T'is The Riyadh Season: Boxing Brings Out The Heavyweights For Saudi Showdowns

Fury-Usyk, AJ-Wallin and Wilder-Parker are ON
07:00, 17 Nov 2023

Saudi Arabia is edging ever closer to being the boxing capital of the world. Sportswashing is a powerful tool and the Gulf state has got the hosepipe out again, using a bevy of big name boxers to take another layer of grime off their human rights reputation. 

Boxing has never seen such an incredible display of largesse, which in a sport like this is really saying something. First on the 23rd December comes the deepest boxing card assembled in modern memory. Anthony Joshua vs Otto Wallin and Deontay Wilder vs Joseph Parker will headline a mega event in Riyadh. Then in February the same building will host WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury vs WBA, WBO and IBF kingpin Oleksandr Usyk.


This heavy-duty pair of shows will dominate the boxing conversation over the coming months. Perhaps most heartingly, despite the questionable motivations and gaudy trappings, the presently-announced action is all very boxing-focused. There is no influencer reputation on the bill, with the likes of KSI, Jake Paul and even half-boxer, half-celebrity Tommy Fury so far being kept at arm’s length. Perhaps the latter will find a way onto the February card though, given the fact his brother’s name will be above the door.

Francis Ngannou could feature on that February card too, after giving Fury conniptions in their October bout. But again, for now the focus is squarely on professional boxers rather than celebrity fighters from other realms like YouTube and the world of MMA. 

The December card in particular is a treat for boxing fans. The double-header main event, while not perhaps the fight everyone wants involving these men, is tantalising. Many would have preferred Joshua to meet Wilder directly, but given the latter hasn’t fought for a year that was always unlikely.

What we have instead is a couple of solid aperitifs for that eventual main course. Wallin is on a six-fight winning streak since slicing Tyson Fury so badly in 2019 that he needed 47 stitches. The Swede has already had a tense face-off with Joshua at the press conference, with the ill-feeling leading to a refused handshake on the part of Joshua.

Wilder brings the needle every time he fights, though even he might struggle to rile the perpetually chilled Joseph Parker. However, the former WBO champion is a different animal between the ropes. One of the toughest heavyweights going, Wilder will need every ounce of his generational power to take out the New Zealander.

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The undercard is almost obscenely stacked, with the pick of the bunch probably being one of the bill’s non-heavyweight attractions. WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol fights for the second time since beating Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez last year. The Russian had been rumoured to fight Richard Rivera but instead, Britain’s Lyndon Arthur has been given the shot. ‘King Arthur’ won the lightly-regarded IBO title last time out, but now he gets a shot at the consensus at a major world title for the first time.

Arthur isn’t the only British boxer contesting a world title on the Riyadh bill. Ellis Zorro gets an unlikely shot at IBF cruiserweight kingpin Jai Opetaia. The Australian blasted out another Brit in his last bout, finishing Jordan Thompson in four impressive rounds. Zorro has impressed domestically, but this is a massive step-up for the 31-year-old.

While the world title bouts on the card are in other divisions, the heavyweights truly dominate proceedings. ‘Dynamite’ Daniel Dubois, fresh off his controversial loss to Usyk, gets a fight with Jarrell ‘Big Baby’ Miller. The controversial American was supposed to fight ‘AJ’ years ago for the unified world title, but a series of drugs bans scuppered that bout. Now Miller tries to rebuild against one of the best of British.

One of the most intriguing fights of the bunch is the battle of the unbeaten fighters between Arslanbek Makhmudov and Agit Kabayel. Makhmudov has knocked out 17 of his 18 opponents, most recently taking care of Junior Anthony Wright in one round on the Fury-Ngannou card. Kabayel has 15 KOs from 23 wins, including a decision victory over Derek Chisora. Both men have been tipped for a title shot and it is a rare treat to see two fighters at this stage of their journey risk it all in the ring.

The card is rounded out with solid action such as Frank Sanchez vs Junior Fa and Filip Hrgovic vs Mark de Mori. Every fight offers intrigue in what is one of the most well-rounded cards you’ll see.

Of course even this stacked festival of fists will likely pale in comparison to February’s superfight. Fury vs Usyk is a fight that will crown the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis. Neither man has ever lost a professional bout. Both have held every single sanctioning body championship and The Ring belt at some point in their careers. Now they face off for all the marbles in a battle that will define this era of boxing. It really doesn’t get any bigger than this.

It feels refreshing to be talking about one of these huge events in terms of how good the boxing will be. Not bogged down in press conference scuffles, celebrity hangers-on and influencer involvement. As we get nearer to bell time, I’m sure some of those unwelcome accoutrements will rear their ugly head. But for once it feels nice to see some cards announced that will appeal to the hardcore fan as well as those with stars in their eyes.

AJ vs wallin odds*

*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change

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