Former heavyweight champions Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder have a deal in place to fight on March 9 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, sources told ESPN.
The sides agreed on the money, sources said, but they both must come out victorious and uninjured in separate bouts on Dec. 23 in Saudi Arabia’s capital to finalize a bout that was first discussed in 2019.
Joshua fights Otto Wallin in the Dec. 23 main event in Riyadh while Wilder meets former heavyweight titleholder Joseph Parker. It’s far from a foregone conclusion that either Joshua or Wilder wins their respective bouts ahead of a potential showdown that will be one of the biggest in all of boxing.
“The reason that fight is happening with both on the same night is to prepare for and build a fight between the two,” Joshua’s longtime promoter, Eddie Hearn, told ESPN on Thursday in San Francisco. “So, the contracts aren’t signed, talks continue. But everybody wants to make that fight.
” … Everyone’s saying, ‘well why are you fighting a tough fight before Deontay Wilder?’ That was the fight that was proposed to us from Saudi. Joshua’s never turned down a fight. Wallin’s been on our list for the last two fights. The only reason we haven’t boxed him is because he’s a southpaw. So, to fight a southpaw on six weeks’ notice with a new trainer, not ideal, but [the Saudis] like the fight. They fancy the fight. Fingers crossed.”
Just two months ago, WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury survived a scare in Riyadh when he was knocked down by former UFC-star-turned-boxer Francis Ngannou, before hanging on to score a split-decision victory to move onto an undisputed heavyweight championship fight with Oleksandr Usyk. The Fury-Usyk deal was announced ahead of time and planned for Dec. 23 before Fury’s far-tougher-than-expected outing.
Joshua, ESPN’s No. 4 heavyweight, is just a -425 favorite against Wallin, per ESPN BET. The Olympic gold medalist from England will be trained by Ben Davison for the first time following two bouts with Derrick James in his corner.
Joshua’s career-best win came in 2017, when he survived a knockdown to score an 11th-round TKO of Hall of Famer Wladimir Klitschko. The victory at a sold-out Wembley Stadium was named ESPN’s 2017 Fight of the Year. Joshua also owns a win over Parker but hasn’t resembled the same fighter since a seventh-round TKO loss to Andy Ruiz in June 2019.
Joshua (26-3, 23 KOs) regained his three heavyweight titles six months later in a rematch with Ruiz in Riyadh. Back-to-back decision losses to Usyk followed.
The 34-year-old is riding a two-fight winning streak but struggled at times before he scored a seventh-round knockout of Robert Helenius in August. Helenius was brutally knocked out by Wilder in one round in the American’s most-recent bout.
“If he is overlooking me, so much better for me,” Wallin, a 33-year-old Swede who fights out of New York, told ESPN on Tuesday. “And if it’s true that they have the fight with Wilder made, I think that’s a great thing. He has to come out and look good in his fight, and when he won’t, he’s going to get frustrated.
” … The only reason they would have a rematch clause is because they’re afraid that he’s going to lose. … So, I feel like as soon as you poke Joshua a little bit, Eddie Hearn is not happy.”
Wallin (26-1, 14 KOs) is rated No. 10 by ESPN and is coming off a career-best victory, a split-decision over former cruiserweight champion Murat Gassiev in September.
Wallin has been in a similar spot before. He served as a tune-up for Fury in September 2019 ahead of a planned clash with Wilder the following year. Wallin threatened to win the bout and caused a cut that left Fury with 47 stitches above his right eye. “I feel like I have no pressure, just go in there, have fun just like I did with Fury,” he said. ” … [Joshua] knows that he is vulnerable and he knows that he can get hurt and dropped and stopped and lose fights. … What made him good was that he was aggressive, good puncher and seeking a stoppage type of guy. But he’s changed a lot and he’s lost some of what made him good.”
Wilder, ESPN’s No. 3 heavyweight, is also in tough. The 38-year-old is a -700 favorite, per ESPN BET, to defeat Parker on Dec. 23. Wilder is perhaps the biggest puncher in heavyweight championship history. All but one of his victories came via KO, and he stopped Bermane Stiverne in the first round of their rematch.
And while he is winless in his trilogy with Fury, Wilder floored Fury four times across the first and third bouts. That third fight with Fury in November 2021, which Wilder lost via 11th-round KO, was named ESPN’s Fight of the Year and KO of the Year.
Wilder (43-2-1, 42 KOs) has fought only one round since, a first-round KO of Helenius in October 2022.
Parker, meanwhile, is rated No. 8 by ESPN at heavyweight. The 31-year-old from New Zealand has scored three victories over limited opposition following an 11th-round KO loss to Joe Joyce in September 2022.
Parker (33-3, 23 KOs) scored a majority-decision victory over Ruiz in 2016 to capture a vacant title but dropped the belt to Joshua via decision three fights later.
“I know Parker has had his defeats, but he’s in a good place at the moment and Wilder’s coming off a long bout of inactivity,” said Hearn. “If Parker can get through four, five rounds, that ain’t that easy either. So, if they both win, I think we’ll get it.”