RIYADH: Boxing’s heavyweight division is set for a major reordering when the “Day of Reckoning” takes place in Riyadh on Dec. 23, with a number of top-10 fighters vying for No. 1 status.
Leading the pack are Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua, who may fight each other after their bouts this month. A bout between the two has long been mooted but negotiations have broken down several times over the past few years.
They are on the same card and seeking to become the No. 1 contender for the World Boxing Council title.
Should both win their respective bouts, they will face each other for the right to challenge the winner of the undisputed heavyweight championship between WBC champion Tyson Fury and Unified Heavyweight Champion Oleksander Usyk that will take place in February in Riyadh.
Mauricio Sulaiman, president of the WBC, recently outlined the stakes involved for Wilder and Joshua.
“We’ve been waiting and pushing and mediating and encouraging everyone to try to make this happen,” he told Sky Sports recently.
“When Wilder was champion there were a couple of occasions where Wilder-Joshua came very close. The WBC left that window without interfering with anything that could get in the way.”
Before that, there is the small matter of Wilder facing current IBF and WBO Intercontinental Champion Joseph Parker, a difficult opponent for anyone on any given night.
Parker, fresh from a knockout victory over Simon Kean at Riyadh’s “Battle of the Baddest” in October, is hoping to extend his winning streak and stake his own claim to the throne.
Meanwhile, standing in Joshua’s way is Otto Wallin, who is ranked nine, and has only lost to Fury.
Wallin and Joshua faced off as amateurs over a decade ago — with the latter winning both in 2010 and 2011. It could be third time’s the charm for Wallin who, since then, may have developed the skill — and the will — to finally overcome Joshua.
Wallin is currently ranked No. 2 in the IBF heavyweight rankings, with rumors of that title becoming vacant next year. Should this happen, Joshua will wish to leapfrog Wallin to face No. 1-ranked Filip Hrgovic for the IBF title.
In Riyadh, Hrgovic will face the Australian Mark De Mori who has only been beaten twice in 45 fights. This fight is crucial for Hrgovic, who needs to keep his No. 1 IBF spot to challenge for the title next year. He has his work cut out for him as De Mori has an almost 90 percent knockout rate.
Daniel Dubois, who lost to Usyk in August, takes on the unbeaten knockout artist Jarrell Miller. Dubois lost the fight against Usyk after a contentious “low blow” ruling saw the Brit lose his momentum against the Ukrainian.
Russia’s Arslanbek Makhmudov against Germany’s Agit Kabayel could be the sleeper fun fight of the night. Makhmudov, the current WBC-NABF champion, has been steadily climbing the rankings, and will hope to defeat the unbeaten Kabayel, the EBU heavyweight champion.
Rounding out the heavyweights on the card is Frank Sanchez who will take on Junior Fa. This is a crucial bout for Fa, who has lost two of his last three fights. He faces a challenging task ahead in the form of the unbeaten Sanchez, the WBC Continental Americas heavyweight champion.
“In itself it is a natural WBC elimination tournament,” said Sulaiman. “You have Wilder, No. 1 Joshua, you have Parker, you have Otto Wallin, all those are highly ranked in the WBC. After Dec. 23 we’re going to see a different picture in the rankings.”
Looming further on the horizon is one of boxing’s newest and hottest properties: Francis Ngannou. The Cameroonian has catapulted himself into the WBC top 10 by almost beating Fury. A rematch is possible, according to Fury’s promoter Frank Warren.