Boxing is embracing the festive season with a special treat, a spectacular event featuring four of ESPN’s top ten heavyweights in the two main fights on Saturday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (ESPN+ PPV, 11 a.m. ET).
The main event will highlight the prowess of the former three-belt unified champion Anthony Joshua, who is fighting for the third time in 2023. Joshua faces his amateur adversary Otto Wallin, a technically adept southpaw. Wallin’s only defeat was to Tyson Fury, the undefeated, current WBC and lineal heavyweight champion in 2014. During their showdown, Wallin exceeded expectations, causing a cut above Fury’s right eye and challenging his resilience. Wallin has been soundly irrelevant since that fight, and now he has the opportunity of a lifetime to avenge his two amateur losses to Joshua and to inch closer to title contention.
In the co-main event, former WBC heavyweight champion Deontay “The Bronze Bomber” Wilder will engage in a must-see battle against the resilient former WBO heavyweight champion Joseph Parker. Adding to the intrigue, Joshua and Wilder have agreed to face each other in a highly anticipated matchup in 2024 — if both win on Saturday. But before we allow our imaginations to run wild, we must delve into the intricacies of these two competitive matchups.
Joshua vs. Wallin
Joshua paying no mind to Wilder’s talk
Anthony Joshua says he won’t be distracted by Deontay Wilder with a potential clash between the two on the horizon.
A look at the fighters
Despite his size and incredible physique, Joshua has shown a potential Achilles’ heel in his mental game. His knockout loss to Andy Ruiz Jr. and two back-to-back defeats at the hands of the current heavyweight unified champion, Oleksandr Usyk, have spotlighted Joshua’s vulnerability.
In the past two years, Joshua has gone through a revolving door of trainers, seeking guidance to refine his boxing style and develop his skills. A fighter can lose themself after a few setbacks, forgetting who they were before the losses.
In search of his confidence, Joshua enlisted trainer Robert Garcia for his rematch with Usyk in hopes of fighting more in the style of a Mexican pressure fighter, but he still lost a split decision. Then, he switched to Derrick James, a more technical trainer, to prepare for his bouts against Jermaine Franklin and Robert Helenius, which he won. For this upcoming match against Wallin, Joshua has turned to the well-respected Ben Davison, a trainer renowned for his cerebral and tactical approach to boxing, cemented in the mentality of hit and don’t get hit. However, a successful boxer-trainer relationship is not built overnight. It requires time, trust and mutual understanding to break old habits and cultivate new strategies. While Joshua may be seeking a confidence boost, Davison’s real challenge will be to understand Joshua’s psyche, his motivations and his potential trigger points, both physical and mental.
Wallin, on the other hand, is under the guidance of former lightweight champion Joey Gamache. Gamache, 57, has a track record of devising in-depth fight plans and strategies. His fight plan for Wallin nearly disrupted Tyson Fury’s rematch with Wilder in 2019.
Gamache has experience working opposite Davison. During Fury-Wallin, Davison was the head trainer of Fury. That experience gives Gamache a unique perspective. He also understands Joshua’s current struggle with confidence, something he can leverage to Wallin’s advantage.
In this psychological battle, the edge seems to bend in favor of Wallin. Not only does he have a trainer who understands the mindset of his opponent, but Wallin also benefits from the stability of a consistent coaching relationship. The confidence from this consistency, coupled with Gamache’s strategic ways of exploiting vulnerabilities, makes this a compelling fight.
How the fight can play out
Wallin leverages a jab output from the southpaw stance that could be effective in this matchup. His jab is his primary tool for dictating the tempo of a fight and maintaining the necessary space to optimize his abilities. Southpaws, such as Wallin, enjoy the predictable angles presented by orthodox fighters, seizing opportunities to capitalize on advantageous positioning on their opponent’s weak side. In this case, that is the left side of the orthodox boxer Joshua.
With a preference for space, Wallin implements sharp counterattacks and launches sudden left crosses and solid right hooks. His tactical approach aims to navigate to safety on the opponent’s weaker side, using whatever route is open, backwards or sideways. Wallin’s goal will be to outmaneuver Joshua, aware that he may not have the physical strength or the necessary punching power to maintain an inside position and trouble Joshua. That’s not Wallin’s strong suit.
To deter Joshua, Wallin may need to stand his ground at times. Joshua, on the other hand, may find himself in a position where he must strategically pursue the fight behind his jab. However, his jab may be somewhat restrained and controlled by the lead hands of both fighters aligning on the same side.
In this matchup, Joshua’s left hook and right cross could be devastating weapons against Wallin’s southpaw stance. These punches could land effectively if Wallin jabs from an unfavorable range, exposing his centerline (target areas). As the puncher with a longer reach, Joshua may look to strike simultaneously as Wallin jabs, exploiting the gap in the guard as Wallin extends his jab.
Wallin’s high jab output poses both a potential advantage and a potential pitfall. Although he adapts well and can fight off his back foot while moving to the right, his effectiveness diminishes when moving to the left. Wallin boasts fundamental soundness and favors straight punches, yet he notably lacks bodywork and punch variety. While simplicity holds its allure, it also creates predictability and becomes a target for elite opponents. Under pressure, Wallin’s errors, such as turning the corner from mid-range, are obvious, leaving him vulnerable to Joshua’s vicious right cross. Confidence is valuable, but Joshua’s strengths are undeniable. I pick Joshua by a hard-fought decision.
Wilder vs. Parker
Wilder prepared to wait for Parker knock out
Deontay Wilder says he won’t rush for a knock out against Joseph Parker on December 23.
A look at the fighters
As Wilder prepares to face Parker, he must remain laser-focused on the task. He can’t get bogged down by the looming presence of his arch-nemesis Fury, who is a training partner and best friends with Parker. It’s no secret that Fury may attempt to influence the situation from the outside, or he may not. Either way, Wilder must keep his attention squarely on Parker and avoid being drawn into any distractions. Having been out of the ring for over a year since his knockout victory over Helenius, Wilder has dedicated himself to rigorous training under Malik Scott.
Parker has maintained an active schedule, impressively securing three victories this year, two by knockout. His recent performance on the undercard of Fury-Francis Ngannou — a third-round KO win over Simon Kean — showcased his sharpness and readiness.
While Wilder, at 38, is refining his skills with a new approach, Parker, at 31, brings a wealth of experience to the ring. Despite enduring rigorous battles with pressure-style fighters like Joe Joyce, Joshua and Dillian Whyte, Parker has shown excellent punch resistance, having been stopped only once in his career. Known for his technical ability, quick hands and good footwork, Parker poses a complex challenge, while Wilder’s explosive punching power and relentless determination add an electrifying dynamic to the matchup.
How the fight can play out
Parker promises to beat Wilder and spoil his Joshua fight plans
Joseph Parker warns Deontay Wilder of the consequences of looking past their heavyweight clash on December 23.
Under the seasoned guidance of his trainer, former middleweight world champion Andy Lee, along with Fury, I bet Parker is strategizing a blend of pressure and technical boxing. He will aim to penetrate the danger zone of Wilder’s power, as staying on the perimeter is risky due to Wilder’s reach and lethal power.
Wilder is notorious for his potent one-two combinations, where he shuffles his feet to create forward momentum while simultaneously unleashing his jab. This is a marker for his eyes to locate his target before he winds up his right cross, a blow that seems to be kryptonite for his opponents’ chins. However, Wilder stumbles when forced to fight on the retreat, taking away the necessary balance to maximize leverage.
Parker’s most significant challenge will be the discrepancy in reach. Wilder boasts an 83-inch reach compared to Parker’s 78-inch reach, granting Wilder a five-inch advantage and a three-inch height edge. Closing the distance will prove difficult for Parker. He can box from the outside, but this places him directly in the line of Wilder’s best punches. The options for Parker are: Stay out and move right away from Wilder’s right cross or go into the trenches.
Wilder must be assertive with his jab to disrupt Parker’s rhythm and force him to retreat. Parker possesses a courageous heart, which often lands him in trouble. He tends to engage in combat when he should employ innovative tactics, and he opts for aggression when a strategic approach is needed. Wilder should aim to intercept Parker either coming in or while he’s making his escape.
Parker will showcase lightning-fast combinations and will move to his right effectively to evade Wilder’s right hand. His skill as a counterpuncher will allow him to land precise shots on Wilder, capitalizing on his diverse punching arsenal, unleashing left hooks and delivering impactful body shots. But when faced with intense pressure, Parker’s technical ability wavers, leading to faltering technique and footwork and causing him to resort to unorthodox movements to evade danger.
While Wilder may not be flawless, he can capitalize on a single opportunity to score a decisive, devastating knockout. Unlike Fury, Parker may not have the resilience to withstand Wilder’s onslaught. I’m taking Wilder by KO.