By Declan Taylor

ANTHONY JOSHUA and Deontay Wilder will both fight on the same scarcely believable eight-fight card in Riyadh on December 23 in another display of financial might from the Saudi Arabia General Entertainment Authority.

The heavyweight pair had seemed to be heading for the end of 2023 without a fight as the likelihood of a Las Vegas encounter in March gathered pace.

But now the GEA, fronted by boxing fan Turki Al-Alshikh, has once again pulled off a significant coup by luring both Joshua and Wilder to the Kingdom for a Queensberry Promotions event midway through Riyadh Season.

Joshua, with reasonably low-key wins over Jermaine Franklin and Robert Helenius so far in 2023, will face Swedish southpaw Otto Wallin while Wilder will have his first fight in over 14 months when he takes on Joseph Parker.

The New Zealand man, a former Joshua opponent, secured an impressive victory over Simon Kean in Riyadh last month as part of the undercard for Tyson Fury’s controversial fight with boxing debutant Francis Ngannou. He has been rewarded for that performance with another payday here against Wilder.

December had been earmarked as the date on which Fury would fight Oleksandr Usyk in their long-awaited undisputed showdown but, given the bruising nature of the Englishman’s victory over Ngannou, it was decided that they will now fight in February before Riyadh Season ends in March.

There had been suggestions that Ngannou might take the pre-Christmas date after impressing against Fury with fights against Parker and China’s Zhilei Zhang discussed briefly. However, as soon as it became apparent that the former UFC champion would not be available, Frank Warren and the Saudis looked elsewhere.

They set their sights firmly on the two biggest names in the heavyweight division outside the current belt-holders and they have now secured them both. More to the point, it is understood that December 23 is being considered as two semi-finals and, should Wilder and Joshua both win, they will be finally matched together in Saudi during 2024. It’s a big if.

Both of them will start as overwhelming favourites in Saudi in their fights which have been billed as ‘co-headliners’ although it is still not clear which one of them will fight first. Given they installed a ring that rose up out of the floor for Fury-Ngannou, do not rule out them both boxing in separate rings at the same time.

Incidentally, the last time Joshua boxed Wallin, it was in a room with multiple rings as they tussled in the final of the 2010 Haringey Box Cup at Alexandra Palace, a bout that Joshua won via unanimous decision. Now 13 years on from that, Wallin is a 26-1 professional, with his only defeat coming against Tyson Fury in September 2019 when he nearly stunned the Gypsy King. Fury eventually won a unanimous decision in Las Vegas that night but was cut so badly by a Wallin punch that he required 47 stitches in the eye. For Joshua, this will be his first ever involvement in a Frank Warren card, although it will be billed as in association with Matchroom.

Wilder, meanwhile, has boxed just once since his memorable trilogy with Fury which ended 2-0-1 in his opponent’s favour and that was a one-round blowout against Helenius. Now the Alabaman must face one of Fury’s training partners and close friends Parker, who is trained by Andy Lee.

Away from Wilder and Joshua there is an intriguing and controversial clash between Daniel Dubois and Jarrell Miller, the American banned for two years in 2020 for the use of performance enhancing drugs. Miller has never faced a Brit before because his scheduled 2019 fight with Joshua was pulled due to a failed drugs test. Joshua instead faced late stand-in Andy Ruiz and got knocked out in New York.

But Miller has boxed three times since the ban with victories over Ariel Bracamonte (UD10) and Derek Cardenas (TKO4) last year before a six-round stoppage of Lucas Browne in Abu Dhabi in March. Now the 35-year-old from Brooklyn will get his chance to secure a major scalp in Dubois, in his first fight since losing in controversial circumstances to Usyk during August.

In another heavyweight fight of the night Arslanbek Makhmudov, fresh from his one-round destruction of Junior Anthony Wright in Riyadh, will meet 23-0 Agit Kabayel in a battle of the undefeated big men. Meanwhile, highly rated Frank Sanchez will put his 0 on the line against 20-2 Junior Fa. There is also an outing for Filip Hrgovic, who will fight for the IBF title next year, in what looks like a total mismatch against Australian former David Haye victim Mark De Mori.

There are also two non-heavyweight fights on the card as the world’s No.2 rated light-heavyweight Dmitrii Bivol purportedly faces Manchester’s Lyndon Arthur. Bivol was ringside for Fury-Ngannou and will now get the chance to box in Riyadh two months later against 23-1 Arthur. The winner will then hope to take on division leader Artur Beterbiev in 2024.

Finally, Australia’s brilliant southpaw cruiserweight Jai Opetaia was hoping to box a rematch with mandatory challenger Mairis Breidis but Ellis Zorro, untested in the extreme at this level, will challenge the world champion.