is a professional sport, and sports are intended to be fun. If they’re not, not many will watch.

Joshua has drawn nearly 170,000 fans to his last two bouts, and figures to add another 80,000 to that on Saturday when he fights Parker in Principality Stadium in Cardiff.

After he won the belt from Charles Martin in 2016, he could have sat on it, but in 18 months, found himself in the ring in a unification bout with Wladimir Klitschko, one of the all-time great heavyweights. Less than a year after that fight, which was Fight of the Year, Joshua will be in the ring with Parker.

And if he wins, there’s a good chance he’ll be in the ring later this year with WBC champion Deontay Wilder in a bout which will give promoters a license to print money.

Joshua not only fights an exciting style – How can you not love a guy who is 20-0 with 20 knockouts but who gets up, swinging for the fences, when he’s knocked down? – but he appreciates that the business needs the big fights in order to thrive.

And so, even days away from a difficult challenge against Parker, Joshua doesn’t shy away from questions about Wilder, because he knows that talking about, and taking, big fights is good for the sport and great for his brand.

He knows Parker is a challenge and looking down the road has been fatal to many a potential superstar, so he weaves in both parts of the narrative.

He wanted to fight Wilder, he said, but business realities prevented the bout from occurring. So, he took the next best challenge and is zeroed in on winning Parker’s WBO belt. That would give him three of the four major championships, which will only enhance his global recognition.

“We reached out to Deontay Wilder’s team before the fight with Joseph Parker was made. And once that fight didn’t happen, I put Wilder aside and focused solely on Parker,” Joshua said. “I’m not the one overlooking Joseph Parker and I’m not the one hooting and hollering about what’s happening next. I’m really focused on Parker because as you know, if I don’t get past Parker, it slows down the train and derails everything we’re trying to achieve in terms of becoming the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.”

He’s not so focused on Parker, though, that he doesn’t know what lies ahead. And ask him if he thinks of Wilder and he doesn’t dodge the question.

“One-hundred 10 percent,” Joshua said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that fight will happen. And there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll beat Wilder as well. … There’s a lot of pressure from fans in America, media and the papers for Wilder to step up and fight. And now we’re here and I’m that champion and I’m definitely looking forward to it. That’s why back-to-back, I’ve been racking up these belts one by one and taking fights.”

He’s showing the way, and still aware that with just 10 years total as a boxer, including his amateur career, he’s still very much a work in progress.

As good as he is, and as fun as he is to watch, he could be much different, and much better, two or three years from now. And that’s what he’s heading toward.

“When I look at boxing now, everybody talks about what I need to do to be a great champion and it seems to me that it’s a right hand and a good chin,” Joshua said. “We might as well go to the night clubs around England and America and just find the biggest and ugliest looking guy and he’ll become heavyweight champion. What I need to do to become a great champion is just work on my all-around game, the fundamentals. We’re talking about balance, footwork and understanding the distance between being in range and out of range. Perfecting your jab. Use your jab 50 times before you throw your right hand.

“Let’s make sure your right hand is in the right position to defend a left hook in case you get countered. Everything. That’s why I say when I fought Wladimir Klitschko, he had enough time to make mistakes and come back and reign supreme as a champion. So over time, in these types of fights I’ve had early on in my career, I’ve learned what will play massive roles later on when I become one of the dominant fighters in the heavyweight division.”

He already is one of the dominant fighters in the division. It will be a treat to see where he goes.

Hopefully, his example rubs off not only on other fighters, but on those who run the business.

Because if Joshua’s example proves anything, it’s that if you give the fans what they ask for, they’ll turn out in big numbers to support it.

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