With Kal Sajad for the BBC
Former world heavyweight champions Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder will fight separate opponents on the same night as part of a stacked card on December 23rd in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Briton Joshua will face Otto Wallin, while American Wilder will take on former New Zealand champion Joseph Parker.
If both Joshua and Wilder win, they could fight each other in 2024.
On the undercard, WBA light-heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol defends his title against Manchester’s Lyndon Arthur.
Londoner Ellis Zorro will face WBC cruiserweight champion Jai Opetaia, while British heavyweight Daniel Dubois will face American Jarrell Miller.
Tyson Fury v Oleksandr Usyk was set to headline the event, but Fury’s difficult encounter with Francis Ngannou last month scuppered those plans.
With the date less than six weeks away, Turki Alalshikh of the General Entertainment Authority of Saudi Arabia and Frank Warren’s Queensbury Promotions have successfully completed one of the strongest cards in boxing history.
Joshua and Wilder are back on track since losing their world titles to Usyk and Fury respectively.
Joshua, 34, is promoted by Matchroom Boxing and Eddie Hearn, while Wilder, 38, has spent most of his career with Premier Boxing Champions and mentor Al Haymon, as well as being managed by Shelly Finkel.
Joshua is a two-time world champion with 26 wins – including 23 stoppages – and three knockouts.
Sweden’s Wallin, 32, has lost just once in 27 events – a points win at Fury in 2019.
Wilder has one of the greatest hitting streaks in heavyweight history, with 42 stoppages in 43 wins. Fury has had the only setback on his record – two wins and a draw.
World title contender Dubois – who lost to Usyk in August – will face the undefeated Miller.
The American tested positive for banned substances in 2019 and was withdrawn from a world title shot against Joshua.
Russia’s Bivol will make the 11th defense of his world title against undefeated Zorro, while Arthur will challenge for his first world title against tough Australian Opetaia.
Earlier this year Joshua and Wilder were in talks with Saudi Arabia-based Skills Challenge about the fight, before talks collapsed. Alalshikh’s outfit has now emerged as the power broker for boxing in the country.
The card is the latest high-profile sporting event to be hosted by Saudi Arabia, but the country’s growing involvement in world sport has been controversial.
Saudi Arabia’s growing desire to host high-profile sporting events – including boxing matches, the annual Formula 1 race and a bid for the 2034 World Cup – has come under scrutiny for its poor human rights record .
Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, said in September that he “doesn’t care” about allegations that the country is “laundering sports” – investing in sport and using high-profile events to soften criticism of its practices and improve its international reputation.
In August, Saudi border guards were accused in a report by Human Rights Watch of the massacre of migrants along the border in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has previously denied allegations of systematic killings.
The scrutiny of Saudi Arabia has not, however, prevented top athletes from competing there.
Analysis – ‘unprecedented boxing madness’
How do we even begin to distribute this? Two of the biggest names in world boxing on the same card. Four Britons in total, a pair challenging for world titles. Fighters from rival promoters coming together. This is the boxing madness without precedent.
For years fight fans have been cheering for Joshua v Wilder. It may not be happening yet, but if both of them win on December 23, the signs are that it will happen in early 2024.
Wallin and former world champion Parker are no pushovers, however, and both will be confident they can spoil the party.
Zorro and Arthur are unknown outside of boxing circles but have the opportunity to launch themselves into stardom. Then there is the intriguing clash between Dubois and the controversial Miller – a proper heavyweight tussle between two big men.
A news conference will be held in London on Wednesday with all the fighters, and no one knows quite what to expect. Will there be fireworks between Joshua and Wilder?
Queensbury is directing the show, and promoter Frank Warren may face Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn, who is also believed to be in attendance. It is surprising, according to rivals Warren and Hearn – Britain’s leading promoters – that they have never met.
Saudi Arabia has been criticized for its reputation for washing sports, and there is no clearer sign than this card that the Kingdom is now at the forefront of boxing in the world. Money talks, it seems.
Fury’s WBC champion and IBF, WBO and WBA belt holder Usyk are expected to fight in a long-awaited heavyweight bout in Riyadh in February.
It is also expected that a confirmed date for that fight will be made public in the coming days.
– This story was originally published by the [ https://www.bbc.com/sport/boxing/67230113 BBC]
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