Joshua, Wilder and Bivol? Dec. 23 fight card just became one of the biggest in recent history

Boxing fans will be treated to a festive feast when heavyweight fights Deontay Wilder vs. Joseph Parker and Anthony Joshua vs. Otto Wallin top a card of rare quality on Dec. 23. Named as “Day of Reckoning,” the showcase event will have eight fights featuring world champions, former world champions and contenders at heavyweight, cruiserweight and light heavyweight taking place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Few boxing cards in recent history can match the depth in quality that will be on show in the desert. Let’s take a look at the fights and explain why each is so significant.

Deontay Wilder vs. Joseph Parker

What’s it all about? It is hard to pick a best matchup from such a strong selection, but if you had to then Wilder-Parker is perhaps it. The two former world heavyweight champions are fighting to stay relevant and to face Anthony Joshua in 2024. Parker reigned as WBO champion from 2016 to 2018; Wilder was WBC champion from 2015 to 2020.

How does it play out? Wilder (43-2-1, 42 KOs), who was negotiating to face Joshua on Dec. 23 earlier this year, is risking more than Parker (33-3, 23 KOs), who has his fourth fight in nearly a year. Wilder has had only one round of action since October 2022, when he stopped Robert Helenius in his first fight since back-to-back KO losses to Tyson Fury. Parker’s best chance is to keep the fight at range, setting a fast pace, and moving away from Wilder’s destructive right hand. But the American will always be dangerous with a one-punch KO.

What’s on the line? A fight against Joshua in 2024. Parker lost to Joshua on points in 2018, but a rematch becomes a possibility if can beat Wilder like Fury, who the New Zealander trains alongside. Wilder vs. Joshua is the bigger fight, though, and the biggest in the division outside of WBA-IBF-WBO champion Oleksandr Usyk vs. WBC titleholder Tyson Fury, who meet back in Saudi Arabia on Feb. 17.

Why should you watch? This is probably the best heavyweight matchup this year. We find out if Wilder, at age 38, still has his neutralizing punch — and if we are going to get finally get AJ vs. Wilder.

Anthony Joshua vs. Otto Wallin

What’s it all about? Joshua is taking a risk by facing Wallin. He has just six weeks to prepare for a southpaw after weeks, or months, of speculation he would be facing destructive right-hand KO machine Wilder on Dec. 23. If Joshua (26-3, 23 KOs) loses to Wallin (26-1, 14 KOs) he has little chance of facing the likes of Wilder or Fury next year. Wallin has been calling to fight Joshua for years, believing he can get the better of him.

How does it play out? Joshua, 34, has limited experience against southpaws and discovering how he fares against Wallin will be interesting. The last port-sider Joshua faced was Usyk, who beat him on points in successive fights (2022 and 2021). Wallin, 32, from Sweden but based in the United States, gave Fury a fright in 2019, taking him to points after Fury suffered a cut early on which later required nearly 50 stitches. Since then Wallin has compiled six wins, some against limited opponents and he squeezed past former world cruiserweight champion Murat Gassiev by a split points decision in September. Fury and Gassiev failed to stop Wallin, and perhaps that was the motivation for Joshua in taking this risky assignment. But expect AJ to box like he did against Robert Helenius in August, at range and cautiously in the early rounds before opening up his offense in the latter rounds.

What’s on the line? A potential fight versus Deontay Wilder for Joshua, or a lucrative rematch for Wallin.

Why should you watch? To see if Joshua can answer doubts about how well he does against southpaws and discover if we will finally get Joshua vs. Wilder.

Dmitrii Bivol vs. Lyndon Arthur

What’s it all about? Bivol (21-0, 11 KOs) is the highest ranked fighter and with a better win on his record (versus a prime Canelo Alvarez) than anyone else on the card. Arthur (23-1, 16 KOs), who has won four in a row since getting knocked out by Anthony Yarde in 2021, would need to produce a huge upset to win. He was surprised to get this fight.

How does it play out? Expect Arthur to be game, but not in the same league as Bivol, who is coming off brilliant points wins over Gilberto Ramirez and Alvarez.

What’s on the line? Bivol’s WBA world light heavyweight title.

Why should you watch? Bivol brings quality and is the highest ranked fighter on this incredible card. Bivol is No 5 in ESPN’s latest pound for pound rankings and was ESPN’s Fighter of the Year in 2022. Victory would set up the prospect of a long-awaited clash against fellow Russian Artur Beterbiev to decide an undisputed world light heavyweight champion next year. Beterbiev defends his belts against Callum Smith on Jan. 13.

Daniel Dubois vs. Jarrell Miller

What’s it all about? Miller (26-0-1, 22 KOs) talks a good game, but recently the previously suspended boxer has not been fighting at the same level as younger contender Dubois (19-2, 18 KOs), who gave a good account of himself versus Usyk in August.

How does it play out? Miller will take some shifting, but Dubois will eventually get the job done in the second half of the fight. Usyk stopped Dubois in the ninth round, but Dubois can take some confidence to how he performed that night.

What’s on the line? Victor will put themselves in contention for bigger fights in 2024.

Why should you watch? Both Miller and Dubois have power and this is an opportunity for one of them to look good in front of a large TV audience. This could be one of the most entertaining fights of the night.

Jai Opetaia vs. Ellis Zorro

What’s it all about? Opetaia (23-0, 18 KOs), 28, like Bivol, is No 1 in his respective division in ESPN’s latest divisional rankings and is widely expected to preserve that status in Riyadh.

How does it play out? For Zorro, this is a big jump up in class, but he will approach the fight with confidence after good wins this year versus Luca D’Ortenzi and Hosea Burton. Zorro (17-0, 7 KOs) does not have experience or KO power on his side. Opetaia made quick work of a similarly experienced opponent in Jordan Thompson two months ago. The Australian stopped Thompson in four rounds and Zorro will do well to prevent the champion from scoring another stoppage win in his second defense.

What’s on the line? Opetaia’s IBF world cruiserweight title. The Australian can move on to a title unification fight in 2024.

Why should you watch? Opetaia is currently the best there is at cruiserweight and one day hopes to step up to heavyweight.

Filip Hrgovic vs. Mark De Mori

What’s it all about? Hrgovic was involved in a snoozer last time out against Demsey McKean and he really needs to make a statement against his Australian opponent if he wants to be considered for bigger name opponents next year.

The Croatian is in a good position — No 1 challenger with the IBF — so needs to win to stay front of the queue for one of the belts held by Usyk.

How does it play out? Hrgovic eventually stopped McKean in the last round in August, but against 41 year old De Mori he needs to be getting the job done sooner. De Mori has been operating a long way from elite level since he was blasted out in a round by David Haye in 2016 and this match-up is no where near the quality of others on the card.

What’s on the line? Hrgovic needs to win to keep his place at the front of the line for Usyk.

Why should you watch? This could be over quickly and is a chance to assess what danger Hrgovic poses for the likes of Usyk, even if it does end up being a mismatch.

Arslanbek Makhmudov vs. Agit Kabayel

What’s it all about? These two might be some of the least known fighters on the bill, but don’t let that put you off. They are both among the chasing group hoping for a world heavyweight title shot in the next two years.

How does it play out? Makhmudov (18-0, 17 KOs) is one of the rising stars of the heavyweight division and the Canada-based Russian potentially faces his toughest test yet against the European champion. Kabayel (23-0, 15 KOs), from Germany, can at least be expected to last longer than Makhmudov’s last opponent (70 seconds)

What’s on the line? Winner takes a step closer to a mandatory position and keeps their unbeaten record.

Why should you watch? Makhmudov fights as if he has a curfew to keep. KO seems inevitable.

Frank Sanchez vs. Junior Fa

What’s it all about? Miami-based Cuban Sanchez (23-0, 16 KOs) is another heavyweight hoping to make an impression on the big stage in Riyadh and his recent form suggests he could do so.

How does it play out? Fa (20-2, 11 KOs) is rebuilding his career since losses to Lucas Browne and Parker, but has not fought since October 2022. He will have to produce a shock result to change the course of his career.

What’s on the line? Bigger opportunities for the winner.

Why should you watch? Sanchez has won three fights within the distance and looks good for another stoppage win.

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