Deontay Wilder, Joseph Parker and a shocking ‘Day of Reckoning’ in Riyadh



Deontay Wilder, Joseph Parker and a shocking ‘Day of Reckoning’ in Riyadh

On Saturday, Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA) took the next step toward achieving dominance over boxing’s heavyweight division as part of a campaign to burnish The Kingdom’s image and engender tourism through what has become known as “sportswashing”.

An eight-fight card featuring Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder in separate bouts was contested in Riyadh. The GEA under the direction of His Excellency Turki Alalshikh was its primary architect. The event was styled “Day of Reckoning” - a term laden with symbolism in both Islam and Christianity.

None of the match-ups was remarkable on paper. But the fact that Joshua and Wilder were on the same card and the sheer volume of bouts involving high-profile fighters sparked interest in the proceedings. Then Wilder was upset by Joseph Parker and the “Day of Reckoning” took on new meaning.

The first boxing card of note in Saudi Arabia was contested in Jeddah on 23 September 2018, when Callum Smith knocked out George Groves and Chris Eubank Jr stopped JJ McDonagh. Ten months later, also in Jeddah, Amir Khan and Hughie Fury scored victories over Billy Dib and Samuel Peter.

Then the fights got bigger. On 7 December 2019, Anthony Joshua regained his heavyweight belts in Riyadh by decision over Andy Ruiz. Eight months after that, Joshua fell victim to Oleksandr Usyk in Usyk-Joshua II in Jeddah. On 26 February 2023, Tommy Paul decisioned Jake Paul in Diriyah. And on 28 October of this year, Tyson Fury eked out a decision over Frances Ngannou in Riyadh.

That set the stage for the “Day of Reckoning”.

Initially, boxing fans were led to believe that 2023 would end with Joshua and Wilder fighting each other. On 18 August, Eddie Hearn (Joshua’s promoter) declared, “The only way this fight doesn’t happen is if Saudi doesn’t deliver the fight.”

Saudi didn’t deliver the fight. Then on 15 November, the “Day of Reckoning” was announced.

Prior to fighting Joshua in 2017, Wladimir Klitschko asked, “What does Anthony do when he gets hit again and again? What does he do if he has to go backward? Is he the new Lennox Lewis, or is he the new Frank Bruno?”

Against Klitschko, Joshua looked like the new Lennox Lewis with flashes of the young Riddick Bowe thrown in. But since then, AJ has fallen short of what his potential appeared to be. Entering the ring in Riyadh, he’d won only four fights in the preceding 63 months, lost twice to Usyk, and been knocked out by Andy Ruiz.

After Joshua’s most recent outing (a seventh-round stoppage of Robert Helenius), Carl Froch opined, “That performance was awful. It was terrible. It was such a bad performance in so many ways. He was gun-shy. He looked like he didn’t want to be in there at times.”

But Joshua remains one of boxing’s most prominent personalities. Matt Christie spoke to the nature of AJ’s fame when he wrote, “It’s a fame that plenty dream of achieving but only the most narcissistic could possibly enjoy. Walking down the street is no longer something that can be done on a whim. Nipping to the local café, park, or pub to lose oneself is another of life’s pleasures that has ceased to exist. Yet Joshua remains grounded. Or at least as grounded as someone like Anthony Joshua can possibly be. The fact he has retained that sense of who he is and what he’s about throughout his career is one of the biggest compliments to pay him.”

'I'll fight anyone': Anthony Joshua targets world title after Wallin win – video

Wilder, in many ways, is the polar opposite of Joshua.

Deontay revels in talk of seriously injuring or taking the life of opponents. Speaking of his “Day of Reckoning” bout against Joseph Parker, he declared, “I’m training to be a killer. It’s a feeling that I enjoy having. It’s a crazy feeling to have, knowing you’re a dangerous man, you’re a walking weapon, and in any given moment of time you can bring harm and damage and danger to anyone. I’m looking forward to releasing that feeling on the night of the fight.”

Joshua put his adolescent problems with the law in the rear-view mirror long ago. Wilder has had ongoing legal issues, most recently in May of this year when he was arrested for possession of a concealed weapon during a traffic stop in Los Angeles. More seriously, Deontay was arrested in 2013 and charged with domestic battery after beating up a prostitute in a Las Vegas hotel room. His attorney later explained that Wilder thought the woman was going to rob him.

Wilder also did himself no favors with his behavior after being knocked out by Tyson Fury in 2020. He had a litany of excuses … The costume he wore for his ring walk was too heavy and drained the strength from his legs … Fury had “something the size and the shape of an egg weight” in his gloves … Referee Kenny Bayless was either drunk or part of a conspiracy against Deontay … Mark Breland (Wilder’s trainer) was part of the same conspiracy and most likely spiked Deontay’s water bottle.

Still Wilder put a lot in perspective last year when he observed, “Most fighters in this business are only in it to come out of poverty. We want to be able to get ourselves out of a bad situation and support our families. You don’t see anybody with a silver spoon come into boxing. That’s why it consists of guys that have been locked up, dope dealers, murderers, anything you have in prison you gonna find in the business.”

And putting everything else aside; in recent years, Wilder has been the hardest puncher and one of the most exciting fighters in boxing No one boos out of boredom during a Deontay Wilder fight.

“Day of Reckoning” was streamed globally by DAZN and shown on pay-per-view in the United Kingdom (TNT Sports Box Office) and United States (DAZN and ESPN+).

Frank Warren, Cristiano Ronaldo and Turki Alalshikh were among those taking in Saturday’s fights from ringside. Photograph: Ahmed Yosri/Reuters
Frank Warren, Cristiano Ronaldo and Turki Alalshikh were among those taking in Saturday’s fights from ringside. Photograph: Ahmed Yosri/Reuters


There was a lot of promotional talk about this being the biggest fight card in the history of boxing. But only one world championship (Dmity Bivol’s defense of his 175lbs WBA title against 15-1 underdog Lyndon Arthur) was on the line.

There were times during fight week when the fighters and media talked more about possible fights down the road (particularly Joshua v Wilder) than the fights at hand. Watching the event at home was an eight-hour video marathon. The stream began at 11am eastern time in the United States (4pm in the UK) and ended at 7pm.

The opening bout pitted undefeated heavyweight Frank Sanchez against Junior Fa (a 15-1 underdog). Fa had scored one win in the preceding four years, and that was against a fighter with an 0-6 ring record. Sanchez knocked Fa out in the seventh round.

That was followed by two first-round stoppages.

Filip Hrgovic (an undefeated Croatian heavyweight who has been maneuvered to the IBF’s mandatory challenger slot) squared off against 30-1 underdog Mark DeMori. The four men DeMori fought in the previous four years have a total of 102 losses and 84 “KOs by” amongst them. Hrgovic-DeMori was a mismatch on paper that was even more one-sided in the ring. Hrgovic dropped DeMori with the first solid punch that he landed, and DeMori’s corner threw in the towel soon after.

Jai Opetaia (a 15-1 favorite) v Ellis Zorro was next – a world-class fighter against a club fighter. The world-class fighter ended matters at the 2:56 mark of round one.

Agit Kabayel (a 9-1 underdog) rewrote the script by knocking out Arslanbek Makhmudov with body shots in the fourth round of another heavyweight battle.

Then Daniel Dubois, who had been labeled a “quitter” after his loss to Usyk earlier this year, restored some luster to his reputation by knocking out Jarrell Miller in the 10th stanza. Miller (a 5-2 underdog who weighed in at 333lbs,) looked like a cross between a sumo wrestler and an offensive tackle in the National Football League. That weight included a lot of muscle but also a lot of flab. And no matter how one calibrated it, the extra weight wore Jarrell down. Both guys got tired and sloppy as the fight wore on. But Miller got sloppier and more tired.

Dmitry Bivol won every round en route to a 120-107 times-three decision over Lyndon Arthur.

Then came the shocker.

Deontay Wilder was a 5-1 favorite over Joseph Parker. Parker had been knocked out by Joe Joyce and lost back-to-back fights against Dillian Whyte and Anthony Joshua earlier in his career. So what would Wilder do to Parker? Knock him out, of course.


Wilder should have moved forward, throwing his right hand consistently behind a stiff jab. Instead, he rarely threw it and constantly circled away from Parker, who fought cautiously at first, became increasingly aggressive as the fight wore on, and rocked Deontay several times.

Wilder’s vaunted punching power gave the fight drama. But in truth, he looked dreadful. The judges were on the mark with a 120-108, 118-111, 118-110 verdict in Parker’s favor.

The evening ended with Anthony Joshua dominating Otto Wallin, whose corner stopped the fight after five one-sided rounds.

As for what comes next; a title unification bout between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk to establish boxing’s first fully unified (all four belts) heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis more than two decades ago is slated to take place in Riyadh on 17 February. More big fights in The Kingdom will follow.

An agreement was reported to have been in place for two fights between Joshua and Wilder, the first of which would have occurred in Riyadh on 9 March. That fight appears to be dead now because of Wilder’s loss to Parker. More likely, the International Boxing Federation will demand that the winner of Fury-Usyk fight Filip Hrgovic (its mandatory challenger), strip the winner of Fury-Usyk for fighting a rematch instead of complying with its order, and decree that Joshua and Hrgovic meet for the vacant IBF throne. Alternatively, Joshua could pursue a big-money fight against Frances Ngannou.

If both Fury and Joshua win out in the months ahead, a fight between them would become boxing’s new Holy Grail.

Meanwhile, in recent years, boxing at the highest level has moved away from a self-sustaining business model. Instead of recouping costs through ticket sales, pay-per-view buys, and other fight-generated revenue, it has relied on misguided investors (eg Waddell & Reed which bankrolled Premier Boxing Champions), overspending by networks (eg Dazn), and now an authoritarian regime that’s willing to pay huge sums because its goal is not to make money in boxing but to use boxing to sanitize its image.

The Saudi government can outbid any promoter for any fight that comes on the market because it has unlimited resources and doesn’t have to balance its budget for boxing.

Last month Top Rank promoted a fight card featuring Shakur Stevenson in Las Vegas. Top Rank is positioning Stevenson to be its next big-money star. But the card was televised on ESPN on a Thursday night starting at 10:30 PM east coast time. Stevenson didn’t enter the ring until close to midnight. Why?

“Because like everything else in sports,” Top Rank CEO Bob Arum explained, “the people who control the money get to call the shots. They’re paying for it, aren’t they? So, of course you’re gonna do what they want.”

Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority is now paying for it and calling the shots in boxing. That means overlooking troubling geopolitical issues and putting big fights in locations where most fans who helped build a fighter (such as Anthony Joshua’s followers in England) can’t afford to see him fight. Some people will get very rich in the process. But it won’t make boxing better.

Also, there are reliable reports that the Saudi Arabian General Entertainment Authority is laying the groundwork for a new boxing website and sounding out high-profile writers from several countries about coming onboard for dramatically more money than they’re currently being paid. In a world where media coverage of boxing is already limited, that plan, if it comes to fruition, would go a long way toward enabling the Saudi government to control the narrative in the sweet science.

And a thought in closing … Boxing has long been known as “the red light district of professional sports”. What does it say that the Saudi government thinks it can improve its image through an association with boxing?

Thomas Hauser’s email address is His most recent book – The Universal Sport: Two Years in Boxing - was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, Hauser was selected for boxing’s highest honor - induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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