The boxing entrance is the sporting equivalent of the guitar solo, the moment when the stage is given over to you, and only you. You walk to that ring, you step through those ropes, let go a couple of windmill riffs and 80,000 people go nuts. And, if you are Anthony Joshua, millions more holler their adoration via sundry broadcast channels in 215 territories worldwide, at least according to the promotional audit, that is.
In this uber PC period it’s a wonder prize fighting survives, two big lumps throwing anvils at each other for our entertainment. The number of global eyeballs on Cardiff demonstrates the appetite for the mano-a-mano spectacle in 2018. Joshua and his opponent Joseph Parker attracted more than 4,000 punters to yesterday’s pre-fight nibbles, also known as the weigh-in, which in these drama-driven times has become an intrinsic part of the show.
The majority come to commune with the Homeric Joshua and thus far he is worthy of the adulation, 20 fights, 20 KOs, the embodiment of the sporting hero, physically arresting, mentally indomitable and spiritually clean. He looks like a god and talks like a sage, his words measured, modest and humble. You want him to win because he feels like the good guy. Hell, the more so because he had to exorcise the bad guy to reach this virtuous state.
It could have gone belly up when he was charging about the margins in the North London/Watford badlands, but as the Hollywood pen dictates he found a better way via boxing. The noble art saved him and rewarded us, and here we are, witness to the first world heavyweight title fight between unbeaten champions on British soil and the first anywhere since Mike Tyson dominated Tony Tucker in Las Vegas 31 years ago. Was Tyson’s reign of terror so distant? Wow. Joshua, holder of the WBA and IBF belts is, of course, cast as the anti-Tyson, not that WBO champion Parker will discern one iota of difference once that bell calls them forth.
Such is the narrative heft gathering about Joshua, his enterprising front man, Eddie Hearn, is already reaching out to the unbeaten WBC bad man Deontay Wilder to set up the big show in Las Vegas, the one where Brad Pitt turns up with Madonna alongside Barack and Michelle, Posh and Becks, Tiger Woods, Steph Curry, Beyonce, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. It’s the ONE, Joshua’s Rocky moment, the engagement that propels him from Graham Norton’s sofa to Oprah’s.
But first to Parker, who, rooted as he is in the deep rhythms of an ancient Maori culture, occupies the same Corinthian ground as Joshua; respectful, courteous and proud. Cardiff represents the culmination of a long campaign by his handlers to land the game-changer with Joshua.
To get here he quit New Zealand for London following his WBO title victory against lightly-regarded Mexican American Andy Ruiz and started to make some noise. This is only his second fight outside New Zealand. His first, a dull defence against the spoiling Hughie Fury in Manchester, might be seen as an audition.
The difficulty of properly assessing the degree of jeopardy facing Joshua, beyond noting Parker’s routine points win over common opponent Carlos Takam in a WBO title eliminator, creates space for lavish speculation.
The percussive claims of Parker’s trainer Kevin Barry would have Sonny Liston hiding under the bed. The rolling out of the Haka at the weigh-in was another clunking chunk of ceremonial propaganda attempting to link Parker to the thread of invincibility shared by those other Haka imbibers, the All Blacks.
It is perhaps enough that Parker, who weighed in six pounds the lighter at 16st 12lbs, has all of Joshua’s attention. “Parker looked really good, that is what I expect from a champion. We are creating history. There has always been talk about what is happening next but Parker is my focus,” said Joshua, who at 17st 4lbs is almost a stone lighter than when he met Wladimir Klitschko 11 months ago. “Carrying extra weight makes things difficult. Losing that weight makes it a little bit easier. I feel better. If everything goes to plan I will be a lot sharper and my reactions better.”
To underline the wholesome nature of the violence, the pair shook hands after the staredown, authenticating the duel in a way the faux hatred of most machismo-laden chest-offs never can. Asked what he saw when he looked into the eyes of his opponent Parker was obliging, generous and steadfast.
“I saw confidence,” Parker said. “It makes me think he is taking it seriously. He’s in good shape. I’m in good shape. He’s a good champion. I’m expecting a really good fight. It’s about who executes the game plan best. I’m ready for anything. He is going to have to give everything to beat me.”