Joshua v Parker: What must AJ prove in Cardiff unification?

When it comes to fans, participants and commentators poking holes and finding fault in its standard bearers, boxing stands apart from most other sports where due credit for champions comes a little more readily.

Joshua v Parker: What must AJ prove in Cardiff unification?

Joshua v Parker: What must AJ prove in Cardiff unification?

As he prepares to take on Joseph Parker in the hope of adding the New Zealander's WBO heavyweight title to his own WBA and IBF crowns, Anthony Joshua is faced with this peculiarity.

Gone are the days of the 2012 Olympics golden boy blazing a trail with a blistering run of quickfire knockouts. Life as the next big thing invites lower levels of scrutiny than when one becomes the current big thing, which Joshua indisputably is ahead of another 80,000 sell out at Cardiff's Principality Stadium.

His bravura showing against Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley last year showed guts, skill and incredible fortitude. But Klitschko was 41 at the time, you see, and Tyson Fury played with him 17 months earlier. Joshua hauled himself up off the canvas heroically, but only had to because he's "chinny".

Whataboutery is grasped for so readily in boxing circles that virtually all achievements, past and present, can be dismissed if you are so minded. Team Parker have played this sceptics' role relentlessly during the build-up to Saturday's showdown, but how legitimate are the questions they and others continue to ask regarding Joshua's capabilities?

Chin

Central to the publicity campaign waged by Parker and his handlers as negotiations over the fight took place was drawing attention to a perceived weakness around Joshua's whiskers. He was badly wobbled by a left hook from Dillian Whyte before explosively stopping his domestic rival in seven in December 2015 and went through hell to see off Klitschko, climbing off the canvas and somehow surviving a torrid sixth round.

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Parker is yet to endure similar trials and believes he would not let a staggered Joshua off the hook in the same fashion, although the lack of a knockout win in his past three outings suggests the 26-year-old's capacity to inflict the initial damage might not be sufficient. By the same token, any wobbles against Parker – even in victory – would leave the dynamite-fisted WBC champion Deontay Wilder licking his lips.



Skills

Joshua can take any chin talk out of the equation by putting on a demonstration of ring generalship that ensures the shorter, squatter Parker does not get near him. You do not become an Olympic champion without sound fundamentals and Joshua possesses a ramrod jab and good footwork for a fighter of his considerable dimensions. Nevertheless, his early days in the professional ranks predictably never extended these abilities and it was will rather than skill that saw him past Klitschko and, to a lesser extent, Whyte.

Despite winning virtually every round before stopping Carlos Takam last time out, plodding predictability was an unwelcome element in Joshua's display. Parker, also an accomplished amateur, has stated he will outbox the 28-year-old. He could be just the challenge Joshua, working again under the guidance of his esteemed trainer Robert McCracken, needs to unfurl his full repertoire.

Weight and stamina

A theory posited by Fury, among others, was that Joshua's stamina was failing him around the time referee Phil Edwards waved off the Takam fight. How much of an issue this might have been is a moot point given the lopsided nature of the scorecards in Cardiff last October, but Joshua also gassed badly during his mid-round ordeal against Klitschko. Having weighed in at a career-high 18 stone, two pounds against Takam – a sparring partner for the Briton in this training camp – it is fair to say the heavily muscled Joshua was carrying needless bulk.

Hauling so much around a ring for 12 rounds is sapping work and also stands to compromise the speed that is so vital to his much-vaunted power. Joshua looking leaner this fight week and reports from camp of a man paying far more attention to the scales are welcome developments that point towards a performance to silence the naysayers – at least for as long as such a thing is ever possible in boxing.

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