Anthony Joshua defeats Joseph Parker to become unified heavyweight champ

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Anthony Joshua celebrates with his belts after victory over Joseph Parker to become the WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight champion at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, Saturday March 31, 2018. (AP)

His performance was far from the greatest, but even a lackluster win by Anthony Joshua over Joseph Parker on Saturday accomplished what boxing fans wanted: A match between Joshua and undefeated Deontay Wilder.

Joshua vs. Wilder has been percolating for more than a year, and there was plenty of posturing going on after the bout, which Joshua won by decision.

But Joshua, who now holds the IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight title belts, said the words the world wanted to hear after a 118-110, 119-109, 118-110 unanimous decision win in front of more than 80,000 at Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales.

“Wilder, let’s go baby!” Joshua shrieked after outboxing Parker in a bout that failed to bring anyone out of their seats. “Let’s go!”

Saturday’s match was a tactical affair in which each man worked a jab and tried to avoid a massive, fight-changing mistake. Joshua’s consecutive knockout streak ended with the decision, but he wasn’t crying about that.

It certainly wasn’t Joshua’s best effort, as he gave Parker more opportunity than was needed. Parker was clearly concerned about Joshua’s power and didn’t want to engage. He used a great deal of movement and jabbed repeatedly, trying to keep Joshua off-balance and from landing a powerful right hand.

Joshua seemed uncertain at times what to do and landed no significant punches of note. He did, though, win 10 of 12 rounds on the cards of two of the judges and 11 of 12 on the third. Yahoo Sports had it closer, giving it to Joshua by a 115-113 margin.

Parker said he hoped for a rematch, but knew he’d lost an opportunity.

“He’s good; he’s a good big man,” Parker said. “He was the better man today, but I’ll be back.”

Anthony Joshua (R) battles against Joseph Parker during their WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight champion at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, Saturday March 31, 2018. (AP)

Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, said he wanted a unification fight with Wilder, but said it would have to be in the United Kingdom, where Joshua has drawn 250,000 fans in his last three fights.

Asked how realistic a Joshua-Wilder fight is, Hearn answered in the affirmative.

“It’s realistic on our side,” Hearn said.

Hearn has been tweaking Wilder, promoter Lou DiBella and manager Shelly Finkel on Twitter and in the media repeatedly, and said in the ring Saturday that the Wilder side doesn’t want the fight.

That goes against repeated public statements from DiBella, Wilder and Finkel to the opposite, including what Wilder said on Tuesday to Yahoo Sports.

Reached by phone for comment on Hearn’s comments, DiBella was angry.

“I don’t want to respond to that fool,” DiBella said of Hearn. “I don’t want to respond to him. If you want to make the fight, you sit and talk in a room behind closed doors. You don’t make a fight by being a Twitter warrior. And let me tell you this: Deontay would destroy either of those guys. Ask yourself this question: What would Luis Ortiz do to either Joshua or Parker? Honestly, think about what he might do to those guys.”

There is, though, life in the heavyweight division and that’s all that matters. The key points, though, are to make certain that the parties don’t get into such a war of words that they go too far and the fight doesn’t get made.

Even with Joshua’s uneven performance, a Joshua-Wilder unification bout for the undisputed heavyweight title would be a massive event.

Joshua kept dropping hints about wanting to fight Wilder, at one point saying, “You all know the old saying, ‘No risk, no reward.’ ”

Later, he said “Get him in the ring and I’ll knock him spark out.”

Hopefully, that is what happens and Joshua will have the chance to back up his words.

It’s boxing, though, so one never knows.

But even though Joshua-Parker reminded absolutely no one of Ali-Frazier III or Bowe-Holyfield I, it doesn’t dull the taste for a Joshua-Wilder bout for all the marbles.

Let’s make it happen.

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