For those hopelessly addicted to the heavyweight division like myself, Saturday’s “Day of Reckoning” show in Riyadh truly is a Christmas gift that has come two days early.
Come AJ, come Wilder, come SNAC endorsed brutality, come strange WBC ceremonial titles!
Don’t forget past disgraced drug test failures, strange musical acts, jetlagged celebrities treated like deities, and even a champion who was forced to vacate his title to get his record bag!
It’s the time of year to briefly forget about all the sins that we who are not herald angels have committed so we can hopefully have a measure of serenity amid the cacophonous holidays.
If successful, or, if conscienceless, we may then get a clearer picture of what the heavyweight division will look like heading into 2024, with six of the eight matches having significant impact on the rankings.
I bet you’ve been thinking, “Grey, that’s great that we can all participate in some attempted egregious nation’s rep makeover, but what are really the chances that these B side guys have of winning on this show?”
Worry not, because I’m here to break down each underdog’s chances.
Let’s go from least anticipated fight all the way up to our main event, shall we?
Filip Hrgovic vs. Mark De Mori
I was hanging out in the lobby of the Hilton hotel in Uzbekistan with Rob Tebbutt of Boxing News when he broke this match to me.
I thought he was pulling my leg at first.
Imagine me, a guy who spends an unhealthy amount of time on Boxrec, unsure if Mark De Mori is still boxing.
But here he is at age 41 with a 41-2-2 (36) record about to box the IBF number one rated Filip Hrgovic this weekend.
De Mori is rated number #373 as this goes to print – I know many of you have feelings about the Boxrec rankings (I have the e-mails, DMs, and tweets I’m tagged in to prove it) but this seems like the right spot for a guy who hasn’t boxed a significant fight since being stopped in a round by David Haye in 2016.
In De Mori’s last fight in September in Singapore, you can watch a clip of Michael Speed Sigarlaki, a blown up super featherweight putting hands on De Mori while lasting the eight round distance.
Based on that alone, I give De Mori a 1% chance of beating Hrgovic, who I doubt wants to have a long night after doing twelve rounds with Big Bang Zhang and Dempsey McKean.
I will be stunned if this fight makes it past round two.
Jai Opetaia vs. Ellis Zorro
For those avoiding reading any boxing news this week, Jai Opetaia was forced to vacate his IBF cruiserweight title because this voluntary fight with Zorro was not approved by the sanctioning body.
This is despite the fact that the top contender, Mairis Briedis, is injured and not available to fight.
Weird politics aside, Opetaia is still recognized by the Ring magazine as their champion and is considered the best cruiserweight in the world by boxing fans.
At the same time, you can make a strong argument that Ellis Zorro is the eighth best cruiserweight … in England.
Zorro’s taste of the domestic scene are wins over Hosea Burton and Dec Spelman – and then jumping ahead to the best fighter in the division seems like an impossible task, considering Opetia polished off the more talented Jordan Thompson like an afterthought in front of his own fans.
Zorro Has More Chance To Win Than Does De Mori
The fact that Zorro hasn’t accepted defeat yet at 17-0 gives him a small boost over De Mori in my book, so let’s cap his chances of winning at 3%.
I would be surprised if this makes it to five rounds.
Frank Sanchez vs. Junior Fa
Frank Sanchez is in a strange position in the heavyweight division currently – a fighter with a good ranking and record that seems to be waiting for his opportunity.
How long that wait will be is anybody’s guess.
The competition since his signature win over Efe Agaba at the end of 2021 hasn’t exactly been breathtaking – Christian Hammer, Carlos Negron, Daniel Martz, and Scott Alexander.
It doesn’t help that Alexander had him legitimately rocked in their fight in September before Sanchez stormed back to force him to quit on the stool.
Sanchez can be a frustrating guy to watch sometimes, capable of being entertaining and getting lesser guys out when called upon, but also capable of sitting back and being happy to earn a decision.
His name value is still not beyond the hardcore fans, but it seems inevitable that he’ll get an opportunity as long as he keeps on winning.
Junior Fa’s value as a heavyweight greatly diminished in 2021 after he was easily outpointed by his amateur rival, Joseph Parker, losing his undefeated record in the process.
It got worse in June 2022 when Lucas Browne seemingly took the fight off the couch and flattened Fa inside a round.
Fa has fought once since then (beating 0-6 fighter in October 2022).
I have no idea if Fa is motivated to do anything against Sanchez beyond being handed a large bag of money to participate.
The layoff with his lack of recent success absolutely concerns me, so I’ll put his chances of winning between De Mori and Zorro at 2%.
Sanchez is absolutely capable of ending this in three or four rounds, but it could go longer if Fa is motivated.
Arslanbek Makhmudov vs. Agit Kabayel
There are few heavyweights more exciting than Arslanbek Makhmudov.
The man fights like a buzzsaw and understands that sickos like myself like early and vicious stoppages.
With the exception of Carlos Takam putting in a gutty performance, Makhmudov has been able to stop every opponent he’s faced.
His last opponent, Junior Anthony Wright, looked like a man heading to his cat’s funeral as he stepped into the ring in October and proceeded to get stopped in 70 seconds.
I’d expect Agit Kabayel, the European heavyweight champion, to give a more confident effort than Wright on Saturday.
Kabayel's best win was a majority decision over Derek Chisora – in 2017.
He's been a bit inactive since then with his most notable win over Kevin “Kingpin” Johnson, who currently specializes in losing to every European heavyweight possible while living in Russia.
Kabayel has a little bit of pop – 15 stoppages in 23 wins – but often seems to be content to box and go rounds when his opponent shows signs of life.
If Agit can get inside of Makhmudov’s offense and gain his respect, it could be very interesting.
Makhmudov had moments of vulnerability against the aging Takam. His stamina is in question, so maybe Agit can frustrate him and slow things down. Otherwise, he’s getting pancaked inside a round.
I’ll be honest, I see the pancaking scenario as more likely, but let’s give Agit an 8% chance to win. Makhmudov is prone to make mistakes, no matter how much I love watching him.
Daniel Dubois vs. Jarrell Miller
Perhaps the strangest fight that was announced on this show is Daniel Dubois, just four months after getting stopped by Usyk (or, according to some, being robbed of the heavyweight title) against Jarrell Miller, a man with little credibility left in this sport.
Like Makhmudov, Dubois is absolutely electrifying in the ring at his best. We know the chin is always going to be an issue from now on, but I think his reputation as a quitter when the going gets tough is a bit harsh – especially when he had to dig deep against Kevin Lerena after going down three times in a round.
Regardless, it may be a bit too soon for him to return to the ring after a devastating loss, but the Saudi money talks.
In a normal sport, Jarell Miller wouldn’t be invited to compete ever again, but this is boxing, baby! You could argue there was some accountability, as he lost his Top Rank contract and any title opportunities that came with it – but he is seemingly no longer a boxing pariah as of this weekend.
Jarrell Miller’s return from the disastrous drug test failure has been absolutely bizarre.
Two fights in 2022 (one fight in Argentina and one in Nashville, very normal stuff) before a surprisingly entertaining TKO6 over Lucas Browne this past March in Dubai.
Miller’s conditioning has frankly looked woeful, and while he gritted out the win over Browne, he looks like a shell of the guy who was gleefully eating sandwiches and weighing under 300lbs on Matchroom shows. He looked content to chill on the ropes and slug away.
Am I being too hopeful giving Big Baby Miller an 18% chance to beat Dubois?
It might be a wait-and-see situation on the scale, but if he can catch Dubois early, who knows?
I’d rather see a Dubois comeback story than Miller getting more chances, if I have to be frank. Look for the seventh or eighth round stoppage.
Dmitrii Bivol vs. Lyndon Arthur
Has anyone had a worse 2023 than Dmitrii Bivol? Imagine coming off of massive wins over Canelo and Zurdo and your biggest fight this year has been with your ex-wife. (Google it.)
Months after being relentlessly cooked with horrific abuse accusations by his family on Instagram, Bivol ends the 13 month layoff against 23-1 Lyndon Arthur.
Artur’s finest moment as a professional boxer (outpointing Anthony Yarde in 2020) was followed up by Yarde easily knocking him out in four rounds at the end of 2021.
Braian Nahuel Suarez was able to drop Arthur in their September fight as well – heavy “good enough to win the British title, but ceiling is low beyond that” energy.
It’s hard to say where Bivol’s head is at right now.
He also hasn’t had a stoppage since 2018, and that was Sullivan Barrera still making it twelve rounds.
I don’t know many British pundits high on Arthur’s chances, but most likely, he’s going to be able to stay on his feet for a bit and give it a real chance. If Craig Richards can win 4-5 rounds off Bivol, is it crazy to believe Arthur could do the same?
I’ll put Arthur’s chances of shocking the world at 10% – maybe a bit high, but we really won’t know where Bivol is at mentally until that bell rings.
Either way, don’t be shocked when it goes twelve.
Deontay Wilder vs. Joseph Parker
Man, I wish I didn’t have to wait fourteen months to watch Wilder again.
At least there’s an inground pool’s worth of money to get Wilder to hopefully box twice in the next six months.
You have to wonder – is Parker good enough to be a Luis Ortiz or Tyson Fury and take Wilder into the deep rounds, or will he join Stiverne, Breazeale, and Helenius in the one round victim club?
Parker’s chin has mostly held up over the years – with the exception of Joe Joyce getting him out – and his skills haven’t looked alarmingly diminished either.
He still looked fresh at 31 mopping up Simon Kean in three rounds just two months ago.
Also, the activity for Parker is very positive – this is fight number four for him this year.
In my head, the Wilder nuke going off seems inevitable, but also feels disrespectful to Parker’s skillset and history as a champion to assume he’s going to sleep inside a round.
Parker, to me, is smarter than Robert Helenius.
He’s going to have a developed gameplan and likely box carefully for a few rounds.
He’s content to be patient and look for his opening – I nearly fell asleep as he picked apart Alex Leapai for ten rounds in Providence, Rhode Island as proof of this – and maybe, just maybe, he can land something on Wilder and give him something to think about.
I give Parker a 20% chance to win this, and it would be likely by knockout.
I don’t see this going past five, but I think it’s going to be a blast as long as it lasts.
Anthony Joshua vs. Otto Wallin
As an OttoHead for a few years now, I was overjoyed that he’s getting a big opportunity against AJ.
At 34, has AJ peaked as a fighter?
Can we see him get to the top of the mountain again?
His performances against Jermaine Franklin and Robert Helenius didn’t blow me away, but I respect that he did what was needed to win.
However, the man changes trainers constantly while Otto works with, in my opinion, one of the most underrated trainers in boxing in Joey Gamache.
I had the pleasure to call Otto’s fight on commentary back in January in New Hampshire on a Boston Boxing Promotions show in Windham, New Hampshire.
To see him box in front of 900 people that night, to beating Murat Gassiev with the deck stacked against him in Turkey in September, to now getting the AJ fight is remarkable. And he’s earned it.
Read more about Otto Wallin and his path to Day of Reckoning here.
Otto’s game isn’t about power. It’s about activity, defense, and footwork. He frustrates you with his size. He works the jab.
He’s out-throwing you 3 to 1 and leaving you behind on the scorecards.
He’s had some bad nights, yes (see his fight with Kamil Sokolowski), but when he’s on his game I truly believe he can keep up with any heavyweight alive.
AJ obviously has the power advantage, so of course one punch on Wallin’s chin can change everything.
However, Otto being able to outwork him and keep it close on the scorecards is a scenario that I keep seeing in my head. With the Wilder fight for AJ on the horizon, winning on the scorecards might be an entirely different issue for Wallin.
At 40%, I think Otto is truly the best underdog play of this entire show and could upset the apple cart.
Maybe I’m looking at it from rose tinted glasses, but he might be able to grind it out and steal one from a complacent AJ.
Gamache got Otto to keep his head on right against Fury and put in respectable effort, I can see the same happening here.
No matter what happens, enjoy the marathon show, try to keep awake and not think about the weirdness! Enjoy the fights!
Besides writing for NY Fights, Grey Johnson has been a Boxrec editor for two decades.
He can be seen on Twitter @BoxrecGrey