Parker upsets Wilder to spoil potential Wilder-Joshua bout, Bivol wins again

Boxing

Entering the ‘Day of Reckoning’ boxing event on Saturday, the expectation was that both Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua would get wins to lock in a future bout between the two in 2024. But Joseph Parker had other plans. In the co-main event, Parker pulled off an upset unanimous decision victory over Wilder and in all likelyhood, ending the potential Wilder vs. Joshua headlining event. In the main event, Joshua got his most impressive win of the year, a fifth-round stoppage of Otto Wallin. Following Wilder’s loss his future is unclear, but surely Joshua will look to build on the momentum he has gained with this win. ESPN boxing analysts Mike Coppinger and Nick Parkinson react to Joshua-Wallin, Wilder-Parker and other fights on Saturday’s card.

Options for Joshua after Parker’s shocking win over Wilder

Former heavyweight champions Joshua and Wilder needed to win Saturday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to move onto a long-awaited meeting on March 9.

Simple enough, right?

However, boxing is the theater of the unexpected, and Parker decided to spoil those best-laid plans with a dominant decision victory over Wilder in the co-feature.

“Coming into this fight, everyone had other plans, but this is God’s plan,” said Parker.

Moments later, Joshua looked his best in years with a fifth-round stoppage victory over Wallin in the main event. Joshua hurt Wallin in Round 5 and appeared to break his foe’s nose before the corner stopped the fight.

“He’s back,” said promoter Eddie Hearn. “I believe that this Anthony Joshua is the best heavyweight in the world. … 2024 is going to be a massive year for him.”

Hearn said it was a tough decision between a title fight and Wilder, but Joshua ultimately signed to fight the American. Now that Wilder lost, Joshua could fight Croatia’s Filip Hrgovic on March 9 for the vacant IBF heavyweight title.

Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk fight for the undisputed heavyweight championship on Feb. 17 in Riyadh. The bout contains a two-way rematch clause, and the IBF has ruled that the winner must fight Hrgovic immediately afterward or vacate.

With the overwhelming likelihood that the winner vacates, Joshua will be in position to fight for the title. Wallin was the next-available contender for the IBF title, but Joshua’s victory will push him into that spot.

Hearn called Wilder’s loss perhaps a “blessing in disguise.”

“I’m sure everyone still wants to see that fight, right?” Joshua said.

But the Joshua-Wilder matchup will never hold the same appeal it did when it was first explored in 2019. And it certainly won’t now after Wilder’s latest loss, his third in four fights.

Wilder, 38, looked lethargic and reluctant to unload the trademark right hand that’s bailed him out so many times before. Instead, it was Parker, 31, who connected with the powerful right hands. And with his performance, effectively ended Wilder’s run as feared, top heavyweight.

Wilder entered the bout ranked No. 3 at heavyweight by ESPN, but is sure to fall several spots if he continues to fight on at all. New Zealand’s Parker, meanwhile, revived his career with his best performance yet. He now presents himself as a viable challenger to any of the division’s elite, a weight class that is slowly aging out.

Fury is 35 and Usyk is 36. Andy Ruiz hasn’t fought since September 2022. Joshua, meanwhile, appears reinvigorated after a busy 2023 that included three wins, none better than this most recent one.

The UK star was more aggressive than usual in his first bout with trainer Ben Davison. And it was Wilder who was the bigger betting favorite heading into Saturday night.

But Joshua took care of business while Wilder appeared finished. We might never see them share the ring now. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

What does matter: Joshua is once again on the cusp of a heavyweight title shot, and perhaps most importantly, is undoubtedly relevant.

“Deontay, after everything you said about me, I can rip him apart right now,” said Joshua. “But I’m going to take the higher ground. … I’m searching for greatness.” — Coppinger


Bivol continues path toward bout against fellow champion Beterbiev

Dmitry Bivol took a step closer to a potential undisputed light heavyweight title showdown against Artur Beterbiev, but, surely, he has to be a bit frustrated at not stopping Lyndon Arthur.

Bivol (22-0, 11 KOs), 33, from St. Petersburg in Russia, cruised to a shutout decision in a 11th defense of the WBA light heavyweight title. It was one-sided, but Bivol must be disappointed he did not register his first KO since 2018. He came close: Bivol floored Arthur for a count at the end of the 11th with a left to the body and then launched a big onslaught in the final round.

Nevertheless, Bivol’s performance was enough to secure the win. And in less than a month, we get to see his rival world champion Beterbiev (19-0, 19 KOs), who holds the WBC, IBF and WBO belts, defend his titles against Callum Smith in Canada on Jan. 13.

Bivol, No. 5 in ESPN’s latest pound-for-pound rankings and the leading light heavyweight, would not say who he prefers to face between Beterbiev or Smith, but a fight against his fellow Russian (Beterbiev) is what most want to see.

Along with the heavyweight undisputed title clash between Fury and Usyk, it will be among the best matchups boxing can offer in 2024.

Bivol vs. Beterbiev could take place in Saudi Arabia near the middle or second half of 2024, sources told ESPN. Bivol’s movement and punches looked sharp after over a year without fighting, but he couldn’t get the finish against Arthur to help convince everyone’s opinion that he would be favored against Beterbiev.

Arthur (23-2, 16 KOs), 32, from Manchester, England, was a big underdog in his first world title fight (+1100, according to ESPN BET) but he showed plenty of courage to deny Bivol a knockout and can be proud of his performance given he had four weeks to prepare for the biggest challenge of his career.

“He’s as good as everyone thinks he is, I believe he will beat Beterbiev,” Arthur said. –Parkinson


Opetaia continues to prove he’s world-class at 200 pounds, even without a title

Jai Opetaia took less than a round to show why he is a class apart from the rest of the cruiserweight division.

The Australian took out his recent frustration of losing his world title without throwing a punch with a stunning first-round knockout of Ellis Zorro.

It was such an impressive finish that it leaves no doubt as to who should be considered the best cruiserweight in the world, even though this was a non-title bout. Some will even argue that Opetaia should now be ranked among the top ten pound-for-pound fighters.

“Put the people in front of me and I knock them out,” Opetaia said afterward, while promoter Eddie Hearn talked about the Australian one day stepping up to challenge for titles at heavyweight. Hearn also talked about unifying titles at cruiserweight but Opetaia is likely to face Mairis Briedis first in an attempt to win back the IBF belt. The Australian is no where near the three world champions at cruiserweight in the governing bodies’ rankings, so Briedis seems the most likely route.

This was supposed to be Opetaia’s second title defense, but the Australian last week vacated the IBF belt after the organization ruled he must next face mandatory challenger Briedis in a rematch.

Opetaia (24-0, 19 KOs), 28, from Sydney in Australia, ESPN’s No. 1 boxer at 200 pounds, chose to proceed with facing Zorro in a non-title cruiserweight bout so relinquished the title.

His quality was soon apparent versus Zorro as he moved around the ring and first feinted to the body before whipping in a left hand to finish off the Londoner.

Zorro (17-1, 7 KOs), 31, even applauded once he got to his feet after being stopped two minutes, 56 seconds into the first round. — Parkinson


Dubois gets back on track with win over Miller

Daniel Dubois can once again dream big after removing the very big Jarrell Miller from his path.

After suffering a second professional defeat to Usyk in a world title fight, “Dynamite” Dubois (20-2, 19 KOs) revived his career with perhaps his best win yet against Miller. The south Londoner is still adrift of world title opportunities, but, at 26 years old, he has time on his side and this win was a big step towards getting back into title contention. A fight against the likes of Agit Kabayel, who looked impressive earlier in the card, would be a bold move for Dubois, but one that would accelerate his career. Both leave Saudi Arabia as stars of the ‘Day of Reckoning’ card.

Usyk stopped Dubois in the ninth round, but Dubois performed well in the fight and that second professional defeat has not drained him of confidence, as we saw as he came through some nervy moments early on before dominating Miller.

“Big Baby” Miller (26-1-1, 22 KOs), a New Yorker who was suspended for 2+ years following two positive PED violations, weighed in a staggering 333 pounds, 94 pounds more than Dubois (239 pounds). Dubois was unsurprisingly more mobile throughout. Miller absorbed a lot of punches, but Dubois has power and he finished well late, with two right hands perhaps finishing Miller’s career at the top end of the heavyweight division. –Parkinson


Kabayel earns himself a step up in competition

Agit Kabayel scored a fourth-round TKO victory over Arslanbek Makhmudov in a career-best performance that should propel him to a meaningful heavyweight bout in 2024.

Kabayel was the underdog, but it ended up being a mismatch in the German’s favor. In the battle of undefeated heavyweights, it was Kabayel who landed the far cleaner, harder shots. He also dealt damage to Makhmudov’s body.

With three knockdowns of Makhmudov, Kabayel landed the fourth-round TKO in devastating fashion and placed himself firmly in the running for a big payday next year. He’s been mentioned as an opponent for Fury and Joshua many times over the years, and with this performance, proved he’s a viable foe. — Coppinger


Sanchez extends win streak, but unimpressive in the spotlight

Frank Sanchez remained undefeated with a seventh-round TKO of Junior Fa to kick off the eight-bout card, scoring three knockdowns before the referee stopped the fight.

Cuba’s Sanchez is talented and has been lobbying for a marquee fight, but this wasn’t the kind of performance that will help him land it. The first five rounds of the bout lacked action as both boxers looked to establish their jabs.

Sanchez finally floored Fa in Round 6 and then two more times in Round 7. But Fa was an easy touch. After all, he was blasted out in one round last year by a 43-year-old Lucas Browne.

Sanchez needs to finally step up his level of competition to find just how good he is, whether that’s someone on the back end of the top 10 or on the cusp. — Coppinger

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