Joshua-Parker world heavyweight unification date set

Anthony Joshua will continue his quest to be crowned the undisputed world heavyweight champion when he faces New Zealander Joseph Parker in Cardiff on March 31.

The Watford star, who holds the WBA and IBF versions of the title, will add Parker’s WBO belt if he triumphs at the Principality Stadium, leaving only American WBC champion Deontay Wilder on his title hit-list.

The announcement brings an end to months of fractious negotiations with Parker, who defended his crown with a points win over Hughie Fury in Manchester in September and was holding out for a bigger percentage of the purse.

It will be Joshua’s first fight since a gruelling late stoppage win over late replacement Carlos Takam at the same venue in October and a win will move him closer to his goal of being the first heavyweight to hold all four major belts simultaneously.

Joshua said: “I would like to announce the official news that myself and Joseph Parker will be fighting on March 31 at Principality Stadium in Cardiff.

“It is a unification heavyweight championship fight. We all know what happened last time I was in a unification heavyweight championship fight – it was gruelling, it was interesting and we both left the ring with masses of respect.

“These fights aren’t easy because there is a lot on the line, so respect to team Parker for taking the challenge. I am looking forward to it, training camp is under way and before you know it March 31 will be upon us.”

Parker, who has won 18 of his 24 professional bouts inside the distance, is the natural next step for Joshua despite his underwhelming performance against the back-pedalling Fury, when he escaped with a majority decision.

The 26-year-old claimed the WBO crown by beating Andy Ruiz Jr in Auckland in December 2016 and made a low-key defence against Razvan Cojanu before venturing out of the southern hemisphere for only the fourth time to face Fury.

It was this relatively low-key career – in stark contrast to Joshua’s stadium-filling antics against the likes of Wladimir Klitschko – which prompted the disparity in expectations between the two negotiating parties.

The problem for Joshua’s camp was the lack of obvious alternatives in a relatively low-key division, with a deal with Wilder still some distance away and former champion Tyson Fury still yet to return.

Parker clearly believes Joshua may be underestimating him, insisting: “Anthony Joshua is in for a huge shock. A couple of months ago I heard him say ‘why should I be worried about this little kid from New Zealand’?

“Well, now he’s about to find out. And the world is about to find out whether AJ can really take a punch. My entire existence is now devoted to proving what the boxing world already knows.”