It’s a sporting cliché to never look past your next opponent, and that’s especially the case in boxing when said opponent is trying to punch your head clean off your shoulders.
But you could forgive Anthony Joshua for having one eye on Saturday’s likely victim, Joseph Parker, and another on his probable next foe: Deontay Wilder.
Should Joshua beat Parker inside Cardiff’s Principality Stadium on Saturday he will not only retain his own WBA, IBO and IBF heavyweight straps but rip the WBO version from the waist of the Kiwi too.
And that would leave just the WBC title, currently owned by Wilder, left for AJ to win and to become boxing’s latest undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.
Here is a list of men that Joshua could join if he is to defeat Parker and Wilder in the coming months. Disclaimer: it’s quite some list.
Lennox Lewis (November 1999-April 2000)
There have only ever been three British undisputed champions of the world: Lloyd Honeyghan at welterweight, Alan Minter at middleweight and Lennox Lewis at heavyweight.
Lewis won the WBC strap from Oliver McCall and went on to tear away the WBA, IBF and IBO titles from Evander Holyfield. Their first bout ended in a rare draw, before Lewis got the nod from the judges in their second fight in Las Vegas six months later.
The Olympic gold medallist would go on to enjoy five successful defences of his belts despite that unlikeliest of defeats to Hasim Rahman in April 2001, when he was knocked out in five rounds by the hitherto unknown American. Lewis would have his revenge in the rematch of November that year.
Mike Tyson (August 1987-February 1990)
You could have Evander Holyfield on this list, but he actually became the undisputed champion when he beat Buster Douglas; winning all four titles on one night.
The man who preceded both Holyfield and Douglas was actually the ‘baddest man on the planet’, Mike Tyson, who is also widely regarded as ne of the hardest punchers to ever step foot in the ring.
Tyson did things the hard way: winning the WBC, WBA and IBF belts on three separate nights and defending them in a reign of terror that lasted two-and-a-half years. He won all six of his defences via knockout, and was eventually beaten in Tokyo b Douglas in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history – Parker will be taking note ahead of his meeting with AJ.
Muhammad Ali (three times)
He had the charisma, the looks and the rags-to-riches story, but never forget how talented Muhammad Ali was in the ring.
He became the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world on three separate occasions, with a span of a decade between his first and third reigns.
Ali beat the absolute best in the business in his first stint, including Sonny Liston, Henry Copper and Floyd Patterson, before being stripped of his belts for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War.
He returned in 1970 and eventually gained revenge on Joe Frazier before again becoming undisputed champion when knocking out George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle. Another win over Frazier followed in the infamous Thrilla in Manilla, before he traded the titles with Leon Spinks to become a three-time undisputed champ. Ali retired shortly after, and there has been nobody to touch him ever since.
Joe Louis (June 1937-March 1949)
There are countless other legends that can be added to this list, but we simply have to mention a guy that successfully defended his unified crown 25 times across a span of 12 years!
Louis was a phenomenon and a bit of a freak of nature to be fair: he fought a crazy eight times in the space of eight months from February 1940 to August 1941, winning the lot.
He would later drop the belts before being hammered into retirement by another of the all-time greats, Rocky Marciano.
That is nothing to be ashamed of, and after 12 solid years of being Heavyweight Champion of the World he was due a rest.
Can Joshua Join the Ranks?
These are different times, and you suspect that Joshua might be judged harshly when compared to the other greats on the undisputed list.
That’s not AJ’s fault necessarily, just a reflection of the dearth of talent in heavyweight boxing right now.
He will surely beat Joseph Parker on Saturday. The Kiwi hasn’t really convinced anyone yet despite being WBO champion, and in two of his last three fights he has won by majority decision – e.g. a judge felt that he lost the bout.
You could argue that Parker is the better technical fighter, but that only counts for so much and Joshua has found a way to remove all his opponents so far and, barring one knockdown against Wladimir Klitschko where he got a little cocky, has done so with minimal concern.
A bout with Wilder will surely follow in August/September of this year, and that is a dangerous proposition for AJ. Wilder isn’t much of a boxer from a technical perspective, but he hits hard and has the capability to knock anyone to the canvas.
Joshua has shown a slight vulnerability with his chin and nobody has really examined him yet; Wilder certainly would leave nothing to chance.
But AJ is the better fighter and, having taken the American out of his comfort zone (Wilder has only fought once outside the North and Central America) you would expect him to join the pantheon of undisputed heavyweight greats that have roamed the ring in years gone by.