Joseph Parker was exactly where he wanted to be in his heavyweight unification title fight against Anthony Joshua.
Eight rounds into the contest, the now former WBO champion had taken the giant Brit’s best punches with little ado, and unloaded some stinging shots of his own.
With Joshua having never been beyond 11 rounds and, in fact, seldom beyond the third round in his 19 previous professional fights, it was thought the demands of the ‘championship rounds’ would expose a chink in the armour of the IBO, WBA and IBF champion. Joshua, after all, had looked gassed in the latter stages of several recent fights before rallying to close the show with a thunderous knockout.
If that pattern continued and he tired against Parker, the Kiwi would get his chance to shock the world. Unfortunately for the plucky Parker, Joshua simply never faded.
The four kilograms the 28-year-old knock-out artist had shed from his usual fighting weight proved the decisive factor in a contest that was chess match from inception through to the final bell.
In the end it was Joshua who finished the final round looking impervious, with Parker gamely clinging on to the finish line.
That Parker got to the final bell unscathed, unbowed and considerably wealthier than he had been 47 minutes earlier was a meritorious achievement in itself.
He may not have slain the dragon, but Parker did expose the myth that Joshua is an unstoppable force the likes of which the sport has not previously seen. Joshua’s perfect record of 20 stoppages in 20 fights suggested a fighter who possessed irresistible power. Parker resisted it. Comfortably.
But he lost equally as comfortably, the three judges scoring it 118-110, 118-110 and 119-109 in Joshua’s favour. Those numbers meant Parker won just one or two rounds in the eyes of the judges.
He simply couldn’t break down a sound technical fighter who was prepared to use his superior size and solid jab to control proceedings from the outside.
Parker’s best moments came in the fifth and sixth rounds, when he poured on enough pressure to unsettle Joshua and claim the momentum heading in to the second half of the fight. But the price he paid in gaining that dominance proved too high. And by the time that chance he had been plotting for and dreaming of arrived, the Kiwi was a spent force.
He had enough left in the tank to survive, but nowhere near enough to overwhelm an opponent who now stands within a victory over WBC champion Deontay Wilder of unifying the division.
“Forget the hype,” Joshua said. “Joseph Parker is a world champion. I knew he was going to be determined. Sometimes it does become a boxing match, not a fight. Joseph Parker stated this would be a war. I stated it would be boxing finesse. I stuck to my word. I controlled it behind the jab, the counter punches. The main thing that we cannot forget is that I am the unified champion of the world.”
Indeed. But Wilder will hardly be quaking in his boots. The American will believe with even more certainty that it is he who packs the biggest punch in the division.
For Parker, a solid, myth-busting performance is enough to ensure he is a still a relevant player in the division.
“Today I got beaten by a better champion, a better man,” Parker said. “No regrets. I’ll take it on the chin and come back stronger. We’ll be back again.”