Anthony Joshua looks close to the best version of himself | Photo by Richard Pelham/Getty Images

Joshua and Parker look close to the best versions of themselves after nine fights in 15 months combined.

Anthony Joshua and Joseph Parker both recorded impressive victories this past weekend in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in what might prove to be the most important of their respective careers.

Parker — despite tasting the canvas on two occasions — outpointed a fatigued and often gun-shy Zhilei Zhang. The Kiwi was disciplined and effective off the jab throughout the 36 minutes of action, and under the tutelage of Andy Lee was able to stay calm and dangerous despite suffering the short end of two 10-8 rounds in the fight. Zhang’s quick hands prevailed on a couple of occasions, but Parker’s ability to stifle the majority of these attacks with sharp reflexes and quick footwork negated any real threat of a stoppage for the big Chinese heavyweight.

This was Parker’s fifth fight since the start of 2023 and that rhythm and winning momentum showed inside the Kingdom Arena.

So often we are quick to judge a heavyweight off the back of a defeat, tossing them onto the growing scrapheap of past big threats in the division. Perhaps it’s due to the lack of options in moving up a division like you can in those weight classes below. A below par performance from, for example, a welterweight can easily — and so often be — blamed on a tough weight cut or outgrowing the division; they are handed a clean slate once they resume their careers in pastures new.

It’s satisfying to see such stark improvements from a heavyweight and, along with his new coaching team fronted by the excellent and experienced Andy Lee, increased activity is at the forefront of these new and improved performances.

Wins over Deontay Wilder and Zhilei Zhang within the space of three-and-a-half months have skyrocketed Parker into the division’s top four and he now sits as the most worthy of another title shot once Tyson Fury, Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua have jostled for position in the medal spots.

It’s the same story for Anthony Joshua. Now, with Ben Davison in his corner, Joshua has fought four times inside 12 months, and looks as close as we ever thought he could to regaining his best form in the division. AJ has re-found the concussive power that saw him glide through the early stages of his pro career, stopping Otto Wallin and Francis Ngannou in a combined seven rounds — something that his domestic foe Tyson Fury was unable to do on both occasions.

He said it himself before this weekend’s contest. “It’s the first time since 2017 I’ve had three fights, back-to-back, and getting consistent is paying off again,” he stated. “That’s why fighters do so well on their way up, because they’re fighting every other week and look amazing. The minute you get to the top, it all slows down and the only way out is retirement. I’m trying to rebuild and get that activity.”

It has become the norm for many champions to fight once, maybe twice a calendar year, especially in the heavier weights. And this is hardly ever due to the want of the fighter in question. Belt politics, mandatories and teams playing hardball with other champions often lead to delay after delay when you sit at the top of the mountain, but in a sport where protecting your unbeaten record used to be paramount, perhaps we are seeing the beginning of a shift towards rewarding risk.

There is no doubt Saudi Arabia’s injection of cash into the sport is helping these activity levels. Their thirst to sportswash clean their abysmal human rights records is unquenchable and however long this obsession with boxing (and snooker, Formula 1, golf, WWE, soccer) lasts, the more opportunities heavyweights, especially, will get to fight in what could become a merry-go-round division.

Wider issues aside, it’s hard not to feel satisfaction in the improvements that Parker and Joshua have shown over the last 15 months. If more fighters follow their lead, then who knows how different the heavyweight landscape could look.

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