Anthony Joshua-Joseph Parker world title unification bout lands on Showtime

Showtime will have live coverage in the United States of the heavyweight world title unification fight on March 31 between Anthony Joshua and Joseph Parker, the network announced Monday.

Joshua, who holds two title belts, and Parker, who has one, will meet to move the division a step closer to an undisputed world champion at Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, where a sellout crowd of close to 80,000 is expected. The start time of the telecast is yet to be announced but likely will be around 5 p.m. ET.

Showtime televised Joshua's title victory over Charles Martin in April 2016 and has aired all four of his title defenses as part of a contract it has with Joshua. But Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn had the right to get an offer from Showtime for this bout and then shop it to other networks with Showtime also having the right to match any other offer.

Hearn did just that in the few weeks since the fight was signed and, indeed, Showtime matched a strong offer from rival HBO, which, according to a source, offered $1.95 million for the U.S. rights to the bout.

The addition of Joshua-Parker adds yet another premium fight to Showtime's already loaded schedule for the first half of the year. Two weeks ago the network unveiled its schedule through June and it included several top-level fights, including heavyweight titleholder Deontay Wilder (39-0, 38 KOs) making a much-anticipated defense against Luis "King Kong" Ortiz (28-0, 24 KOs) on March 3 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

That means Showtime will be the U.S. broadcast home as all four major heavyweight titles are at stake in March, with the possibility of a Joshua-Wilder showdown later this year.

"The heavyweight division is in the midst of a renaissance, and Showtime is delivering all of the pivotal bouts to our subscribers," said Showtime Sports president Stephen Espinoza. "Anthony Joshua is a global superstar, and we're proud to present his sixth, and perhaps most challenging, world title fight to the U.S. audience. Joshua versus Parker will be the 12th heavyweight world championship match on Showtime since Deontay Wilder won his title in 2015, an undisputed industry-leading offering in boxing's preeminent division."

Other significant fights on Showtime's schedule in the first half of the year include lightweight world titleholder Mikey Garcia (37-0, 30 KOs) going for a belt in a fourth weight class by challenging junior welterweight titlist Sergey Lipinets (13-0, 10 KOs) on March 10 at the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio; a junior middleweight unification bout between Jarrett Hurd (21-0, 15 KOs) and technician Erislandy Lara (25-2-2, 14 KOs) on April 7 at a site to be determined; the return from injury of unified welterweight world titleholder Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs), who will face an opponent to be determined on May 19 at Barclays Center along with light heavyweight world champion Adonis Stevenson (29-1, 24 KOs) defending against former titlist Badou Jack (21-1-3, 13 KOs) at a site to be announced in Canada; and the June 9 rematch between featherweight world titleholder Leo Santa Cruz (34-1-1, 19 KOs) and secondary titlist Abner Mares at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Joshua (20-0, 20 KOs), 28, of England, stopped former longtime unified world champion Wladimir Klitschko in the 11th round of the 2017 fight of the year last April before a sellout crowd of 90,000 at Wembley Stadium in London to retain his title and win a vacant one. Joshua then knocked out Carlos Takam in the 10th round on Oct. 28 before 78,000 at sold-out Principality Stadium.

New Zealand's Parker (24-0, 18 KOs), 26, won a vacant title by majority decision over Andy Ruiz Jr. in December 2016 in New Zealand and has made two defenses. He won a lopsided decision against Razvan Cojanu in New Zealand on May 6 and then he traveled to Manchester, England, and won a majority decision against mandatory challenger Hughie Fury, the cousin of former world champion Tyson Fury, in his hometown on Sept. 23.