By Tim Hammersley – After a protracted period of negotiation, the heavyweight unification fight between IBF, WBA, and IBO champion Anthony Joshua and WBO champion Joseph Parker was announced today, to be held on March 31st at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, the venue of Joshua’s last fight, a gruelling yet ultimately successful defence of his IBF belt against Carlos Takam.
Much of the discussion in the build-up to this announcement has been centred around the tactics of Team Parker’s promotional team from Duco Events, led by the characterful David Higgins. Despite being a heavyweight world champion, and having defended his title in Manchester against Hughie Fury last September, Parker has little profile in the UK and has struggled to make the level of noise required to make this fight, let alone make it a success.
To, as Higgins put it in today’s’ presser, “educate the market” they staged a widely ridiculed press conference in New Zealand where they hammered home the point of Joshua’s “glass chin” as well as the multiple times he has been dropped in his career. They then went on to offer a $10,000 bounty for anyone able to prove Parker had been dropped in amateurs or pros.
Having made a lot of noise on social media, Parker, Higgins and his team came over to London last week to try and nail down the fight, and have a contract signed. This morning, a press conference was held to announce the fight, and the tactics that have served Higgins and Parker well in making the fight were yet again on display.
Parker and Higgins time and time again questioned Joshua’s “glass chin”. Higgins challenged the previous reaction to these comments, by claiming his “statement of fact” served two purposes, in building up the rivalry between the two to make then sell the fight, as well as giving Parker exposure to the UK market, and prove that he is more than a match for AJ. Higgins further claimed that his comments have riled Joshua, with him continually stating that AJ was “mentally weaker” than Joseph Parker. It was at this point that Higgins and Parker were properly challenged over their rhetoric by Eddie Hearn, who pressed Higgins over his accusations, backing up his fighter in retort saying that AJ would not have achieved what he has, be that winning Olympic Gold, or getting up off the canvas to come back and stop Klitschko. Hearn went on to press Higgins over whether he truly believed in Parker’s chance to win the fight, or whether it was purely a money-making exercise.
Despite the slightly heated tones being traded across the table from Hearn, Higgins, and even AJ’s trainer Rob McCracken, Joshua retained his trademark calm and collected persona, determined to stay focused on the fight, and not be drawn into the sort of tactics used by Parker’s team. It appeared throughout that both fighters were keen to get down to business and that much of the controversy was being generated for purely commercial reasons by promoters from both sides, but despite this there was a tense face off during the photo call, and we shouldn’t mistake respect for the steely determination both fighters clearly have to unify the heavyweight division.
Whatever happens in the next ten weeks leading up to the fight, we can be assured that this fight will be career defining for both fighters. If AJ wins then his stock becomes even greater and he sets up an inevitable fight against Deontay Wilder, and if Parker wins then the division will be blown wide open and a rematch with AJ, a clause for which is in the contract in case of a Parker victory, would be a fascinating prospect. However, if bookies and pundits are to be trusted then whilst this may be a tough fight for both, Joshua should prevail, and continue his march towards becoming the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.