Joshua, Wilder, Bivol And More Line Up For Saudi Super-Show

Boxing's best and brightest are set to descend on the Gulf state
07:00, 14 Nov 2023

Saudi Arabia’s hold on the boxing game looks set to become even tighter, as they prepare a heavyweight-heavy throwdown on 23rd December. The date had initially been ringfenced for Tyson Fury’s undisputed heavyweight title unification with Oleksandr Usyk. But after the WBC champion took a hiding in a points win over Francis Ngannou, his fight with his WBA, WBO and IBF counterpart has been pushed back to 2024.

There was talk of Ngannou taking on the date but it now appears the former UFC champion will also be keeping his powder dry until the turn of the year. But Saudi sport didn’t get where it is by being pragmatic. The Gulf state is now set to throw an inordinate amount of money at almost every available big name heavyweight to fight on their pre-Christmas extravaganza.

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The double-main event looks set to come courtesy of Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder in separate fights. Quite why we couldn’t have had the pair against each other is anyone’s guess. You would have thought lessons were learned about being too clever when Fury’s injuries against Ngannou scuppered the fight everyone actually wanted to see him in, against Usyk.

But instead of the blockbuster clash we’ve all been waiting for between the big punches, Joshua looks set to face former Fury foe Otto Wallin. Meanwhile, Wilder is on a collision course with former WBO heavyweight champion Joseph Parker. Both are fine fights and a step up from where each man has been recently. ‘AJ’ is coming off back-to-back tune-ups, beating Jermaine Franklin by decision and Robert Helenius by knockout this year. Wilder’s last fight was over a year ago, also against Helenius. Joshua stopped him in seven sessions while Wilder got the job done in the first round.

Wallin gave Fury fits when they contested a thriller in 2019. ‘The Gypsy King’ was badly cut and made to battle all the way for a unanimous nod over the Swede. Wallin has won six fights since and was last seen beating former world cruiserweight champion Murat Gassiev. He poses a huge challenge to Joshua who has not fought a foe with this much ambition since his second fight with Usyk.

Wilder won’t have it much easier if the rumours are true. Joseph Parker is a former world champion and tough as nails. He has lost just one fight in five years, an 11th round stoppage defeat to Joe Joyce in an absolute war. Parker looked great on the Fury-Ngannou card, knocking out 22-1 Canadian Simon Kean in three rounds. Wilder is likely to be rusty having fought just once in two years while Parker always come to fight. This could be a tough night’s work for ‘The Bronze Bomber’.

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These two fights being on the same card would be noteworthy enough. But the Saudi regime don’t do things by halves. There is also talk of Britain’s former WBA ‘regular’ champion Daniel Dubois fighting Jarrell Miller. ‘Big Baby’ was the subject of a series of drugs bans that scuppered a fight for AJ’s unified world titles back in 2019. A win over Dubois would get his troubled career back on track.

Frank Sanchez, the unbeaten Cuban, looks set to face Parker’s New Zealand rival Junior Fa. There are also expected to be outings for heavyweight contenders Filip Hrgovic and Arslanbek Makhmudov. As if that wasn’t enough, WBA light heavyweight champion and Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez-conqueror Dmitry Bivol is expected to defend his belt against Richard Rivera. There is also talk of IBF cruiserweight king Jai Opetaia stepping through the ropes.

It is a card the likes of which boxing has rarely, if ever, seen. Of course the motivations of the Saudi regime, Riyadh Season and their penchant for staging glitzy sporting events are questionable. The allegations of sportswashing will only grow louder with each scarcely-believable festival of sport in the state. 

For some, the questions will persist. For others, a night of incredible fights will soften any doubts they might have had. As a pure boxing spectacle, this proposed card should be historic. What it represents in wider terms is less palatable. Increasingly, that is a decision sports fans are being asked to make.

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