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Parker vs Joshua prediction: Why Kiwi will be better than expected

Lee Cleveland Updated
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"I just notice anyone I fight always comes [in] 30 percent better than what I'd seen, so I can't expect the same ol' Parker in the ring on March 31," consensus heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua told Sky Sports recently.

That's no coincidence.

Historically, it's not uncommon for a fighter to perform a little above himself when facing the heavyweight champion of the world.

Even fight legend Mike Tyson said after defeating Frank Bruno in a much more difficult than expected bout in February 1989:

"When fighters come to fight the heavyweight champion they automatically become a better fighter."

Perhaps that partially explains why Joseph Parker vs Anthony Joshua is such a big deal, because it isn't on paper nor via highlight reel comparisons.

Joshua has dominated his opponents (sans all-time great Wlad Klitschko) while Parker, although unbeaten, has arguably benefitted from a few controversial decisions lately against opponents who were inferior to AJ's latest conquests. Hence, from a betting lines point of view, Joshua's four opponents would have been favored over Parker's.

Joshua has looked dominant while Parker has appeared vulnerable, and against lesser opponents to boot.

However, those expecting Anthony to easily derail the Kiwi could be in for a surprise March 31. Not only does Parker appear extremely hungry and focused, odds are he'll perform better than he ever has because he's fighting for the consensus heavyweight championship. 

And while Parker is the WBO Champion, his rival, who holds the IBF and WBA versions of the heavyweight title, is the consensus ruler of the division and arguably the most popular active fighter in boxing.

Expect a better version of Parker than we saw in his majority decision wins over Hughie Fury and Andy Ruiz Jr, and in his unanimous points verdict over little-known Razvan Cojanu for the aforementioned reasons.

Relatively recent situations where presumed overmatched heavyweight challengers exceeded expectations:

2015 - Bryant Jennings, only 19-0 and much smaller than his foe, fought competitively with fight legend Wladimir Klitschko, losing a unanimous decision.

2008- A little-known Tony Thompson, an assumed glorified sparring partner, gave Wladimir Klitschko all he could handle before being stopped in Round 11. According to CompuBox stats, Thompson out-landed the Ukrainian 150 to 121 prior to the knockout.

2001 - A 20-1 favorite, a presumably ill-prepared Lennox Lewis was decked in Round 4 by Hasim Rahman who was contender another mediocre contender.

1998 - Unheralded Zeljko Mavrovic went the distance against Lennox Lewis and held his own, losing on 2 of the 3 scorecards 117-112 and 117-111. The third judge scored it 119-109 for Lewis.

1998 - Little-known Vaughn Bean disappointed pointed Evander Holyfield's Atlanta hometown homecoming, failing to play the role of overmatched fodder for the champ. While Bean was fighting only his eighth opponent with a winning record, Holyfield relied on the guile that comes from long years of experience in top-flight competition to win a competitive but unanimous decision.

Bean was much tougher than most observers thought he would be.

1995 - A 6 to 1 favorite, 46 year old heavyweight champion George Foreman won a razor thin majority decision over lightly-regarded Axel Schultz. Foreman landed 249 of 543 punches while Schulz was 229 of 482. Focused and prepared, Schultz executed a well-constructed game plan, nearly lifting the crown from Big George who undoubtedly got more than what he'd bargained for in facing Schultz.


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