The hotly discussed historic fight card scheduled for December 23 in Saudi Arabia was made official today in a press event for what's being called the “Day of Reckoning.”
There were so many fighters, along with a scattering of promoters and managers on the stage, it took two full rows of risers to hold them all.
The event, part of the same “Riyadh Season” which hosted the Tyson Fury vs. Francis Ngannou card, takes place at the same venue. Eight significant fights are scheduled, all in the heavyweight, cruiserweight, or light heavyweight divisions.
Heavyweights Anthony Joshua of England and Otto Wallin of Sweden, now based in New York, will headline in the main event. The co-feature pits former heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, against former champion Joseph Parker of New Zealand.
One dozen promoters came together in two weeks under the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's General Entertainment Authority (GEA), including Queensberry, Matchroom Boxing, Gold Star Promotions, NEC, and Sela.
There will be time to unpack all the implications in the weeks ahead, but let's set the table for a table boxing brunch the Saturday before Christmas.
Frank Warren, whose Queensberry seems to be the lead dog pulling the sled, said “This is historical. This is a game-changer. It changes the whole face of boxing. It could be the norm. We’re all working together to make these fights happen. You know why we’re doing it? For the fans! We will deliver it to the fans on a regular basis.”
Pardon the boxing world's skepticism, but there's one reason the unprecedented lineup came together: Saudi funding. His Excellency Turki Alalshikh, Chairman of the GEA, received gushing praise and thank yous from those on hand.
But as Eddie Hearn said, there's no denying the motivational push it gave those involved. “When you want to make fights, when you have a vision, when it’s in the best interests of the fighters, you can get it done,” said Hearn. “I think it's refreshing to see the change perhaps in the way boxing works. The event on December 23 is the best I’ve ever seen in the world of boxing.”
Joshua vs Wallin
While fans would rather see Joshua facing Wilder, the fight against Wallin presents a significant challenge. Wallin (26-1, 14 KOs) is coming off a tactically astute win over Murat Gassiev five weeks ago. His only loss was a competitive fight many observers believe he won against Tyson Fury. Wallin said he never imagined himself fighting again in 2023 when he got the call one week ago.
Wallin said it was an easy fight to make.”I’m in a great position. I’m a promotional free agent, I’m ranked #2 with the IBF. I’m really on the top of the world. I’ve been waiting for it a long time. I’m so happy and blessed to be in this position.
“He's a very good fighter,” said Wallin of Joshua. “I pretty much feel like he had his peak around 2018. Joshua deserves a lot of respect. He conquered the division for some time. But he’s on his way out and I’m going to help him with that.”
Joshua (26-3, 23 KOs) responded. “People who talk about how I’ve peaked have never seen peaked in their whole career, so I don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m looking forward to delivering my message to Otto Wallin on December 23.
“I can’t predict the future but I know where I want to go and what I want to do. I’m sticking to the plan and I’m a man of my word,” said the former two-time champion.
Wilder vs Parker
The re-emergence of Deontay Wilder might have been the happiest sight in Saudi Arabia. Wilder (43-2,1, 42 KOs) has only fought a single round in the last two years since his second loss to Fury. Wilder was in good spirits, saying it was “overwhelming” to be in the room with the rest of the fighters.
“When people come to see heavyweight boxing, then come to see excitement, but they come to see knockouts. That’s what I come to deliver December 23,” said Wilder.
“I’m on the same mission. To regain my title back, and unify the division. I’ve got everything I want in life. But to come back and finish what I started means everything to me.”
Wilder showed respect to his opponent Parker (33-3, 23 KOs), who blew out Simon Kean just two weeks ago. Parker said he's never shied away from big fights.
“Throughout my career, I’ve never shied away from big fights. I can’t wait to get back into camp and work for this fight. I respect (Wilder and trainer Malik Scott) but they’re in my way.” Parker said he would lean on longtime sparring partner Tyson Fury for advice on Wilder. “You’re gonna see December 23. I sort of feel my career went down a bit, but I’ve got a spark back.”
But the potential of a fight between Joshua and Wilder loomed over the event. When Wilder was asked about it, he said it was good to be in the same room, and wished Joshua nothing but the best.
— Matchroom Boxing (@MatchroomBoxing) November 15, 2023
Bivol vs Arthur and Opetaia vs Zorro
WBA World Light-Heavyweight Dmitry Bivol of Russia (21-0, 11 KOs) makes it just under the wire to get in a fight in 2023 after a sensational 2022. He will face Lyndon Arthur of Manchester (23-1, 16 KOs), a credible opponent but lacking the pedigree of Bivol.
“Everyone knows how good Bivol is, it’s no secret. I have to come in and upset the plan he’s got for the future,” said Arthur. Bivol is biding his time to fight Artur Beterbiev. Bivol thanked Arthur for stepping up.
“I’m glad I’m coming back in the ring. I really missed fighting,” said Bivol who added he plans to show his skills, make a good fight, and move forward toward his ultimate goal of unifying the division.
IBF and Ring Magazine World Cruiserweight Champion Jai Opetaia of Sydney, Australia (23-0, 18 KOs) is on a hot streak after blowing out Jordan Thompson in four rounds on September 30. “I will show why I’m the best cruiserweight in the world and the king of the division. Anyone in front of me, I'm going to beat.”
His opponent is Ellis Zorro of Kent, England (17-0, 7 KOs). “I can’t focus on what he’s done to other opponents. Styles make fights. Jordan’s a much bigger target than I am. We’re much different fighters.”
And – Then There's Big Baby
But when you need to sell a fight, you can rely on the big man from Brooklyn. Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller (26-0-1, 22 KOs) talked his trash with opponent Daniel Dubois of London (19-2, 18 KOs). Dubois is coming off a disputed loss to Oleksandr Usyk.
“Thank you Daniel Dubois for being a dummy and signing the contract, because I’m going to beat your ass,” said Miller. “I’m going in there and ripping your head off.” He crudely called Dubois a coward, saying he'd send the Brit to an early retirement.
Dubois got an assist from Dereck Chisora in the crowd, who sounded off several times throughout the news conference. “Big time boxing baby. I’m going to chop that tree down,” declared Dubois.
— Matchroom Boxing (@MatchroomBoxing) November 15, 2023
“Listen bro, I talk and I can back it up,” replied Miller. “He was scared to fight Joseph Parker, he don’t want to chase him around. I come forward. I’m mean, hungry.
“Bring it on. I’m motivated for this fight,” said Dubois.
Miller also lit up Joshua, admitting he didn't much like Deontay Wilder but said he'd put Wilder “in the grave. “Either fight Deontay and go to the grave, or fight me and go to the hospital. Either way, he gets his ass whooped. Either of us Americans will whip your ass. Stop running from me, stop running from Deontay.”
“Shut the fuck up, don’t start with me,” said Joshua. I’ll come over and slap you. I see you brought your mom. Watch your mouth, I’ll come over and slap it.” It was the most energy Joshua displayed during the event.
Three additional heavyweight bouts fill the undercard.
Frank Sanchez of Cuba (23-0, 16 KOs) vs Junior Fa of New Zealand (20-2, 11 KOs)
Filip Hrgovic of Croatia (16-0, 13 KOs) vs Mark De Mori of Perth, Australia (41-2, 36 KOs)
Arslanbek Makhmudov of Montreal (18-0, 17 KOs) vs Agit Kabayal of Turkey (23-0, 15 KOs)
Details about start times, broadcast partners, and pay-per-view pricing still to come. In the United States, it's safe to assume an early afternoon start time on the East Coast, and boxing for brunch on the Saturday before Christmas.