CARDIFF, Wales -- There is something about Cardiff and Anthony Joshua that leaves you coming away feeling like something was missing. In both of his two fights here, it was due to matters out of Joshua's hands. On Saturday night, it was referee Giuseppe Quartarone's overly invasive, pernickety officiating, preventing any flow. Previously, last October, Joshua's onslaught was brought to a premature end in the 10th round against Carlos Takam when there was far more left in the tank. But Joshua is box office, the crowd adores him more by the fight and his stock ever grows.
The history books read Joshua at 21 professional fights, 20 knockouts and one win on points. It is to Joseph Parker's immense credit that he pushed Joshua the full 12 rounds, and also that he is yet to be dropped in a professional bout. He loses his undefeated record, while Joshua's unblemished career continues with another belt in his grasp.
"What you cannot forget is I am the unified heavyweight champion of the world," Joshua said, as he pointed to the WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO world heavyweight titles, four sets of letters that run alongside his name. He talked of his undefeated record, his belts, and then delivered this message to the owner of the last remaining title, WBC champion Deontay Wilder: "Wilder! Let's go baby, let's go". All the while the hugely impressive and affable Parker watched on, before talking of how he hopes to improve -- attention switching to the future, with the dust barely settled on the still sweaty past.
There had been plenty of talk leading up to the fight. To get the fight inked in, according to Parker's characterful promoter David Higgins, they baited Joshua's camp. Joshua got frustrated, talked of a lack of respect, and the details were sorted, purse split. Then came the week leading up to the fight, the pantomime died down and the themes ran around fear and weight. Fear was in short supply Saturday evening, while both fighters were standing lighter than in recent memory.
Then came Friday's weigh-in, full of pomp and circumstance, complete with hakas and marching bands. There was anticipation on the well-oiled streets of Cardiff, but also uncertainty. Speaking to supporters before the Takam fight, not one tipped Joshua's late stand-in opponent for an upset. But this time around there was a groundswell behind Parker. Although those backing Joshua outnumbered Parker's support, he received a healthy portion of cheers from the crowd. However, no one spoke of this going down to points; everyone expected a stoppage.
Through all the fun and frivolity of Higgins' verbal sparring with Eddie Hearn, Joshua's promoter, and then the semantics of the pre-fight predictions as Parker told Joshua to prepare for war while the British champion talked of finesse, there was a reminder of boxing's brutality in the undercard fight prior to Joshua-Parker. The swift combination from Alexander Povetkin -- who will also fancy a shot at Joshua or Parker, but Dillian Whyte is also keen -- to floor David Price was delivered with little mercy and in a manner which left you unable to do anything other than have a sharp intake of breath and clench muscles. The crowd, a constant hubbub of pre-fight excitement and beer-fuelled frivolity, was momentarily hushed.
Price rose to his feet after medical attention in the ring, the music started again -- the sight of Michael Buffer, complete with red, pressed jacket conducting the 78,000-strong crowd through House of Pain's "Jump Around" will stay with me for far longer than it should -- and then attention switched to Joshua. Parker's ring walk was anchored in his Samoan and New Zealand ancestry, with his father and uncle leading him out. You can keep your shirtless Tongan from the Olympics, these two lads are the trailblazers for flag-bearing without a top. A haka also broke out. The Antipodean boxing cognoscenti were in Cardiff.
Joshua's entrance took longer, with pyrotechnics mixing with the theme from the movie "Black Panther." He carried Nigeria's flag alongside Britain's -- another marrying of cultures and heritage.
After the anthems -- both Samoa and New Zealand's were sung for Parker -- came the main event, but it only really kicked in at about the third round. The crowd, starved of a knockout moment, cheered and winced with every ambitious punch thrown. While Joshua jabbed, Parker chased him around the ring. Joshua cut Parker, and as Parker circled him, he stood ever-present, unwavering in the middle of the ring, controlling it.
After 12 rounds, one with few standout highlights to add to the montage shown before of Joshua's finest punches, Joshua stood arms aloft, unbeaten with the next step taken on his journey. The New Zealand contingent cheered more in hope than expectation, though one lone voice rang out from behind the press box: "Robbed! Absolutely robbed! 12 rounds Parker!" Optimism personified, but still with an undercurrent of pride.
So attention, after a fairly uneventful fight, turned immediately to the future. Cardiff has had two cracks at the Joshua experience. The fans certainly enjoy having him in town, but with Tyson Fury and Wilder lying in wait -- the two were name-checked post-fight by Joshua as the men he wants to face -- he may well return to the 90,000-capacity Wembley Stadium in London. Few can draw crowds to the big stage quite like Joshua. His past three professional fights have seen 250,000 supporters flock through the gates: The man is box office.
"Forget the hype, I'm about business. Let's get the business done," Joshua said when asked about the future. Wilder has been a constant voice from afar and perhaps the loudest cheer of the evening was reserved for Joshua's blunt assessment of the American. "Get him in the ring and I'll knock him spark out." The crowd, robbed of box-office moments in part due to the overly officious referee, roared in approval.