Joshua v Parker: Is the best yet to come from Anthony Joshua?

Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko
Wladimir Klitschko is considered one of the greatest heavyweights of all time - can Joshua match the Ukrainian's achievements?
Anthony Joshua v Joseph Parker
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff Date: Saturday, 31 March
Coverage: Live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and mobile app

At a news conference in December 2016 to announce Anthony Joshua's showdown against Wladimir Klitschko, the two men posed for photographs and gave interviews on the pitch at Wembley Stadium as notices hanging from chains by the touchline carried the message: 'Where players enter and legends leave'.

Four months later, Joshua and Klitschko resurrected the glamorous image of the heavyweight division on a night which will help define both men forever.

Joshua has parked the memories and accepts the building of legendary status takes more than a single evening, although there are many factors involved in making an indelible mark on boxing history.

Klitschko, for example, won 25 of his 29 world title fights and boasted a knockout ratio of 77% across his career. Sonny Liston had only four world championship contests, losing half of them, yet his appeal as a fearsome puncher means he is remembered just as fondly in certain parts of the world.

Joshua has the character, charisma, talent and power in place to mould a lasting reputation, with ringcraft which is improving fight by fight.

In a recent interview, the WBA and IBF champion told me of his respect for the likes of Floyd Mayweather and Roger Federer and their ability to recycle motivation as the years and challenges go by. Longevity is the preserve of the finest.

So while Las Vegas and a fight against WBC champion Deontay Wilder might beckon for Joshua in the minds of those who believe Joseph Parker is a mere inconvenience, Joshua is more circumspect.

He went to the fight capital of the world on one of a number of annual trips organised by his amateur club Finchley ABC before he won Olympic gold and the momentum has intensified in recent weeks for him to return in a very different guise.

Nurturing by the likes of Sean Murphy and Johnny Oliver and other coaches at Finchley has underpinned Joshua's growth from clubmate to superstar and honed his mentality and his humility in such a way that Parker will be afforded maximum respect. Wilder and Vegas can wait.

Joseph Parker face Hughie Fury
Parker beat Hughie Fury on points to retain the WBO heavyweight title ahead of his fight with Anthony Joshua

A New Zealander of Samoan heritage, Parker has never been decked as an amateur or professional and brings a degree of speed, movement and pedigree missing in many of today's leading heavyweights. His three world title fights have all gone the distance, suggesting his power at the highest level is decent rather than destructive.

For me, his best performance in 24 straight wins came against Carlos Takam, the French-based Cameroonian beaten by Joshua last time out. Parker met Takam almost two years ago, before becoming the WBO champion, and came through a stern test of strength and endurance.

Takam lasted the full 12 rounds, whereas Joshua stopped him in 10, but Parker's performance was equally creditable given the circumstances. Takam had not been drafted in as a late substitute and, at the time, was generally regarded as somebody best avoided by young prospects.

How Parker copes with the occasion, across the whole of fight week, will be crucial to his chances in Cardiff. There is no way of practising or visualising a ring-walk in front of 80,000 people - and there are few fighters to turn to for reference points. Parker, though, seems the type to hold firm.

Joshua's trainer Robert McCracken felt his man should have made more use of the jab against Takam in October and the lead left hand could be even more important against Parker.

The Kiwi sometimes drifts backwards in straight lines and the jab will help Joshua to close the distance before following up with power shots from both hands.

Joshua rates as Britain's best heavyweight since Lennox Lewis and there are career parallels beyond their Olympic gold medals.

Parker is Joshua's 21st opponent; Lewis fought the highly-regarded Canadian Donovan 'Razor' Ruddock in his 22nd pro outing, winning inside four minutes at London's Earls Court and shortly afterwards being awarded the WBC title when the American Riddick Bowe, who had lost to Lewis in the 1988 Olympic final, refused to be drawn into a rematch.

Lennox Lewis beats Donovan Ruddock
On watching Lewis' victory, American Sportscaster Larry Merchant declared, "We have a great new heavyweight"

The referee at Earl's Court, Joe Cortez, said Lewis behaved "like a man with ice in his veins" and the manner in which Joshua responded to adversity against Klitschko last year was indication of a similar big-night demeanour.

At the time, in late-1992, Lewis was still being criticised for displaying amateur tendencies in his fighting style and the same applies to Joshua now.

Lewis was lauded by the great trainer Emanuel Steward as a brilliant all-round athlete; Joshua won a version of the BBC's Superstars after the 2012 Olympics, taking the 100m sprint in 11.53 seconds

Such athleticism is rare in a modern heavyweight and Joshua squandered some of the advantages by weighing-in so heavy last time (at 18st 2lbs).

It is a measure of Joshua's traction that boxing moves into the mainstream for the week of his fights, his appeal all-embracing.

He finds himself at ease in any company and, as his promoter Eddie Hearn says on this week's 5 live Boxing podcast, there's never been anyone like him in this country.

We're just 20 fights into his pro career and already a quarter of it is made up of world title action. Spend any amount of time in the company of him and McCracken and it is hard to avoid the notion that the best is yet to come.

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