CARDIFF, WALES - MARCH 31: Anthony Joshua and Joseph Parker exchange punches during their WBA, IBF, WBO & IBO Heavyweight Championship title fight at Principality Stadium on March 31, 2018 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

The view from Cardiff: Joseph Parker is all class to the bitter end

Joseph Parker came up short in his bout against heavyweight superstar Anthony Joshua this evening, but in doing so he might have won a bigger victory yet – that of class over crass. Don Rowe reports from Cardiff. 

Whoever wants to beat Britain’s Anthony Joshua from here on out better bring a second man or a crowbar to the ring, because at this rate it’s a clear 2 versus 1 from the opening bell. From the horrendous stoppage in the Carlos Takam fight to the amateurish officiating versus Joseph Parker today, it seems as though officials are incapable of calling an Anthony Joshua fight down the middle.

Every time Parker worked his way inside Joshua’s titanic reach at Principality Stadium, referee Giuseppe Quartarone jumped in like a teacher breaking up a schoolyard brawl, separating the fighters and putting Parker once again at the end of Joshua’s jab. This is catastrophic for a shorter fighter who’s only real advantage comes from fighting up close. There were brief flashes of what appeared to be a heavyweight title fight, but Quartarone did his damnedest to stifle any action the minute the fighters got loose, turning a bout with the makings of an all time classic into yet another example of how the mediocrity of a referee can tarnish the performance of truly superb fighters.

This would be egregious in any match, but particularly so given what success a game Parker did manage to achieve came only in the scrappy transitions between fighting at range and chest to chest.

He had flashes of brilliance. In the virtual colosseum of Principality Stadium, Parker hinted at a knockout victory on several occasions, but was ultimately unable to land sufficient combinations to truly split the guard of Anthony Joshua. It had long been posited by boxing pundits that Parker’s best chance remained in close, and Quartarone’s consistent interventions made such a strategy all but impossible – as reluctant as Parker himself was to acknowledge it

“We are not blaming the ref,” he said after the bout, “but we wanted to go and work the inside and throw more punches.”

I for one do blame the ref, and support the calls already issued online for him to be removed from officiating such blue ribbon events. That being said, it was nonetheless a clear win for Anthony Joshua. Over 12 rounds he worked behind a masterful jab, stinging Joseph Parker to the head and body, and avoiding the vast majority of the game Kiwi’s offence.

Anthony Joshua punches Joseph Parker during there WBA, IBF, WBO & IBO Heavyweight Championship title fight at Principality Stadium on March 31, 2018 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

While the fight may have been closer than the 118-110, 118-110, 119-109 cards offered by the judges, there remains no doubt who was the better boxer on the night.

Kudos however to Parker, who seemed poised, unflappable, and exceedingly focused in front of the 80,000 fans at Principality Stadium. There can be no doubt as to his ability to perform on the biggest stage in boxing and, as promoter David Higgins said, hall of famer Wladimir Klitschko racked up three losses before claiming his first championship belt – Parker is far from done if he chooses to continue his pursuit of the top spot in heavyweight boxing. A small cut aside, he was never hurt, never in any danger of being stopped, and on reaching the final bell he quashed Joshua’s 20-fight knockout streak with nary a scratch to show for it.

Cardiff itself however was something of a mess this evening, with the 80,000 strong crowd washing upon the stadium jangling empty beer cans like a hillbilly wedding convoy. There are myriad supermarkets within cooee of the arena, and despite a liquor ban prohibiting any more than four beverages per person, the streets were like a Jackson Pollock canvas of vomit by 6pm. On leaving the fight, as I unsuccessfully hunted for some semblance of accommodation, things had deteriorated further. The whole place looked like the Queen Street McDonald’s after a rave at the Auckland Town Hall.

But perhaps that’s appropriate. Boxing is, of course, a dirty business. From the war of words necessitated by the promotional aspect of this superfight, to the chaotic refereeing, to the torrents of spilt beer and cider running down the steps at Principality Stadium, it’s been one hell of a mess. But above all, it’s been entertaining, and Joseph Parker has proven he can enthral the masses, bear the weight of two countries, and take defeat on the chin without tarnishing his character in the slightest. And maybe that’s the biggest victory of all.

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