This past Saturday Anthony Joshua took on Joseph Parker in a heavyweight title unification match. Both men had already established impressive professional records, with Joshua being billed as the star, known for knockouts. In past fights Parker has come in fairly heavy, showing lackluster conditioning, but for the fight against Joshua he was in top physical form, nearly as chiseled as his statuesque opponent. His performance followed suit, demonstrating superior fighting technique, effective aggression and formidable power. The fight had all the makings of a classic.
Unfortunately, the contest descended into the kind of chaotic spectacle you expect from MMA or professional wrestling. The way the fight was conducted, not to mention how it was judged, was shameful. The complete lack of regulation obscured both fighters’ abilities. Parker’s skill was partially negated by the referee’s incompetence. Some of the most notoriously bad performances by referees in all of boxing were better than his. He interfered and disrupted action, yet he didn’t pay attention to fouls; he over-officiated and yet lacked any semblance of control.
Joshua’s signature win and career triumph (2017’s fight of the year) was brought about by what appeared to be a frantic exchange that ended in an unintentionally illegal blow (holding and hitting). After an epic struggle that forced both men to perform at their best, flailing arms resulted in Wladimir Klitschko’s head being pushed down while Joshua threw a devastating uppercut. Klitschko was one of the most successful heavyweights in the history of the sport, performing near his best, and probably would not have lost by knockout had he not been hit illegally. Realistically, there probably isn’t anyone in boxing who could go through 11 rounds like that, and then get back up after Anthony Joshua holds them down and lands a huge uppercut.
That fight was judged and officiated fairly. The holding looked unintentional and the damage was done. This past Saturday’s fight, however, was more challenging to control, and the referee was completely unprepared. Joshua leaned and held much about as any heavyweight would, but as the fight progressed, it became clear that he also consistently managed to make contact with his head and forearm. The referee never issued a warning.
Even more unbelievably, after a few rounds of brawling, Joshua began brazenly setting up the illegal shot that ended the fight against Klitschko. Over and over he looked for an opportunity to push down on the shorter fighter’s neck, step back, and throw a big uppercut. The second, even the third time he did it, I’m sure a lot of viewers thought it was still a coincidence, but by the end it was clear. Holding and hitting was part of Joshua’s game plan that night.
Having been an ardent supporter of Joshua for years now, I’m extremely disappointed in his behavior–especially given the self-righteous, wholesome image he projects. It’s not Margarito-level cheating, but a man Joshua’s size making illegal punches part of his strategy is criminal. Or it should be.
The fight ended the way many expected, a win for Joshua. There were times in the fight that Parker probably should have thrown more punches to keep the cards closer, but the final scores were far from fair. While the commentators from Showtime, on their unofficial scorecard, may have given more rounds to Parker than I would have, they showed a very close fight at the end of 12 rounds. That’s an accurate description of the fight I saw, close and exciting with Joshua taking a few more rounds.
Instead, all three judges handed in blowouts for Joshua: 119-109, 118-110, 118-110. True, Parker lost the fight pretty decisively, but who’s to say how it would have gone without the illegal blows and incompetent referee? All things considered, Anthony Joshua’s two biggest wins–and in turn, his identity–should now be marked with asterisks: Anthony Joshua, Boxer* (And part-time MMA/street fighter).
Deontay Wilder is the logical next step, though no one is expecting it to happen right away. The Brits would have you think Joshua is at a different level in terms of skill. Wilder does gets sloppy in every fight, and he struggled in his most recent bout against Luis Ortiz, who was probably a lesser challenge than Joseph Parker would have been, but I judge any disparity between Wilder and Joshua to be negligible. What Wilder lacks in skill, he more than makes up for in athleticism and heart. I would have predicted a win for Wilder in that fight even before the revealing display from this past Saturday, but now I’d say luck and muscle are more responsible than talent for Joshua’s success. Wilder is strong enough to withstand Joshua’s legal punches and large enough to have a chance to prevent him from using the tactics he used against Parker.
I really don’t want to see Joshua fight Tyson Fury, but even that would be interesting. Joshua has never fought a powerful heavyweight with any mobility, so either Fury or Wilder would be a challenge. The big showdown between Wilder and Joshua looms even larger than Joshua-Klitschko, given the difference in age in that fight. Nobody wants to see Joshua fight Povetkin or Dillian Whyte, but that’s probably what we’ll get in the mean time. Let’s just hope it’s not David Haye.