Cardiff, Wales (AP) — Anthony Joshua is a man in a hurry as he looks to unify the heavyweight division.
He needed to get through the longest fight of his career to collect the third of the big four belts, though.
The British fighter was taken the distance for the first time in his professional career against Joseph Parker on Saturday, beating the previously undefeated New Zealander in a unanimous decision in front of 78,000 fans in Cardiff.
It was Joshua’s 21st straight win and he added Parker’s WBO belt to his WBA and IBF titles.
Still, Joshua struggled to raise a smile.
“I’m not elated because I don’t let the highs get to my head. And I always think we’ve got to go again soon,” Joshua said.
“We are still hustling. We are on to the next one, in my eyes. It’s not time to sit back and enjoy the ride.”
And that only means one thing: Becoming undisputed champion by beating big-punching American Deontay Wilder, the WBC champion.
“I think 2018 was always a time to capture all the belts,” Joshua said. “We are one away now.”
Renowned for his destructive punching power, Joshua showed another side to his boxing repertoire against Parker, whose movement, fast hands and counter-attacking ability made him a tricky opponent.
The jab was the key for Joshua against an often-retreating opponent. He barely landed a clean shot with his big right hand but he didn’t need to, despite the clamor from the crowd — and his mother watching from home who called for a knockout in the second or seventh round.
“Boxing isn’t just about brute force and strength,” Joshua said. “It’s about seeing the punches coming too. I wasn’t going to fall into his trap.”
For that reason, Joshua’s trainer, Rob McCracken, said it was a mature performance from a boxer whose previous wins had all come via knockout — with only two going beyond seven rounds.
The irritating interventions of inexperienced referee Giuseppe Quartarone didn’t help the flow of the contest, either, the Italian official constantly getting between Joshua and Parker in his first heavyweight title fight.
“Ref seemed too hurried to break them up at times,” tweeted former undisputed heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis. “But it was a clear win for AJ and he showed maturity (and) patience.”
Neither Joshua nor Parker came close to getting knocked down, showing respect for each other’s undefeated records. They hugged after the final bell, though Parker knew he had been beaten before the scores were announced.
“I thought today we were beaten by a better man,” said Parker, who lost for the first time in 25 fights. “I was quite impressed with a lot of things Joshua did, held his hands better and was quite hard to hit.”
“I was too cautious,” he added.
There is a rematch clause for the fight, but Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, said that would not be happening. Team Joshua have other ideas, namely Wilder or, perhaps first, mandatory WBA challenger Alexander Povetkin, who beat David Price in the undercard.
After the epic nature of his 11th-round knockout of Wladimir Klitschko a year ago, Joshua has had to battle for two scrappy wins in Cardiff — first over the awkward Carlos Takam in October last year and now Parker.
People want more from Joshua, the new star of boxing. A fight against Wilder would make everyone happy.