When Anthony Joshua defeated Joseph Parker to unify the WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO world titles in front of a sellout crowd in Cardiff’s Principality Stadium, praise was in surprisingly short supply. Accustomed to seeing Joshua flatten his opponents, often in devastating fashion, the boxing public were perhaps simply bemused that the Brit could jab his way to a points victory and use improved footwork to navigate his way out of trouble without using the dynamite in his right hand. But the reality is a little more disappointing than that.
After the contest the naysayers bemoaned a ‘boring fight’, one where AJ turned in a dramaless, indifferent performance, and insisted that Tyson Fury/ Deontay Wilder/ Alexander Povetkin would beat him comfortably, which is of course exactly what they were saying before the contest too. In fact, in the buildup to Joshua-Parker, it was proven beyond doubt that this is boxing’s most persistent broken record as the social media talk of a Joshua-Wilder fight eclipsed that of the Joshua-Parker fight. Try as they might, promoters Matchroom couldn’t seem to stop discussion in the media and online turning from the upcoming fight to whatever hypothetical ones there may be in the future.
Joshua, therefore, finds himself in a somewhat unenviable position. No matter who he fights next out of Wilder, Fury or Povetkin, he probably won’t be congratulated; he will instead be ridiculed for failing to fight one of the other two, in a bizarre merry-go-round of unfounded assertions, finger pointing, and blame. In the meantime, the victory over Parker is not only considered yesterday’s news in terms of its relevance; it barely made today’s papers.
As paying fans, we owe it to ourselves not to get too caught up in the rumour mill, and focus instead on the fight at hand. The Parker fight deserves to be remembered, not as a yardstick used to measure AJ’s chances against Deontay Wilder or Tyson Fury, but as a contest in its own right. Yes, there was no knockout, but the contest was still hugely valuable. We now know, for example, that AJ can go 12 rounds without tiring (a concern many fans have had in the past), but more importantly, we discovered his ability to stick to a game plan.
Parker, lest we forget, was an undefeated world champion with good boxing instincts and a punch to match. Joshua kept the New Zealander on the end of a ramrod jab, and displayed improved footwork in moving himself out of range when Parker came forward. True, the contest failed to properly ignite, but a) that is partly down to the referee, who doused the fires of the fight as soon as they started, and b) quite simply, boxing is like that sometimes.
Still, his efforts were dismissed nonetheless and attentions immediately turned to the future once the final bell rang. An exasperated Joshua knows this feeling only too well: “How many times?” he sighed as the post fight interview moved swiftly onto Wilder predictions and purse splits. “[I’ve got] every one of these [world titles], and I’m gonna be one of the most powerful men sitting at the negotiating table. So why do I have to do all this work to still have to give someone else a bonus? Can I get a bonus now? Can I get a little pat on the back now?”
We must remember to celerate a boxer’s achievements as and when they earn them. Some of us are too content to sit back in our chairs, arms folded, and say “Right. Now fight Wilder.” I ask you this: say he fights Wilder next, and wins. What then? Do we keep indignantly shrugging our shoulders and demand that he face challenger after challenger? And if he beats all of them, what then? Continue shrugging, and insist he would have been beaten by Mike Tyson? What’s the point, other than to have yet another argument?
We need to call fighters out on their misdemeanours (the uproar when fighters fail a drug test is wholly understandable), but they deserve our praise and support too. Boxing is hard enough without the constant demands to fight someone else, someone new, someone next, as soon as their hand is raised in triumph. At least let the fighters enjoy the spoils of victory, because if we deny them that, pretty soon we won’t have a sport worth following.