This time last year, they said that this was it for Anthony Joshua – the pinnacle, the absolute zenith for a relative rookie, the ultimate challenge. Wladimir Klitschko – a member of the heavyweight pantheon, one half of one of sport’s most dominant duos, a wounded animal on the back of a lacklustre defeat to Tyson Fury. Joshua overcame that test, writing himself and April 29th 2017 into fighting folklore.
Twelve months on, here we are again. The stakes, this time, have never been higher. A win over Joseph Parker and the world is Joshua’s oyster, even more so than it already was.
The darling of British boxing would be one fight from his own one-man club. Nobody has unified the most brutal of divisions this century. Lennox Lewis was the last, completing the feat in 1999.
Talk, however, is premature. It is dangerous. Even the most cumbersome heavyweight has a puncher’s chance. And Parker is anything but unwieldy. Light on his feet and sharp with his hands, he is a smooth operator. For a man two years younger than Joshua, he is less raw and remarkably polished. He is also, perhaps, less thrilling; without the requisite powerful brutality that has enabled Joshua to rake in pay-per-view customers by the million.
What Parker might lack in comparative stature, however, he possesses in Maori steel. He brings with him a classy demeanour, the like of which is evident, too, in Joshua’s own character. The contrast between the pair and the unrestrained fervour of Deontay Wilder could scarcely be greater.
Apparently, Wilder, the Alabaman giant, will not be in Cardiff, passing up the chance to eye up a winner-takes-all contest with whoever comes out on top at the Principality Stadium. For either Parker or Joshua, stepping into the ring with the American is walking unto treacherous territory. His unbridled passion goes well beyond the trash-talk exterior. He is rawer than both the Englishman or the New Zealander, but with extraordinary power through both trunk-like arms.
For Joshua though, much like the Klitschko fight nearly 12 months ago, Parker is both target and pinnacle in the quest for unification and world domination. Given their respective styles, Wilder represents the type of challenge that Joshua relishes – the kind of slugfest that made his battle with Dillian Whyte so enthralling and the reason for which Joshua has been so open to the possibility of a rematch down the line.
On the other – and more pressing – hand, Parker is intelligent. By no means cagey, there is more strategic clarity to his armoury. In his press conference, he admitted that he had not yet decided whether to knock out Joshua or to beat him on points. Beneath the rare show of bravado, there probably lies a half-truth in that. Does he have the power to take Joshua down? We shall see. Does he have the boxing game to last 12 rounds? Absolutely.
Whatever happens, it should be exhilarating. Joshua is favourite, but Parker is no stepping stone.