In the final event ahead of Sunday morning’s historic heavyweight title fight, Joseph Parker and Anthony Joshua weighed in in front of 4000 drunken fans. Don Rowe reports from Cardiff.
The propensity of the Welsh to drink may seem an exaggeration, but as the festivities kicked off at the weigh ins in Cardiff this afternoon, the arena had the vibe (and smell) of an intensely boozy gig. Never before have I seen beer served in such giant cups, or so many so drunk, so early in the day. More people had turned out for what was essentially a formality than saw Parker defeat Carlos Takam at the Vodafone Events Centre in Manukau, and they weren’t there to piss around.
An odd atmosphere then to hear a karanga, the haunting wavering contrasted with 4000 hooligan chants of “Anthony Joshua”, adapted as usual to the melody of Seven Nation Army. A group of Maori and Samoan warriors performed Tika Tonu before boxing legend Roy Jones Jr’s iconic (and only) rap single ‘Can’t Be Stopped’ began and Parker entered the arena to a surge of boos, with only a rogue chee hoo or two from the bleachers.
By contrast, when Anthony Joshua appeared in the tunnel with a full brass band, it was as if the fight had already been won. All talk from Parker’s camp about Welsh and English animosity looks to be just that – Cardiff Arena was rapturous. “Go on AJ, what a lad,” said a bald and slightly swaying man, beer in hand, his daughter clinging to his shoulders like a marsupial. “He’s absolutely massive innit.”
In fact Joshua came in at his lightest in 10 fights – an absolutely shredded 109kg, with a full eight-pack and mountainous deltoids. Should Parker by some miracle retire Joshua come Saturday night, a career in bodybuilding certainly isn’t out of the question. Some people believe he’s already got the drugs.
Parker has trimmed down too, weighing in at a svelte 107kg, 5kg lighter than in his last bout with Britain’s Hughie Fury, cousin of the notorious ‘Gypsy King’ Tyson Fury, whose relinquished WBO heavyweight belt Parker now holds. While he lacks the herculean physique of Joshua, it was a promising sign for those counting on a war of attrition proving the best path to victory. Parker was relaxed, smiling, supremely confident.
“Joseph Parker looked really good but I wouldn’t expect anything else from a champion,” said Joshua.
As at Tuesday’s press conference, Joshua broke gaze first when the fighters squared up. Team Parker has put huge emphasis on the psychological side of this bout, but regardless it’s still hard to imagine Joshua is truly intimidated by the much shorter man, despite ‘losing’ both of the staredowns.
“What did you see in your opponent?” Joshua was asked.
“Um, not much, just Joseph Parker.”
An hour after the fighters left the stage people remained queued at the merch stand, a few gazing longingly at the now-shut bar. With considerable dedication, one bloke tried his best to swing 250 pounds from the missus for a hand-signed Anthony Joshua walkout robe. “Two hundred and fifty quid – thass really not bad though, issit?”
As the crowd streamed out into a rainy Cardiff afternoon, clutching their AJ t-shirts and burgeoning hangovers, it struck me how truly momentous the occasion really is. Tomorrow night, in front of 80,000 people and literal millions around the world, a Polynesian boy from South Auckland will take on a bonafide British superstar for the most prestigious title in sports.
Should he win, he will bring home to New Zealand and Samoa the belts held by Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and all of the biggest names in heavyweight boxing. Household names, figures who transcend the sport, recognisable even to those with genuine disgust for the sweet science. Against all odds, despite all the criticism at home and abroad, in the face of all probability, Joseph Parker is on the verge of genuine worldwide fame and adoration.
Tomorrow night he goes to war.