WBO heavyweight boxing champion Joseph Parker is taunting Anthony Joshua but he will be watching Alexander Povetkin warily this weekend.
Parker, trainer Kevin Barry and promoter David Higgins of Duco have been goading Joshua, the big Brit who holds the WBA, IBO and IBF belts, for a unification fight in the first quarter of the year – but talks have stalled, with Joshua unwilling to give Parker a 35 per cent share of the purse.
It seems unreasonable, greedy even, but Joshua seems to hold most of the cards in the weird game of poker that is boxing politics.
Povetkin is one of those cards. The 38-year-old Russian fights Germany-based Romanian heavyweight Christian Hammer in Russia early Sunday morning (NZT) – and it is difficult to find anyone who thinks Povetkin will fail to hammer Hammer.
Povetkin is likely then to become the mandatory challenger for Parker's WBO title next year – and he is not a threat to be shrugged off. Povetkin might be a lot of things – including a boxer who has twice failed drugs tests and was banned for life by the WBC (who later lifted the "lifetime" ban as the level of drugs fell below a recently-updated Wada threshold) – but he is no patsy.
Here's a list of good heavyweights Povetkin has beaten in a 33-fight career which has seen him lose only once - to Wladimir Klitchsko in his prime: Chris Byrd (who beat David Tua back in 2001), Eddie Chambers, Ruslan Chagaev, Hasim Rahman, Carlos Takam, Mike Perez and Mariusz Wach.
That is no collection of tomato cans, as the Americans say. Povetkin is not a big heavyweight (1.88m) but he is an accurate, pressure fighter with 23 knockouts in his 32 wins. Takam lost on points to Parker last year and gave Joshua problems before the referee stopped the fight in the 10th round – many said unfairly so.
Povetkin fought Takam in 2014 and did what no one else has done before or since – he knocked out the durable Frenchman with a punishing left hook. Neither Parker nor Joshua could even knock Takam down.
So you see the potential problem. Parker is better to fight Joshua now to get a shot at the big bloke and a big money day. Joshua knows this and knows Povetkin looms, so Joshua can afford to take a stubborn stance re Parker's purse.
If Parker has to surrender his undefeated record (and title), better to do it against Joshua. Parker will be only 26 next month – plenty of time to build up again if he loses to Joshua. However a loss to Povetkin may only confirm the opinion of many in the boxing world that Parker is not quite top tier.
So that is partly why Parker, Barry and Higgins have been provoking Joshua and his promoter, making mocking noises about Joshua's "glass jaw" and running videos of how he has been knocked down in the past.
Joshua also has the option of a reunification fight with WBC champion Deontay Wilder, the big-hitting American whose negotiations with Joshua have also stalled – this time on a 50/50 purse split.
That is the fight everyone wants to see although Wilder in recent days has started talking as if it will not happen – hinting at taking on Povetkin and/or dangerous Cuban heavyweight Luis Ortiz (another coming back after failing a drugs test). It's hard to know whether that is just posturing to persuade Joshua to take the bait.
If Parker does not fight Joshua, he will likely meet Australia's Lucas Browne. Also 38, Browne is undefeated over 25 fights but the one and only name of any significance on his record is Chagaev, the Uzbeki former WBA champion from 2007-2009. Chagaev, a small heavyweight, beat lumbering giant Nikolai Valuev to win the title.
He was stripped of it in 2009 after injuries prevented a rematch with Valuev. On his comeback, he suffered his first professional loss when well beaten by Wladimir Klitschko that year. He fought 10 further times, losing only once (to Povetkin) before Browne knocked him out in March last year; he retired later, citing eye injuries.
There is a glimmer of truth in Parker's contention he can knock Joshua out, even though that supposes Joshua doesn't bop him first; once he hits them, opponents of the big Briton have a tendency to stay hit…
Parker would have to perform way better than in his last two fights but, if he gets his combinations and movement right, he could pose problems for Joshua. However, tactically, fighting Browne and others while waiting until Joshua and Wilder clash might be a better roll of the dice for Parker.
If the four other titles all belong to one man, Parker's WBO title then has more cachet, in theory at least. The other side of that coin is that if one man owns all five titles, the traffic jam of mandatory challengers can be frustrating. So the holder of the WBA, WBC, IBO and IBF titles (after a Joshua-Wilder bout) could claim reunification enough and pronounce himself heavyweight champion of the world, not bothering with Parker.