Cardiff set for world heavyweight unification bout
Anthony Joshua says he must “simplify the madness” of the most anticipated fight in boxing in 2018 when he meets Joseph Parker in Cardiff on Saturday.
Joshua’s IBF and WBA world titles will be on the line, as will Parker’s WBO belt, in the first heavyweight unification bout held on British soil.
Some 78,000 fans are expected at the Principality Stadium on fight night – a new level of scrutiny for Parker.
“If he loses composure in the ring, I will be able to tell,” said Joshua, 28.
“Even though it’s a phenomenal atmosphere there is one ring, one referee. If I’m in any arena, you just have to simplify the madness and the chaos,” Joshua told BBC Radio 5 live Breakfast.
‘The envy of the boxing world’
Promoter Eddie Hearn this week told the BBC about a letter he received asking for a character reference when Joshua was in legal trouble in 2011 after being charged for the intent to supply cannabis.
Hearn said he did not know Joshua at the time and refused the request. But he recalled that months later he was at Sheffield’s English Institute of Sport and heard a noise “like something being taken off its hinges” – it was Joshua hitting a heavy bag.
Hearn went on to promote the London 2012 gold medallist.
On Saturday, Joshua will earn an estimated £15m and sell out a third stadium event in 11 months, taking the total of sold seats to a quarter of a million.
“This has never happened in British boxing before,” Hearn told BBC Sport. “We should appreciate it, embrace it and have a great time.
“Isn’t it great that everyone from around the world is tuning in and people will be saying ‘that’s in Britain’. We are the envy of the boxing world.”
Parker, by comparison, has not competed in front of more than 10,000 fans on any one night as a pro and this payday, rumoured to be close to £7m, will dwarf anything he has earned before.
The New Zealander, who started boxing from around the age of five, enjoyed a solid amateur career – including silver at the World Youth Championships in 2010.
Unlike Joshua, he has never been knocked down as an amateur or a professional, a fact his team have repeatedly pointed to since they began chasing this fight around a year ago.
Since then, Parker has defeated Hughie Fury on British soil and undergone surgery on both elbows to correct pain he felt while punching.
His team say the operation has helped him punch 20% harder and there is no doubt Parker will need improvements on recent displays if he is to defy bookmakers, who make Joshua a heavy favourite.
“There are no excuses from my side,” Parker, 26, told BBC Sport. “I am 100% ready. No injury, no niggles, I back myself to be the best in the world, there’s no need to be flinching.
“So many scenarios can play out in the first round. If it’s down to me, I’m going to chase him.”
Where are you, Deontay?
Victory for Joshua on Saturday will see the already intense talk of a bout for all four belts against WBC champion Deontay Wilder reach new highs.
But Wilder – unbeaten in 40 fights – has refused an invitation to be ringside, a move which Hearn feels was a “major PR blunder” on the American’s part.
Hearn labelled Wilder a “cry baby” as talks for him to attend appear to have broken down when the Alabama fighter was told he could not get into the ring to lay down a challenge to Joshua should he win.
Others in the media feel Wilder did not want to be here and face questions about why he does not take on Dillian Whyte – another Hearn fighter – after the Briton’s impressive win over Lucas Browne last week.
And there are even some who believe Wilder will yet show up to stir a frenzied heavyweight scene a little more.
‘AJ in six explosive rounds’ – Predictions
Shenkin the goat from the Royal Welsh regiment predicts the winner between Joshua & Parker Joshua will boast a two-inch height advantage and around a six-inch reach advantage, meaning Parker will need to work to get close.
Perhaps that’s why Welsh rugby mascot Shenkin the goat predicted Joshua would win in round 11.
But what do boxing aficionados think?
BBC boxing correspondent Mike Costello: “It could evolve into one of Joshua’s toughest tests. In the end, I think Joshua will simply be too big. I think he is such a sponge in terms of absorbing information in his career, I think we will see an improved Joshua, and a winning one.”
Former two-weight world champion Ricky Hatton: “Parker has quick hands for a heavyweight and he could give Joshua problems for a few rounds. But can he do it for 12 rounds? I don’t think he can. I can see Joshua getting to him in the middle rounds and stopping him in the second half of the fight.”
Ex-world lightweight champion Anthony Crolla, who fights on the undercard: “I think AJ will take it inside six explosive rounds. I think Parker may have a little success but I just see AJ having the heavier artillery.”
Former world cruiserweight champion Johnny Nelson: “Parker is fit. I would be surprised if AJ knocks him out clean but I think there will be a stoppage or the towel comes in. AJ needs to hurt him and establish who he is from the off.”
A truly stellar undercard
Ryan Burnett says he will ‘relish’ defending WBA bantamweight title on Joshua-Parker bill Saturday’s event, under a closed roof, will be televised around the world, with huge numbers expected to watch in New Zealand and Samoa, where Parker’s parents hail from.
And the undercard is stacked with eye-catching fights, none more so than WBA bantamweight world champion Ryan Burnett’s title defence against Yonfrez Parejo.
Northern Ireland’s Burnett , 25, told BBC Sport he expects a “career-best display”, while his gym partner Josh Kelly, 24, says he will show how the “young talent of Britain can step up” when he takes on Mexico’s former world champion Carlos Molina at welterweight.
Former world champion Crolla told media on Thursday he is eyeing “big summer fights” but vowed to respect Mexico’s Edson Ramirez and Cardiff’s Joe Cordina will fight at his country’s national stadium for the second time.
Cordina, 26, has recently been sparring Jorge Linares in Los Angeles and is currently living with training partner Ricky Burns.
“Ricky Burns, a three-weight world champion, I learn everything off him,” said Cordina, who faces Belgium’s Hakim Ben Ali. “His work ethic, I take note of everything. I believe I can get to that level.”
And British heavyweight David Price is a massive underdog against the highly-ranked Alexander Povetkin but says a win would “change his life” and eradicate low points in his career in recent years.
The first bell on what looks set to be a frenetic evening will sound around 18:00 BST, with Joshua expected in the ring around 22:30 BST.