Joseph Parker: legitimate contender or a journeyman stepping stone?

It seems strange to look back and think that at just 24 years old, Joseph Parker won the WBO heavyweight championship. It was, of course, a vacant belt at the time after Tyson Fury was stripped of the title following a period of inactivity after his win against Wladimir Klitschko in 2015.

Nevertheless, Parker took the unexpected opportunity handed to him against Andy Ruiz Jr and in doing so, wrote his name down in history.

Parker's short-lived reign at the summit of world boxing

Parker’s subsequent reign at the summit of heavyweight boxing was, to a large extent, fairly unremarkable. The New Zealander only managed to retain his title against Razvan Cojanu and Hughie Fury before losing it to Anthony Joshua in early 2018. Overall, Parker only fought 24 rounds as the king of the division.

Ever since that underwhelming evening against Joshua in Cardiff, Parker has been staging various comebacks but the jury remains out on whether he has the means to sit on the heavyweight throne again.

Wilder awaits in the desert

Parker’s heavyweight title credentials will once again be put under the spotlight on December 23rd when the New Zealander goes head-to-head with Deontay Wilder in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It is a fight that Wilder is expected to win with Parker priced at longish odds of 4/1 to emerge victorious at the Kingdom Arena.

Fans who think that Parker could revive his career against Wilder can sign up with bet365 and claim a welcome offer of up to $100 in bet credits. It does, after all, only take a single punch to shatter any pre-fight narrative and after Wilder’s back-to-back stoppages against Fury, it would be unwise to completely write Parker off.

However, going on the form in the lead-up to the bout, you would also be hard-pressed to say that Parker is a champion in waiting despite the New Zealander winning his last three bouts.

Making up the numbers

Some context is needed around the opponents he faced in Simon Kean, Faiga Opelu, and Jack Massey who had all tasted defeat in their respective careers before stepping into the ring with Parker.

Realistically speaking, the last credible heavyweight dust-up Parker had was against Joe Joyce at the end of 2022. It was a devastating night for Parker after the Juggernaut stopped the New Zealander in the 11th round courtesy of a brutal knockout.

At the time, this result wasn’t seen as particularly damaging to Parker's place in the heavyweight pecking order but perspectives have drastically altered since then as Joyce has lost consecutive bouts against Zhilei Zhang. What's more, is that the Brit is now on the verge of retirement with grave concerns surrounding his speed and chin.

With Joyce’s dramatic career nosedive in mind and taking into consideration what he did to Parker, it does, all of a sudden, seem like the New Zealander is being served up to Wilder as a sacrificial lamb for the American to kickstart his journey back to the top of the heavyweight division.

Naturally, Parker will fiercely argue this assessment of his prospects after making it clear that he is flying to Riyadh to beat Wilder. The amiable Kiwi may well have the best of intentions but Saudi Arabia’s involvement in boxing has seen purses wildly inflated which effectively means that fighters are open to participating in bouts that they may not have a high degree of winning; the rewards are too great to turn down.

The long and short of it is that Parker has come painfully unstuck against far worse fighters than Wilder but is still set to walk into the lion’s den 48 hours before Christmas.

Every way you look at the dynamics of this fight, you get the sense that the 31-year-old has accepted his role as a credible stepping stone for boxers who have genuine hopes of winning a world title.

The challenge for Parker now is to rewrite his story by proving to the world that he is more than cannon fodder for the big hitters of the heavyweight division.

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