Heavyweights can determine the outcome of a fight with a single punch. Or not.
The highly anticipated plans for an Anthony Joshua vs. Deontay Wilder fight circled the drain Saturday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Joshua did his part, beating Otto Wallin with one of his best performances in years with a fifth-round TKO victory when Wallin could no longer continue.
Wilder couldn’t find his way clear to land his powerful right hand, thanks to an impressive, disciplined performance by Joseph Parker for a clear win on the scorecards. Looming now is a discussion about the plans for a Joshua vs. Wilder showdown on March 9, 2024.
Joshua Returns To Top Form Against Wallin
Joshua of London (27-3, 24 KOs) faced his longtime sparring partner in Wallin of Sweden (26-2, 14 KOs). The familiarity with his opponent surely gave Joshua a boost to his confidence he lost along the way to move in on Wallin with determination round by round.
Joshua landed a hard shot on Wallin seconds into the fight. It likely broke his nose, which was reddened and bloody. There’s nothing like a bit of blood on your opponent to fire a fighter up.
Joshua kept up the pace, punching his way in closer and closer. Wallin couldn’t gain back any ground, fighting on the back foot.
Joshua brashly predicted a fourth-round knockout. He was off by a round, and he can be forgiven for it. Joshua hit pay dirt, tagging Wallin with the hard right hand he had been aiming his way all night. He staggered the Swede, though Wallin stayed on his feet. But it was as clear a turning point as a knockdown.
After Wallin returned to his corner, his team led by trainer Joey Gamache wisely called off the fight. The punch may have caused more damage to Wallin, potentially a broken orbital bone, along with the damaged nose.
“I think the corner played a big role in what happened to their fighter. I’m sure he would have carried on,” said Joshua. “I’m just a gifted fighter who has a special gift, and I use it to the best of my ability. I work hard, extremely hard. If it works, it works. It was just my day, thank God.”
Joshua: ‘Boxing is a treacherous game'
Joshua not only needed a win, but he also needed to thrill and entertain. He did so. Asked to assess his performance, Joshua demurred, saying he would let his team, led by Davison, do that.
“it's just another fight,” said Joshua. “I was telling everyone I need to focus on the man in front of me, because I respect what he's bringing to the table. It was not so much a throwback flight, just another day in the office.”
Joshua called boxing a “treacherous game.” “It’s like Snakes and Ladders. One win gets you up the ladder, and a loss takes you all the way back down. So, what I want to do is just be victorious for as long as I can.”
“I’ve fought Otto, sparred with him… fought Joseph Parker, was going to fight with Miller. Sparred with Dubois, sparred with Agit (Kabayel). I’ve been around the block. Hard work kids, staying focused, dedicated to the craft will pay dividends in the long run… All that history with Otto paid off today,” said Joshua.
“I know how important this fight was for me. There are fine margins in this business. No one is running or ducking from anyone,” said Joshua.
Wilder Fight Dead in the Water?
Where does the fight against Deontay Wilder stand? Joshua insisted a fight with Wilder was still viable in his mind.
“Every fight leads towards a final destination. If I continue to be victorious it just happens naturally. If I don’t I slide down the ladder. Keep on praying, keep on working hard. I’ve got to stay focused because I’m on a journey, and it’s hard. Let’s see how I can finish this,” said Joshua. “We’ve got bigger ambitions … I celebrate when I win the championship.”
Matchroom Boxing chairman Eddie Hearn crowed about Joshua. “I believe that this AJ is the best heavyweight in the world. That was a punch-perfect performance tonight. With this mindset and this team, he’s unbeatable. 2024 is going to be a massive year for him.”
Joseph Parker Handcuffs Deontay Wilder For Big Win
Joseph Parker of New Zealand (34-3, 23 KOs) got off to a strong start against Deontay Wilder of Tuscaloosa, Alabama (43-3-1, 42 KOs), as most boxing observers predicted. From the first round, trainer Andy Lee told Parker he was winning. Round after round, Lee kept telling Parker he was winning. Parker said after the sixth round, Lee said, “I know you’re bored. Keep it up.”
But most of Wilder’s opponents were winning on the cards until they found themselves at the end of a knockout loss. When you’re talking about the man considered the hardest puncher in boxing, there is always the threat of a spoiler. Ask Luis Ortiz, who won every round until the final round when Wilder knocked him out cold.
But the surprise turned out to be no surprises. Parker put on the pressure and showed caution but no fear of Wilder. Wilder has no plan B, and when he couldn’t settle down and close in on Parker, the hard right hand never came. When the final bell came, the outcome was as shocking as it was assured.
The scorecards read 120-108, 118-111, and 118-110 in favor of Joseph Parker.
Parker called it the biggest win of his career, more significant than the win over Andy Ruiz Jr., giving him the WBO World Heavyweight title. “This one is the top one. The win over Andy Ruiz was great at the time. This one is massive,” said Parker.
Ring Rust Is Real
Parker had three wins since his knockout loss to Joe Joyce in 2022, and he was sharp and accurate. He last fought just 56 days ago. He was prepared, assured, and in control.
Wilder fought one round against Robert Helenius in the last two years, and it showed. At age 38, Wilder looked ill-prepared. Parker said he believed the inactivity played a part.
“With all respect to Wilder, we trained very hard for this,” said Parker. “We were purely focused. We had great momentum. Coming into this fight, I tell you. Everyone had plans, other plans. But this is God’s plan.”
Parker said trainer Andy Lee delivered the game plan. “The strategy was to stay calm, stay relaxed, stay focused, switched on every second of every round. There are always things to work on, but today, we got the win. Merry Christmas to us!”
Parker described working on staying away from Wilder’s right hand. “Practice, practice, practice, work, work, work. And listen, I had to be aware all the time. It did catch me a few times, and I'll tell you this. it's a very hard right hand. If I had landed clean, it would have been different, but today's my day.”
Parker defanged Wilder, and he doesn’t have much of a Plan B when someone can shut him down.
After nine rounds, Parker had landed 44 power punches against just 17 for Wilder. The American was breathing hard and unsteady on his legs like a baby deer. Trainer Malik Scott told Wilder he needed to let his hands go, but there was no Angelo Dundee “you’re blowing it son” or Teddy Atlas “We are firemen!” speech. It may not have made any difference.
Wilder Out The Door?
Wilder said he planned to throw his jab to set up the right hand. “My timing was off a little bit,” admitted Wilder. “Big ups to Joseph, he did a great job. He avoided a lot of my punches. We make no excuses tonight. It was a good fight, and we move on to the next thing.” Wilder denied his performance had anything to do with inactivity.
Looking to the future, Wilder seemed utterly at peace, perhaps at the end of the line. “I’m a warrior, I’ll be back soon. But if not, I appreciate the love and support you’ve given me over the years.”
It’s a fool’s game to take a fighter at his word at the end of a bout after a loss. But at age 38 and with more than enough wealth to care for his family and community, Deontay Wilder may have another calling.
Future of the Heavyweight Division in 2024
It will be promoters scrambling to figure out how the heavyweight division shakes out. They’ll await the outcome of the unification fight between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk penciled in on February 17 in Saudi Arabia.
Immediately after Joshua's win in the ring, Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn didn't completely rule out a fight against Wilder.
“It’s a tough decision between the championship and Deontay Wilder. We signed for Deontay Wilder. He lost. That’s OK, it happens in boxing. Maybe it’s a blessing. Really, this is about championships. (Joshua) wants to become a three-time heavyweight world champion. It’s going to be (Filip) Hrgović against AJ for the world title,” said Hearn.
An hour later, at the post-fight news conference, Hearn confirmed the plan was to formally announce the Joshua vs. Wilder fight, which was signed and ready to go. But Parker’s victory killed the plan.
While deferring to Joshua as the ultimate decision maker, Hearn strongly indicated he would prefer to see Joshua fight for a title to become a three-time world heavyweight champion. Should the IBF belt become vacant, the most likely opportunity could come against IBF number two challenger Hrgović.
Either way, Hearn said, “2024 is going to be very interesting. Every heavyweight should be on notice.”