The heavyweight division will move one step closer to an undisputed champion as two-belt titleholder Anthony Joshua and one-belt titlist Joseph Parker will meet to unify their world titles.
A deal in the works for the past couple of months has been finalized and the two heavy hitters will meet on March 31 at Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, where Joshua drew a sold-out crowd of 78,000 for this last fight in October.
“I would like to announce the official news that myself and Joseph Parker will be fighting on March 31 at Principality Stadium in Cardiff,” Joshua said on Sunday. “It is a unification heavyweight championship fight. We all know what happened last time I was in a unification heavyweight championship fight. It was grueling, it was interesting and we both left the ring with masses of respect.”
On April 29, Joshua defended his world title belt and won a vacant one when he stopped former longtime unified world champion Wladimir Klitschko in the 11th round of an all-time classic heavyweight title fight in which both fighters were knocked down and there was tremendous back-and-forth draw. The fight, fought before a sold-out crowd of 90,000 at Wembley Stadium in London, was the 2017 ESPN.com fight of the year and the fifth round was the 2017 ESPN.com round of the year.
Joshua came though that fight — barely — and Parker said he will not have such luck against him.
“Anthony Joshua is in for a huge shock,” Parker said. “A couple of months ago I heard him say, ‘Why should I be worried about this little kid from New Zealand?’ Well, now he’s about to find out. And the world is about to find out whether AJ can really take a punch. My entire existence is now devoted to proving what the boxing world already knows.”
Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn, Joshua’s promoter, and David Higgins, Parker’s co-promoter from Duco Events, spent weeks going back and forth on the deal, ultimately working things out when they got over the major hurdle a couple of weeks ago on how to split the money in what will be a massive fight. Joshua’s side will get about two-thirds of the revenue and Parker’s side about one-third.
There were some minor issues over the past several days, but Higgins had flown to London earlier in the week to meet with Hearn face to face to work out the final details. Then Parker flew there this weekend with the deal all but done for a fight that will be televised on Sky Sports Box Office pay-per-view in the United Kingdom. The television outlet in the United States has not been determined but it is likely to air on Showtime, which has a deal with Joshua that includes the ability for the network to match any other offer from an American outlet.
“These fights aren’t easy because there is a lot on the line, so respect to team Parker for taking the challenge,” Joshua said. “And you know me, I love this game. I am looking forward to it. Training camp is underway and before you know it March 31 will be upon us.”
The formal news conference to kick off the promotion of the fight will take place on Tuesday in London.
“I’m delighted to get this fight made — it’s been a long time coming,” Hearn said. “Champions should fight champions and AJ continues to step up to the challenges. It’s the first time in history that two reigning heavyweight world champions have met in Britain and it’s a classic matchup between two young, fast, undefeated belt holders and it’s going to be an explosive fight. This is another huge unification fight for Anthony as he continues to make history in the quest to become undisputed world heavyweight champion.”
Higgins was also pleased to get the fight done and complimented Hearn on the professionalism he showed through the arduous process.
“Eddie has been great to work with from day one,” Higgins said. “I know we ruffled a few feathers along the way but, as Eddie acknowledged, when you come from a small country and people perceive you as a small player, sometimes you’ve got to make a bit of noise. New Zealand might be a tiny country on the other side of the world but it has a hugely proud sporting tradition — and a particularly strong tradition when it comes to whipping mother England.
“Joseph Parker is the absolute epitome of the Kiwi sporting battler. It has been said that he is punching above his weight, but he didn’t become WBO heavyweight champion by being lucky. He’s never been stopped, never even been wobbled in the ring. He’s consistently fought fighters in the world’s top ten and he’s beaten them all easily. It certainly won’t be a shock to me when he beats Anthony Joshua and takes his titles back home to New Zealand.”
Joshua (20-0, 20 KOs), 28, of England, perhaps the biggest global star in boxing, knocked out Charles Martin in the second round to win a world title in April 2016 and has defended his title four times — by seventh-round KO of Dominic Breazeale, third-round KO of Eric Molina, the classic against Klitschko to unify two titles and then by 10th-round knockout of Carlos Takam on Oct 28.
New Zealand’s Parker (24-0, 18 KOs), 26, won a vacant title by majority decision over Andy Ruiz Jr. in December 2016 in New Zealand and has made two defenses. He won a lopsided decision against Razvan Cojanu in New Zealand on May 6 and then he traveled to Manchester, England and won a majority decision against mandatory challenger Hughie Fury, the cousin of former world champion Tyson Fury, in his hometown on Sept. 23.
The Joshua-Parker winner will be missing only the world title belt owned by American Deontay Wilder (39-0, 38 KOs), who could loom for the winner later this year in what would be another massive fight. Wilder, 32, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is scheduled to defend his title against top contender Luis “King Kong” Ortiz (28-0, 24 KOs), a 38-year-old Cuban defector fighting out of Miami, on March 3 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, in a fight that was made official on Friday.