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Day of Reckoning: Joshua, Wilder card an overdue gift to boxing fans… but this must set a precedent

The Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder-led ‘Day of Reckoning’ Saudi Arabia card is an overdue gift to boxing fans, but the December 23 event must set a clear precedent for a bright future…

Boxing fans marvelled at seeing Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren coming face-to-face to promote the latest boxing event in Riyadh season.

But the fact that the two leading British promoters have not met in person before Wednesday’s lavish press conference is an indictment of what’s been going wrong with the sport for so long.

Over the past ten-plus years, no more than a couple of days have passed between childish verbal barbs between Hearn and Warren as their heated rivalry has become toxic.

Rivalry in sport is a must and there’s no doubt that the conflict between Matchroom’s Hearn and Queensberry’s Warren has driven them on, but it has got in the way of some huge inter-promotional fights being made.

Joshua vs Tyson Fury is the main one, but there have been endless occasions where the “right fights” haven’t been made because the teams of Hearn and Warren are not on friendly terms.  

It's fair to say that 2023 has been a good year for boxing with Terence Crawford vs Errol Spence Jr and Gervonta Davis vs Ryan Garcia sending a message to onlookers of how good the sport can be when politics are put aside so the best fights between the best fighters can be made.

Yet there is still much more to do before we get to the point where boxing is run in a similar manner to the UFC as promotional allegiances get in the way of certain matchups being finalised.

Boxing has needed a major shot in the arm for a long time and Saudi Arabia has listened to this cry for help.

The Middle East nation’s influence in boxing has grown significantly over the past couple of years and this Riyadh season (which runs from October 2023 until March 2021) has taken things to another level as they attempt to showcase the positive side of Saudi Arabia.

It’s sportswashing at its finest but boxing and its fans are the beneficiaries. The Fury-Francis Ngannou event (which should have ended in the biggest shock victory in the sport’s history) was a mammoth occasion that has simply acted as a teaser before what’s to come on December 23.

The eye-watering money on the table from Saudi Arabia tempted 12 different promoters and their fighters from around the globe to come together for this historic event, which should set a clear precedent that will enable the sport to move in the right direction.

I’m not naïve, it’s clear that Hearn and Warren are only working together now because the money and opportunities on the table for their fighters are too good to turn down. But they should not go their separate ways once the ‘Day of Reckoning’ is in the can.

It may feel like Saudi Arabia has endless money to put these grand events on as much as they please, but the pot of gold will eventually decrease and the established promoters involved will have to take on the mantle to keep the sport moving forward by opening up points of communication to collaborate with fighters whenever necessary.

Rivalry is great and they will still be striving to be the best, but promoters have been blinded by their feuds for far too long and the enforced olive branch provided by Saudi Arabia needs to be taken advantage of by all involved.

Yesterday’s press conference to confirm the ‘Day of Reckoning’ rightly created huge buzz and excitement, but it will be disappointing if everyone involved reverts to type once it’s over.

This card is a significant step in the right direction, but it’s not perfect by any means.

Joshua perhaps has the toughest fight out of the big names as he faces Otto Wallin, who has become the bogeyman of heavyweight boxing since he cut Fury before losing on points in 2019.

Wallin is also a tricky southpaw and this is Joshua’s first time coming up against an opponent who fights in this stance since his two defeats against Oleksandr Usyk.

Wilder is in the co-main event slot against Joseph Parker, a former world heavyweight champion who has been more active than the ‘Bronze Bomber’ but should find himself flatlined as soon as his opponent lands one of those infamous right-hand bombs.

Further down the card, Dmitry Bivol and Jai Opetaia have what *should be* pretty comfortable world title defences against Lyndon Arthur and Ellis Zorro respectively, while there are two tasty heavyweight contests as Daniel Dubois faces the controversial Jarrell Miller and the intimidating Arslanbek Makhmudov battles Agit Kabayel.

It’s a stacked card of big names, but it should precede Joshua vs Wilder finally taking place should they come out on top of their bouts. This is being lined up for the end of Riyadh season, while there is the small matter of Fury and Usyk on February 17.

It’s a shame it’s taken the undeniable riches of Saudi Arabia to make these fights happen and for the rival promoters to work together, but the ego-driven matchmakers and demanding fighters cannot let this gift-wrapped opportunity for growth go awry. If approached correctly, it should precede a huge boom period for boxing.

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