CARDIFF, WALES -- Anthony Joshua won a third world heavyweight title belt but lost his 100 percent knockout record, as he was forced to points by Joseph Parker on Saturday.
Joshua had to rely on the judges for the first time in his professional career, as he triumphed by scores of 118-110, 118-110 and 119-109 after a fight that had its moments but no knockdowns.
Joshua (21-0, 20 KOs) added Parker's WBO belt to his IBF and WBA titles, maintaining his status as the world heavyweight No. 1 and fulfilling what most expected would happen in front of 78,000 at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales.
But most also thought he would win by knockout, as he had in his previous 20 professional fights.
Parker's movement foiled Joshua in his pursuit of a knockout, but the New Zealander did not land enough to win the rounds.
Nevertheless, Joshua moved a step closer to completing his goal of becoming the undisputed world heavyweight champion.
"My strategy in there was to stick behind the jab," Joshua said. "A right hand will take you around the block, but a good jab will take you around the world. I stuck behind the jab. I was focused. I controlled him behind the jab, and the main thing is I am the unified champion of the world. I thought it was hard, but going the 12 rounds was light work."
Lighter was not necessarily better for Joshua, who weighed in nearly 14 pounds less than for his last fight against Carlos Takam. There were some rocky moments at times for Joshua, and both fighters looked hurt after an exchange at the end of the 11th round.
The Englishman triumphed in the first three-belt world heavyweight title unification fight in seven years. Only one title -- the WBC -- is currently not in his possession.
Boxing has never had a four-belt world heavyweight champion, and a clash with American Deontay Wilder (40-0, 39 KOs), the WBC king, is now the sport's most in-demand fight.
If it comes together, the fight might not happen until next year. Joshua might have to fulfill a mandatory defense against Russia's Alexander Povetkin, also triumphant on the same bill, to keep hold of all the belts before facing Wilder.
Joshua, who joined Tyson Fury and Lennox Lewis as the only British-born heavyweights to hold three titles simultaneously, afterward called on Wilder to face him.
"I want Wilder. Or [Tyson] Fury. Either one," but he said he isn't interested in fighting in the U.S.
"All these years, we've gone to the States, people have spent a lot of money following British boxers over there," Joshua said in his postfight interview in the ring. "[But] we can do it in London, Cardiff. We are staying right here."
Asked if he had a message for Wilder, Joshua screamed: "Wilder, let's go, baby. Let's go."
Shortly after the fight, Wilder posted a video in response to Joshua calling him out.
"Let's make this fight happen, man, and stop lying to the people. We want the fight," Wilder said. "This is a simple fight to make happen. It's easy. Let's make it happen, once and for all, and see who's the best."
Joshua made a fifth defense of his IBF title and second of the WBA strap on a night that reportedly earned him £13 million and Parker £7 million.
Parker (24-1, 18 KOs) suffered his first professional defeat in his third defense of the WBO belt, but there will be more big fights ahead for the New Zealander, perhaps in the UK, where there is Dillian Whyte, former champion Tyson Fury, Tony Bellew and David Haye.
"I lost to the better champion tonight," Parker said. "We will [be] back again stronger, and I'm happy I went the 12 rounds."
For the third successive fight, Watford-born Joshua walked to the ring with the backing of a huge stadium crowd.
Following 90,000 at Wembley Stadium for his 11th-round win over former champion Wladimir Klitschko almost a year ago, 78,000 turned out to cheer on Joshua as he halted late substitute opponent Carlos Takam at this same venue in October.
Joshua, 28, who was born in Watford and lives in north London, seemed relaxed despite the size of the occasion. He tapped the hands of fans on the way to the ring.
Odds on Joshua had dropped to 1-6 prefight, but the 2012 Olympic gold medalist was still an overwhelming favorite, and Parker, a 9-2 underdog, was sharper than in his last defense -- a plodding, majority-points win over England's Hughie Fury in Manchester in September -- and he was the busier fighter in the early rounds.
Parker, 26, who is from South Auckland but trains in Las Vegas, was busy with a flicking jab in the first round, though most fell short.
Joshua, who weighed in at his lightest since 2014, preferred to take a look at Parker in the opening session, and he had to be aware of the New Zealander's jab.
With a 6-inch reach advantage over Parker, Joshua was patient, and it was not until halfway through the second round that he opened up with a combination, which did not land.
Joshua was more aggressive in the third round, landing a two-punch combination before catching Parker with a left hook on the ropes.
The Briton also made better use of his jab in the third round, and Parker seemed hurt from a short left hook at the start of the fourth.
Parker had suddenly become the hunted one, and Joshua landed a shuddering jab to the jaw later in the fourth round. Both exchanged hooks, and Parker later caught Joshua going backward with a left.
It was gripping stuff, and Parker was feeling bold in the sixth round, with Joshua looking carelessly open at times, especially on retreat.
At the halfway point, it seemed even.
Joshua could not get into any rhythm in the seventh round, and the middle rounds were punctuated by interruptions from referee Giuseppe Quartarone. Joshua almost had Parker rocking with a combination in the eighth round and landed a right uppercut on the inside early in the ninth round.
From early in the 10th round, Parker was bleeding from the left eye -- caused by Joshua's elbow -- but he avoided any serious damage from a left uppercut later in the round.
Joshua's knees buckled from a counter-right hook late in the 11th, after he hurt Parker. But that was the last real moment of drama, as Joshua was taken to points for the first time since the 2012 Olympic super-heavyweight final, his last amateur bout.
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